Four Heavenly Days

Four days away from it all. Four days to spend with all of my kids and hubby and dog and … “granddog” as the kids sometimes refer to Dacotah. Four days at the cabin with the lake just outside the door. Four days of perfect cabin weather, so hot and sticky that we couldn’t stand to stay inside for any length of time. We practically lived in our swimsuits and I spent glorious hours floating in the water.

I needed it. I hadn’t fully realized what a frenzy the past couple of months have been until I had a few days to just stop. I stopped making to-do lists. I stopped worrying about my parents. They were under someone else’s watch for those few days. I stopped obsessing about all of the things that “need” to be done around the house, and about what’s happening or not happening at work. I just stopped. And relished it all.

The weather at the lake rarely seems to work in our favor. For the handful of summer days that we’re able to be there each year, luck usually hands over clouds, rain, or cool temperatures. Kacey jokes about the eternal rain cloud over McGregor, Minnesota where the cabin resides. For the past few days, though, we got our wish. We were blessed with exactly the kind of sun and heat we always hope for when at the lake. The fishing wasn’t great. Too hot, I suppose, but the guys managed to catch one walleye that was too big to keep and a good-sized sunfish that went back in the lake just as soon as it was caught.

It was Brad’s idea to have a family vacation. My outdoorsy son proposed a few days together at one of his most favorite places in the world – his grandparents’ cabin. We all requested time off from work for the same few days and kept our fingers crossed that it would all work out. And it did – so perfectly. Brad drove over from North Dakota and met the rest of us at the cabin late Friday night. Dacotah and Lucy were overjoyed at seeing each other again, their tails wagging furiously, whipping our legs, the old furniture and everything else that got in their way. After getting settled, we all claimed a place to sleep in the old cabin. There was a friendly skirmish between Brad and Kacey for the daybed in the front room. It’s the newest and most comfortable bed in the old place, which isn’t saying much since it was second-hand when it belonged to Kacey during her toddler years and only became a cabin furnishing when she got a new bedroom set.

Ultimately, Brad won the battle and Kacey settled for the back bedroom. Jake, not being picky about where he sleeps, spent the first night on an ancient daybed in an open area off the kitchen, and subsequent nights on the couch in the front room in an attempt to sleep where there might be more airflow through the open windows. Mark and I slept in his parents’ bedroom. My father-in-law’s health kept him from his beloved cabin for the last two years before his passing last December, but his presence is still tangible there. I found it rather comforting to be in the room where his work boots are still arranged neatly alongside the dresser and his bottle of cologne still sits on top.

On Saturday we left the cabin for a few hours to attend Mark’s family reunion. A cousin hosted the event at his rural home not far from the lake. It was our first time attending since the family started reuniting a few years ago, and it was a good time! Mark’s extended family isn’t vast. His dad had only two brothers, and only one of them had kids – five of ’em. During the years we’ve been married, it’s only been the occasional wedding or funeral that brought us together with Mark’s cousins, so this was a chance to spend quality time with people we don’t see often enough. It was entertaining to see which kids go with which cousins … and amazing to see the family resemblance when we discovered two Jake-look-a-likes among the second cousins. We cooed over adorable little ones who have made grandparents out of the cousins in the past few years. And good-natured jealousies flared up when a darling little eighteen month-old girl inexplicably wanted to kiss me while the girl cousins, her aunties, protested that even they, the familiar faces could rarely coax a kiss from this little beauty. I’ve got a way with the little ones, apparently! :-)

Top Gun!

Top Gun!

Both uncles passed on long before I ever knew Mark, but Auntie Florence was at the reunion. She’s nearly ninety years old and her memory is fading. But we attended the same church as she for years and she always remembers us. I’m not sure she remembers my name, but she knows my face, and my heart swelled when she squeezed my cheeks between her hands and planted a kiss on my face.

Later, there was a trap-shooting contest among the men-folk and Jake’s smile was as big as I’ve ever seen it when he proved himself the champion! He was made to promise to return next year to defend his title.

Back at the lake in the afternoon, we wasted no time finding “floaties” in the garage and diving into the lake. The surface water was steamy, but a few feet below it was cool and inviting.

