Justin Part 2

We had first planned to get together on Monday and he cancelled at the last minute. A part of me had expected a lack of follow through from him, so I wasn’t all that shocked when he said he couldn’t make it. But I was pleasantly surprised when the very next day, he texted and asked if we could meet that night instead.

He asked if I could pick him up, said he doesn’t drive. He gave me his address and as it turns out, he only lives a few miles from me. As soon as our plans were finalized, a feeling of uncertainty came over me. What was I doing? We didn’t really know each other and I suddenly wondered what we would say. Would we both feel uncomfortable and find ourselves at a loss for words? It didn’t really matter anyway. I had committed to picking him up and having coffee with him. He wasn’t backing down. There’s no way I could at this point either.

I found the house easily and Justin was waiting outside the side door when I pulled up. He sauntered over to the car and slid into the passenger seat casually. “Hi, thanks for coming to get me,” he said. And then he started talking and didn’t stop for the next two hours.

I went into this thinking that Justin needed family or a friend and I could be one or both. I knew he had somewhat of a dark side. But he’d been posting so many things on Faceb00k about turning things around that I hoped I could support him somehow, maybe help him turn his life in a better direction. When I first saw him walking to my car, I saw a tough young man who walked with a casual yet cocky attitude. He wore an oversized Minnesota Wild jersey that hung low over his jeans. He had a ball cap on with a foil sticker still fixed to the bill. Once he was in the car, I really looked at him. It was his eyes that struck me. They were big, brown puppy eyes, and as tough as he tried to appear, I still saw a lost little boy in his eyes.

As he told me his story throughout the evening, I began to understand how little things became bigger things that led to his making the wrong choices at ever turn. Over and over he told me how he doesn’t blame anyone for his circumstances. He takes full responsibility. He didn’t ask me for anything and truly only seemed to want someone to listen to him without shutting him off.

I had approached this meeting with what I now see as a sort of arrogant what-would-Jesus-do kind of attitude. I thought I was going to make some kind of an impact in his life. But his situation is worse than I could have imagined. Throughout the evening, I periodically thought how strange it was that I was sitting having coffee with a person whom, had he been a stranger to me, would have scared me to death. Had he not been my cousin, or my uncle’s step-son, I wouldn’t have stopped to consider how sad it is that his life could have turned out so differently if only one or two or ten events in his life had gone in another direction.

There is nothing I can do for Justin. There is no advice I can give him, no kind of support, nothing that can change the course of his life now. I said to him several times, “I don’t know what to say. There’s nothing I can offer you.”

“I’m not asking you for anything,” he said. “Even if there was something, I’m no good at asking for help.”

He told me he has to appear in court next week and again next month. If he’s convicted, he’s looking at prison time. When he told me that, his eyes welled up with tears and he swallowed hard several times. When he revealed that information, told me what he’d done to end up in this place, it occurred to me that I should be scared. But I wasn’t scared. Maybe it’s because he took care of my uncle during his dying days. Maybe it’s because he assured me he wasn’t violent. Maybe it’s because I’d just learned how much he had wanted his mom to protect him and to love him, but he didn’t know how to be the kind of son she could love and protect. And once he fell into the life he’s led, it became all he knew. I believe there is more to him than the things he’s done wrong. Unfortunately, my desire to help came much too late.

We’d finished our coffee long before Justin finally ran out of words. When at last he’d said all there was to say, he looked at me and shrugged. “I’m ready to go whenever you are,” he said. And so we walked back to the car as the sun was setting. Just before he opened the passenger door, he said, “I’m not a bad person inside.””

“I know you’re not,” I assured him.

As we drove back to his house, he said, “I just wish my mom would have been there for me, in spite of my failures.”

He’s a thirty-something young man, and the biggest thing I learned about him is that he still simply longs for his mother.

“I can’t change anything for you, Justin,” I told him. ” But I can be here for you whenever you need to talk. And you might think this sounds stupid, but I will pray for you”

“Thank you,” he said. We were pulling into his driveway by then and I put the car in park. He leaned over and hugged me. He thanked me for the coffee and for listening. He stepped out of the car and as I backed out into the street again, he took up a stance on the porch with his back to me. He stared off into the dusky sky through the trees and lit a cigarette.

The extended family gathering and why it will never work

Sorry, but I just need to bitch. Going to get this off my chest and then try to return to our standard semi-positive format!

It’s not that we don’t manage to actually have the family gatherings. We just don’t manage to have them in such a way that everyone goes away happy.