Over the next few days, we allowed ourselves to sleep, to play, to eat and relax. I ran laps up and down the long driveway in the early mornings, and then came back to the cabin to make a big breakfast – with BACON even – for everyone as they were waking up.

One of the things I really love about being at the cabin is cooking and sharing meals as a family. With nowhere else to rush off to, and no obligations hanging over our heads, cooking becomes fun again. And food just tastes so much better when we’re all together, eating, talking, laughing and happy. Also? This toaster. It makes the most perfect toast ever. You can’t get ’em like this anymore. Check out that cord!

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Kacey and I spent Sunday in the water. We’d be in for a while, get waterlogged and come out. Soon the heat and humidity would become too much to bear and back into the water we’d go again. The guys spent Sunday morning cutting down a dead tree, and afterwards, joined us in the water. I’m sure it felt good after all that hard work.

Monday, we took one of the old boats out on the lake. (Everything is old at the cabin, which gives it such a nostalgic feeling, and also means that when something gets broken, it’s not a great loss. There’s something to be said for making do with just enough.) The kids hooked up a tube and took turns being dragged around our bay. When they’d had enough, we loaded the dogs into the boat with us and took a cruise around the bigger lake, admiring the other cabins and homes and contemplating what it would be like to have this property, that beach, or a mansion like any of the ones we saw.

Tuesday, our final morning arrived with a thunderstorm. We lost power for a little while and I guess it all just made it easier to accept that it was our last day and it was time to go back to reality. The power eventually came back on. The rain stopped, but a fully clouded sky promised that it wouldn’t be another picture-perfect lake day anyway. We tidied up the cabin for the next visitors and loaded up the trucks to go back home again. It was hard to say goodbye to Brad, but I reminded myself to remember what a gift the last few days had been. And if we didn’t have to all go back to work and normal life and everyday routines, none of this could have felt as special as it did anyway. It was heavenly!

Moved In

We got my parents moved into their new home this week on Wednesday. It was an all day affair and we got them pretty well settled in. All of my siblings pitched in, as did one sister-in-law and several of our own kids. We moved like hurricanes, getting boxes of essentials unpacked and making the most important living spaces livable. I worked without stopping for twelve hours. My mom, at one point asked if I didn’t want to sit for a while. I told her I couldn’t. I didn’t want to stop the momentum.

The spare bedroom currently holds all of the unpacked boxes containing less necessary items such as photo albums and household decor. We’ll get to it eventually. For now, we’re happy that Mom and Dad have a functional kitchen, that their living room, bedroom and bathrooms are usable, and they have clear spaces to walk through.

After my sister-in-law helped me make up my parents’ king-size bed, she went off to work in the kitchen, and I moved on to putting things away in the master bathroom. When I was finished, I encountered my youngest brother, Craig, apparently testing out the quality of our bed-making skills. I guess we passed. He managed a good nap.

2015-07-15All in all, we had a good day. We were so busy, there wasn’t time for tensions between any of us. I would actually dare to say we had fun. My other brother, Jim even gave me a big hug and said he thought I was the best sister in the world, even if he did just tell our older sister the same thing. We all came together that day. We put our differences aside, and maybe each of us saw the others in a different and better light. Maybe it was the magnitude of it all. Yes, it was just a move from one home to another, but I think we all realized that this will be the last stop for independent living for my parents. Maybe that thought made us all realize that some of the petty stuff we tend to hang onto just isn’t worth it.

It’s strange to look out from my front yard to the next street over now. I see the home that was my parents’ for the past twenty-six years and have to remind myself it’s not their’s anymore. It’s not my right to just walk over and let myself in anymore. No more popping in, plunking down on the couch in the living room where my parents would most likely be sitting watching television, and shooting the breeze while playing with Little Bear, their dog. (I’m his favorite “sister,” my mom always says.) If I want to see my parents now, I have to get in the car and make a jaunt down the freeway.

Of course, they’re only about a ten minute drive or so, depending on traffic. And we’ll no longer have to worry about clearing snow from another driveway after a big snowfall or wonder whose turn it is to take care of any of the miscellaneous yard tasks. They’ll still need help with a lot of their household stuff, as they have for a few years now, but now those things will have to be somewhat planned out, rather than the drop-everything-come-now kind of requests. My parents now have an association to take care of snow removal and lawn care. There are no more stairs for them to struggle with climbing. Their new home is tucked into a quiet little community, on a quiet little street, where they’re surrounded by people their own age. And their new neighbors are great! At various times as we worked to move my parents’ belongings into the new place, the neighbors, Ilene across the street (with the cool Mustang convertible and personalized plates,) Tom, Gloria, and the woman whose name I forget, sat in lawn chairs in their driveways, watching the goings-on. They introduced themselves to all of us and welcomed my mom and dad with open arms.

This is good. And I’m glad that the move is finally over. Seems like all I’ve thought about and done for the past two months are things related to this move. My own house needs attention and will get it now. I’m looking forward to resuming life as we know it for the remainder of this summer!

July already. And busy. And happy. And gratitude.

There’s a little chalkboard in my kitchen. I originally bought it with the idea that it would be the place where we’d leave notes for each other; something to replace our habit of leaving sticky-notes on the kitchen door frame.

But… the sticky notes continue to be the method of communicating such things as, the dog’s been fed or If I’m not awake by 5, please get me up.

One day, not long after the kitchen became home to the chalkboard, I stumbled across an inspirational quote that I really wanted to remember. I wrote it on the chalkboard. And it remained until another quote struck my fancy and replaced it. Kacey joined the movement and periodically adds words of wisdom that she finds along her reading travels.

There’s almost always something on the chalkboard to remind me to have gratitude. Deep, down inside, gratefulness has not often been my focus. I’m focusing on it now, and sometimes it’s an effort. Passing by those dusty, white words each day, and stopping to think about them helps.

Hazy morning sun

Hazy morning sun

This time of year, it’s easier to have gratitude. My daughter is home for the summer and I’m just so thrilled to have her near me every day. Her bubbly attitude about life in general inspires me.

The longer hours of sunlight, warm weather, and the colorful, seasonal landscape give me frequent reasons to stop and feel appreciation. As summertime brings people outside, we often find ourselves spontaneously gathering with the neighbors. I sometimes forget how much good it does me to interact with others and just relax for a while.

The birds have moved out of the house on our deck. I thought I’d be thrilled, but was surprised to find myself feeling a little sad that they’d gone without saying goodbye. Shortly afterwards, I was checking out the growth in our vegetable garden down in the yard and realized as I heard their familiar song, that they were hanging out in the pine trees just outside the back fence. All is right in their world and I was relieved to know they are thriving.

Logan next door is growing up before our eyes. Having firsthand experience with the fact that kids grow up in the blink of an eye, I’m reminded what a privilege it is to be in Logan’s circle. Last night while putting away a few groceries after a visit to Sam’s Club, I heard his voice trailing behind Mark as he helped carry some things up the stairs to the kitchen.

“Here, Terri,” he said in that sweet, little boy voice, as he reached the upper level and handed me a package of lunch meat. While he still calls me “Tee” sometimes, that habit seems to be fading away.

“Thanks, Log,” I said. He proceeded to tell us about how he’d gone fishing earlier in the day. His arms and hands gestured wildly, and his story was sprinkled with lots of wells, as in “Well, I didn’t get any fish. They wouldn’t come out!”

He’s getting talkative, and his words are easier to understand. After the food was put away, he hauled me out to the driveway where we, of course, played chalk. Logan usually tells me what to draw, but now he’s creating more of the artwork himself. He was thrilled when I made one of his shapes into a fish. From this little boy who was previously very shy about expressing affection, I was rewarded with a full-frontal, tackle-hug! Then came a game of hide-and-seek, where Logan would tell me where to hide. He counted while I attempted to hide from his peeking eyes. He helped me water the pots of flowers, and then just before it was time for him to go home to bed, we played “bad guy.” Logan was the bad guy, and he said I was the fire truck. (?) I guess fire trucks chase bad guys until they capture the bad guy and pick him up, swinging him in a circle and make him giggle.

It’s been a busy summer, but mostly in a fun kind of way. We’ve been invited to several graduation parties this year, chances to gather with friends and family, and reasons for my oldest son to come home for a weekend visit. I love to see the way my grown-up kids now appreciate each other so much more than they did when they were younger. They have so much fun together, and truly seem to have become friends. Makes my heart just want to burst.

Last weekend, I tried something I’ve been wanting to do for a while. Cheers Pablo. Have you heard of this? It’s a sort of painting class. You pick a session in which you’ll get to create a specific painting, show up, and everything you need is ready and waiting for you. And if you like, you can purchase drinks to sip on while you paint. Hence the cheers. My niece invited her mom, (my sister,) and Kacey and me to go. We each painted our own barn scene, following the instruction of a fun, young twenty-something girl who kept getting paint in her long dark hair! And while my first impression was that the result was rather elementary, I had so much fun painting it! The more I look at mine, the more I think I’ll hang it up somewhere in the house. And I totally want to do it again. Maybe in another class. Maybe on my own.

Today I’m enjoying a holiday from work. There’s a long weekend ahead in celebration of our country’s independence and nothing too spectacular in my next few days. The kids all have fun plans of their own and Mark has to work on the fourth. So I’ll do a few things around the house, spend a little time with extended family and just savor these summer days before Monday rolls back around again.

Regrouping

I slept in today and it felt SO good! All week long, I looked forward to this three-day weekend. Lucy and I were still up early enough to go for a good long neighborhood walk, and we got it in just in time to enjoy what looks to have been the sunshine’s limited presence for the day. We listened to birds singing along the way, and Lucy spent much time plowing her nose through white, puffy dandelion heads in the grasses along the walking path. No amount of sneezing could convince her to stop. She made me laugh and the whole trek gave me a chance to clear my head some.

I’ve been in a funky mood lately. I blame it on too much togetherness. This move my parents are making, from their house of twenty-six years to a single-level town house, is going to be the death of me. (Not really, but I frequently say so just because somehow it makes me feel better to voice a little self-pity.) I know everyone’s got some level of dysfunction in their family. It’s normal. It’s probably designed to make sure the kids don’t get so comfortable at home that they never move out of their parents’ house.

I dearly love my parents. They have done so many things well in their lives. They raised their kids to be responsible and productive people. We take good care of our own families and we’ve got strong work ethics. They made a lot of sacrifices to make sure we would have good lives. They raised us with love and taught us to have faith in God. They did something right enough that, in spite of the fact that we sometimes drive each other nuts, we still have a need to pull together and be a family. They did things in a way that, as a kid, often made me think, I’ll never do that to my kids. But I see now that they did things the way their generation believed to be best.

My parents are always so happy to see me when I stop by and Mom never fails to express her thanks for anything I do to help them out. Dad seems to expect things, but Mom is appreciative enough for both of them. I am grateful for that. But as often as I’ve spent time with my parents over the past month or so, I’m frequently reminded why I was so ready to become an adult and move out. My dad? He is NEVER wrong. Even when he is most certainly wrong. And he’ll go to great lengths to tell you why he’s not wrong and you are. It’s always been that way. One of the most frequently used adjectives to describe my dad, is stubborn. Opinionated comes in a close second. And I think that stubborn quality in him has gained energy with age.

Growing up, if Dad decided we’d done something wrong, we kids knew we were in for one of his famously long and painful lectures. He’d sit in his chair at the head of the kitchen table while I stood at the far end of the kitchen, wishing I had the guts to just turn and walk out the back door. There were no excuses accepted for bad behavior. No amount of explanation would be considered, even if there was another side to the story Dad hadn’t considered (and likely wouldn’t). And everything he had to say was sure to be repeated at least three times. I was kind of a rebel back then. I’d often play with fire, my body language clearly shouting that I was listening only because I had to and I’d rather be anywhere but standing in front of him. I’d say, You said that already or I heard you the first two times. Dad did not appreciate my sass and I think it only prompted him to continue expressing his disappointment in me even longer. His delivery was heavy on a who-do-you-think-you are sort of sentiment. There was a lot of you’d-better-change-your-ways and very little help-me-understand-why. If you were on the receiving end of one of dad’s lectures, when you were finally free to depart his scrutiny, you felt about this big. (My thumb and forefinger are making a pinchy motion, in case you were wondering.)

I know my dad doesn’t mean to alienate others with his opinions. I just think he’s done things this way for so long that he doesn’t know how to do them any differently. It pains me to watch him instigate arguments with my mom. So often, they’re over silly, inconsequential things. I know he’s fighting for what he believes is right, but his words, to me, feel belittling, even when I’m only watching him engage with someone else. I rarely argue with my dad these days. I don’t have the energy. There’s no winning or compromise with him. And according to Mom, I’m not allowed to speak in defense of her either because it only makes Dad feel that his kids are choosing sides. And he thinks we only ever choose Mom’s side. I guess I usually do, because regardless of who I may think is right or wrong, it’s his tactics that don’t sit well with me. And ultimately, I just hate to be witness to so much unhappiness between my parents. At their age, I just want them to have peace and contentment. I know that quite possibly, my parents have just settled into a long-standing set of behaviors and this doesn’t make them nearly as uncomfortable as it does me. I’m the first to admit that I hate conflict. But it eats away at me that in their twilight years, they don’t seem as happy as I think they should be with one another.

It’s probably wrong on so many levels to put this in writing, but writing it is the best way I know how to purge the kind of weight this puts on my heart. Besides, I wouldn’t do it if I weren’t 99.9% confident that anyone who cares won’t ever read this.

Anyway, I can easily walk away when I need to and stay away for as long as I need. These days, I can control whether or not I end up on the receiving end of one of Dad’s diatribes, so when he’s being unreasonably opinionated, I usually hide a little roll of my eyes and just keep my mouth shut. As an adult, I’ve learned that I can say nothing and choose not to accept his position. Although, a few weeks ago, I thought I made a big statement while walking out without saying goodbye while he was busy once again telling Mom how poorly she had met some need he had. I felt really bad for the rest of the day about the fact that I’d probably made both of them feel really bad. Turns out that no one actually noticed I’d made a big statement and walked out.

A part of me knows that Dad’s behavior is probably due to the fact that he feels less needed, and less respected due to his age and the health issues he’s endured over the years. His vision has diminished enough that he can no longer drive. He is forced to be dependent on others for so many things he’d rather do himself. Maybe he’s trying to find some way to feel less diminished. I know he doesn’t know how hurtful he sometimes makes his family feel when a healthy debate is never allowed. Still, sometimes I wonder if it’s too late to speak up.

My sister was on the receiving end of Dad’s opposition recently. It was over a matter of fact, and the reality is, she was right and she had a point that he might have considered. And even though it was a helpful point that could have made a particular situation so much easier for him and Mom, he wouldn’t consider it because he simply didn’t believe it to be true. He is the father and we are still the children, even though we’re all in our forties and beyond. My dad still seems to think that he can treat his kids the same way he did when he was in charge of our upbringing. If he doesn’t agree with what you have to say, he will put you in your place. And my mom still seems to believe that as difficult as my dad can be at times, it’s best to just let him have his say and let it go.

It’s hard to watch sometimes. I wonder if my dad has been allowed to be right for so long that it’s now impossible to get him to understand that his behavior feels spiteful, arrogant and demeaning. I wonder if he feels good when all is said and done, and he gets to be right again, but someone else just feels like a turd.

Maybe I’m letting this eat away at me way too much. A voice in my head sometimes tells me to just let it go, that I should find a way to rise above it and feel less resentful, else I’ll suffer enormous regret when he’s no longer around. My dad is seventy-four years old and he finds a million ways to let me know he loves me. But he has no idea how bad it feels to watch him put a family member in their place when he’s feeling particularly obstinate.

All normal stuff, I know, in the grand scheme of things. And I remind myself frequently that the knee-jerk resentment I sometimes feel about dealing with my parents? I desperately never want my kids to feel those things about me. So while I know I need to be a little bit more understanding and compassionate, and maybe find ways to gently steer my dad in a better direction, it’s hard. We’ve just never practiced healthy communication. It doesn’t come naturally. As much as I’ve learned over the years about how to do it better, it’s still such a challenge to put it into practice in the heat of the moment. But I also recognize that I can – and should – be learning from all of this. I sometimes see myself doing, saying or thinking in such a way that confirms the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

I don’t have big plans this holiday weekend. Not going up north with the masses or anything. Mark is working all weekend, and other members of his family will fill the cabin at the lake to beyond capacity. I’ve got no desire to squeeze in among them. I’ve got a couple of fun outings planned, but for the most part, I’ll stick close to home where it’s going to be quiet and I can catch up on things. I may voluntarily go do some more packing at Mom and Dad’s, but I’m hoping the phone doesn’t ring, beckoning me to come when I may not be ready. I hope this weekend provides a breather and a chance to regroup. I was in such a good mental place just a few short weeks ago. I need to get back there.

Well, who’d-a-thought?

Last weekend found us hosting yet another family holiday at our house. A couple of years ago, I swore I would never do it again. I did do it again, but not without a lot of stress beforehand and resentment afterwards. And last weekend, we were doing it yet again. I decided not to get crazy about certain things this time around.

Our family gatherings are supposed to be a group effort. The host family always tends to incur the largest share of the expense, cooking the main course, and purchasing beverages and incidentals like condiments and such. Other family members are supposed to contribute side dishes or desserts. Since my parents have stopped being able to do it, my sister and I take turns hosting the family gatherings.

I’ve attempted to orchestrate a nice meal in years past, and this was often met with a lack of commitment from some other family members as to their food contributions, if any. Seems some people don’t take well to suggestions as to what they might contribute. There was that Christmas when one family member showed up with spouse, a bunch of kids, and a 12 pack of Pepsi. (I’m not still bitter! Really.)

This time, I chose to let go. I decided to cook what I was cooking, and if everyone else showed up with pickles, cheese and crackers, then so be it. At least we would all be together. Who knows how much longer we’ll have the luxury of all of us together. I also decided to use flattery when trying to determine who was bringing what. I told one brother that I remembered he made a mean pecan pie. And would he consider baking something for our Easter brunch? I asked the other brother if he was bringing his famous quiches again and he said he might, but if not, something equally tasty.

I’ve come to realize that all those times I allowed myself to stress out over whether others were cooperating with my plans for the family gathering, I was only punishing myself. No one else was tying themselves in knots over whether or not the meal would be well coordinated, or if everyone was contributing equally. Just me.

I decided not to get crazy this time over things like the carpet needing a good cleaning. (There are a few family members who don’t bother to remove their shoes anyway. And food was bound to get spilled.) I refused to worry about whether Mark had really dusted the family room to my satisfaction. Brad and Kacey were home for the holiday weekend and the whole family pitched in with cleaning, shopping and setting up our little house to somehow seat and serve twenty-one people.

I was so relaxed that I happily left the house to go bowling in our league on Saturday night. And I bowled the biggest game of my life!

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Yeah, that was fun!

I woke up early on Easter morning to take care of the finishing touches. When family started showing up, I was blown away. The 12-pack of Pepsi brother brought two big pans of sweet rolls, two coffee cakes, two homemade pecan pies, and a homemade turtle cheesecake. And the quiche brother brought, instead of quiche, two huge, homemade breakfast pizzas. All this accompanied our traditional Easter egg bake, ham, polish sausage, specialty breads, hard-boiled eggs and fresh fruit. We were not lacking for things to eat!

I’d also let myself off the hook with dishes. I’ve spent too much time on previous holidays, in the kitchen with my sister, washing the good china and silver while everyone else gets to kick back and visit with my parents. I bought party plates this year. Instead of washing china, we just threw ’em away. And no one cared.

Dad led a nice Easter prayer before we ate, and I was rather enjoying it, until I heard him add, “… and Lord, may we each reach out to another family member today. Someone maybe we don’t feel so close to or happy with…” I know my Dad had a good point, but … My siblings and I looked around at each other. We think we were getting scolded via the Easter prayer. It wasn’t necessary. We all played nice and Easter brunch was a great success.

I think the biggest reward, for me, came from the 12-pack of Pepsi brother, the one with whom I’ve experienced some incredible lows the past few years. It was early evening, and I was just settling down after being on the move all day long. I was exhausted and had curled up in my favorite living room chair and was channel surfing when I heard my phone buzz. It was a text message from the brother to both my sister and me.

2015-04-05bI was speechless. I think that’s all I ever wanted. To be thanked. If my brothers never host a family holiday, I don’t care. I would just like to feel a little bit appreciated when I do. And with this message, I did.

The Last Spring Break

It’s the last day of what is likely to be the last spring break we acknowledge in our family.

Kacey got a part-time job after Christmas, working for a retailer in the mall near her college. It’s limited her ability to come home any weekend she likes, but it’s been good for her to earn a little spending money. She’s doing very well there and has been praised by her supervisors for her ability to learn quickly and her good work ethic. One might assume that means she’d be scheduled to work as often as her class schedule allows. So I was grateful when she told me she had a stretch of free days during spring break and that she’d be coming home for a few days. As it turned out, she was able to stay for the better part of the week.

It’s always a treat to come home from work to find my daughter waiting here for me, with stories to tell and a willingness to help pull something together that resembles dinner. It’s wonderful to have her at the table with us at meal time! She’s a natural optimist and always brings laughter and fun to the household. I took a day off at her request, so we could have lunch together on Wednesday and she could help me spend some of my money at the new mall which she hadn’t yet had a chance to visit. We had a gorgeous, unseasonably warm day for walking around the outdoor outlet mall. And she came home with some new fashions and footwear to add to her wardrobe.

There is a pile of home improvement tasks to tackle that Mark and I have lately committed to addressing. And Kacey even helped get us started on one of them. The upstairs bedrooms need new carpet and one of them needs to be repainted. We’ll soon be giving some of the “kid” furniture to a niece and her husband who are buying their first home. Then we can begin the chores of ripping out carpet and replacing it, and then the dreaded painting!

Of course, Kacey was highly motivated to help us get the ball rolling on the great bedroom clean-out. She moved her belongings from the smallest bedroom she’s occupied for nearly twenty years to the bigger bedroom which has been serving as the spare bedroom since Brad moved out of the house. We emptied closets, moved beds back and forth, and got rid of stuff! You can’t imagine the amount of stuff that was packed into that littlest bedroom of Kacey’s! We filled up several bags which were later delivered to the Goodwill and there was plenty more which took up a good amount of space in the trash barrel.

I was a little sad to see some things go. There were toys that just a few years ago I had tucked up onto a high shelf in Kacey’s closet. Keepsakes, I’d thought. But with a few more years between, I’ve come to the realization that there’s only so much space in a little house to hold onto the belongings of five family members. Some items will serve a better purpose in the hands of others who can enjoy them rather than gathering dust here.

There were a few photos too, a sweatshirt, and a stuffed toy dog that went into the trash pile. Gifts from her ex, Connor. Kace seemed way less melancholy about letting them go than I felt. But I only had to see how easily she was looking ahead in her life to know that there was no point in dwelling on the past.

And ultimately, it was my daughter who helped me feel good about the major purge that was happening. She was enthusiastically making the bigger room her new “home.” Her college career will come to fruition by the end of this year. And she is planning to come back home, at least for a while, after she graduates. Yesterday as we were driving back from the Goodwill, she talked about a good friend of hers, who has likely job prospects after graduation in the city where she attends school. “But she wants to find something closer to home,” Kacey was saying. “She just wants to be able to come home for dinner whenever she feels like it, and spend time with her mom. You know? She doesn’t want to be hours away and limited to a weekend here and there when she can come visit. She and her mom are close. Not like you and I are, but in their own way.”

That made my heart swell, that my daughter acknowledged feeling the same closeness that I feel with her. She went on to tell me that she’s of the same mind as her friend. She can’t imagine living and working far from this home, our family home. I love that she cherishes the bonds of family and wants to stay close and connected. I see great things ahead for her, and I’m thrilled that whatever waits for her, she wants to experience it in close proximity to her loved ones.

So later today we’ll say goodbye when she hops in her car and drives back to school. I’ll feel a little sad, as always to have to part ways. But only temporarily.

Life with (Imperfect) Human Beings

My boss has a favorite saying. If you’re going to stir the shit pot, you’d better be prepared to lick the spoon.

Having an almost 24 year-old still living at home presents occasional opportunities for the shit pot to be stirred. For the most part, I’m happy to have him still here. Considering the person he is, and his current circumstances, it’s the best thing for him to live at home right now. As far as I’m concerned, he can stay as long as he needs. But it’s not always a bed of roses for him, or for us.

Well-meaning people have their opinions. My oldest son, for example, has been known to say, “Mom, he needs to go live on his own for a while so he can gain some concept of what it’s like to be solely responsible for himself.” (Actually, he says it more like, “Mom, you just need to kick him out.”)

A coworker without kids of her own is always preaching tough love to those of us who make the mistake of admitting to challenges with our kids – adult or not. She’s always spouting off about tough love and how she would so easily do this or that. Teach that kid a lesson. And if he didn’t agree with her position, he could just go away. And stay away until he’s ready to come on board. Easier said than done. A parent’s heart carries a lot of guilt about letting a child suffer, or sitting idly by, when it would be so easy to make everything better. And honestly, when I think about his shortcomings, I frequently wonder how we failed him in those areas.

He still has some growing up to do, although, for the most part, I think he’s pretty typical of a lot of people his age. He’s a little bit impetuous at times with his money. Living under a roof that’s not his, and being constantly reminded that it’s not his, he has little motivation to contribute without being asked. And he has that youthful ability to just tuck certain worries away for another day. Not to completely bash on the kid … he can have a great sense of humor at times. He’s got a good work ethic (at work.) And he comes home every night at a reasonable hour.

Obviously, three adults living under the same roof is not always a bed of roses. Particularly when one of them is at the early end of the spectrum of life, while the rest of us are on the far side with all of  our scars and experience and knowledge of how it should all work.

Admission. Conflict ties me up in knots. I’m not entirely sure from where comes this fear of letting it all out, saying exactly what’s on my mind, to raise my voice, and of letting anger and frustration rise to the surface. There is something in me that believes that’s not okay, that once it comes out, some damage occurs that can’t be undone. I’m guilty of swinging too far to the side of not saying anything at all and just hoping the heat will pass. There’s probably something too about being too much of a fixer, even though I know sometimes the best thing is not to rescue someone from their own devices.

I’m reluctant to express serious anger. But that doesn’t mean I don’t feel it, or that it’s not obvious to others when they stir the shit pot. I just get quiet. And Lord help those who have done the stirring. I know that losing their cool is their way of releasing those pent-up emotions. Unfortunately for them, the aftermath is that they’ve frustrated their wife and mother, the queen grudge-holder, who envisions a household in which differing opinions and life-lessons are discussed rationally, with calm and compassion. And would it be too much to ask for some hugs and I’m-sorries now and then?

I know. Pretty unrealistic. I live with cave men. And most of the time, I’m pretty proud of who they are with all their manly talents. And hugging and feelings don’t necessarily go hand-in-hand with the caveman lifestyle. I know this. Also, they take care of the icky and dirty stuff around here so that I don’t have to. And I can forgive them for the fact that they’re oblivious to the idea that bathrooms need cleaning on a regular basis, or that having food to eat requires advance planning. I’ll gripe about it, but deep-down, I know that domesticity is my arena.

The thing is, Mark’s hair can be on fire and his head can fly off his neck and the next hour, he’ll be like, “Hey, whadda ya wanna do this weekend?”

And I’ll be all, “Are you kidding me? I don’t want to do anything that involves you! You just yelled at everybody and your head’s still rolling around over there in the corner of the living room. You have to suffer for that for a while.”

Yeah, when I see it in writing like that, I realize just how crazy it is. Yet I keep doing it. Today I have some repairs to make – with my son who needs a little honesty mixed with my brand of patience, and with my husband, who doesn’t deserve to be emotionally exiled for making our son hear some things he needs to hear.  We need to work (again) on communicating realistically with each other. I see it as my job to keep working on this. No one else gets tied up in knots over this kind of stuff. They just see it as how we are and they’re okay with that. It’s not the end of the world, in their worlds.

As Mark was leaving for work today, and I was still laying in bed with my eyes closed, I heard him ask, “Are you still mad?”

Without opening my eyes, I said, “No,” while in my head I was saying “Yes.” All I can say is thank God my husband doesn’t take too seriously my need to punish everyone for their unpleasant emotions. I’m also grateful for the changing season, with the warmth it brings and the opportunity to get outside for a walk with Lucy before the sun was fully up. I blew off some steam and am ready to put the shit pot away again for a while.

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