In hindsight, I can see how we got here. We two sisters are the oldest. We became adults first. We got married first. We owned homes and had children first. Those first several years, if Mom and Dad weren’t hosting, one of us sisters did. I don’t know about my sister, but personally, I assumed that somewhere down the road, the brothers and their wives would take a turn hosting a holiday, once they were a little more settled and had homes of their own. But here we all are, well into our forties. The older younger brother usually has everyone over for Fourth of July. My sister and I alternate Christmas, Thanksgiving, milestone birthdays and such. And the youngest brother has yet to host a holiday.

When our family hosts a family party, we try to encourage everyone to contributes a little something. None of us is rich, and we’ve all experienced tough times here and there. But over the years, it was always my sister or me cleaning our homes, buying alcohol and soft drinks, and incurring the cost of the main portion of any meal. A major holiday costs the hosts a couple hundred dollars or so, while the youngest brother, if he contributes anything, might show up with cheese and Ritz crackers. And by the way, could I find a cheese slicer and a cutting board because he couldn’t prepare the cheese ahead of time? And did I have a serving tray he could use too, because he didn’t think to bring one?

Oh, he usually brings some kind of specialty beer. But not to share with everyone else.

I know. This all sounds so very petty. And I’m not sure when I got so bitter about it all. I know it started brewing a few years ago when I realized that if my sister wasn’t hosting Christmas or Thanksgiving, it would be my turn again. Then last Christmas rolled around and the youngest brother said he and his family would be joining us for the family Christmas Eve party but refused to commit to contributing anything. I did all of my grocery shopping for everything that hadn’t been volunteered before his wife texted me one day prior to Christmas to ask what they should bring. And that’s when I think I’d kind of had it. What can we bring? I have almost everything we need but could still use a veggie tray. How about a veggie tray? We don’t want to bring a veggie tray. Okay, what do you want to bring? Followed by absolutely no response whatsoever.

Dysfunction 2

And then the youngest brother and his family of six showed up 45 minutes earlier than invited bearing a twelve-pack of Pepsi. Was it petty of me to feel insulted? I was stewing even more when, as usual, cleanup time rolled around and the brother and his wife sat comfortably in the living room, drinking wine and beer and enjoying my parents’ company while my family, my sister and I did the dishes and cleaned up. Just once, I’d like to be the one who gets to relax in the living room after a holiday meal and spend time talking with my mom or dad. But the reality is, even when I’m the guest, you can find me in the kitchen helping at cleanup time. Many hands make light work and all that, you know?

Oh, and let’s not forget how the brother thinks he is entitled to complain if he wasn’t offered leftovers to take home. When I am entertaining twenty-five people, I am not planning much more food than is necessary to serve everyone a good meal. Leftovers are a bonus reserved for those who actually purchased and prepared the food, if you ask me.

Christmas was the last straw for me. I’ve had one too many holidays that included rude, disrespectful, even belligerent behavior from this brother. I told my sister I was done. I said if she wanted to keep hosting the rest of the family for every celebratory event, she could. Count me out. I was ready to keep any future celebrations to my immediate family. My parents live a block away. I see them often enough. They could spend the holidays with their other kids and they wouldn’t miss me.

My sister chided me, several times. Mom and Dad may not be around in a few years. These may be our last years with them. Let’s just suck it up for their sake. It’s important to them that we’re all together on the holidays. I let her convince me she was right. And besides, Easter was coming and Mom and Dad always have Easter at their house. Granted, my sister and I have cleaned Mom and Dad’s house and done much of the cooking for Easter over the past few years. Still, somehow I was more okay with doing the family gathering thing at their house than mine. I was fine with it as long as I didn’t have to have it at my house.

Just prior to Easter, my mom asked me if we could do something different this year. She didn’t think she could manage having a houseful of company, even if my sister and I did the cleaning and cooking. I drew the line. I said, Mom, I’d be happy to prepare Easter brunch. You and dad are welcome to come join my family and me. But I’m done having the whole family over. Your youngest son is always rude and disrespectful. (Actually, I said that he is a jerk to me.) I will clean your house and cook the food and join the whole family here. But I won’t invite him to my house. 

Take my word for it when I say he is rude and disrespectful. Not only is he a bad guest, but he has belittled my husband, he has belittled my husband to my kids, (Your dad’s an idiot)  and verbally attacked my son over a difference of opinion in truck brands. (I can only guess that alcohol and low self-esteem justify this behavior in his mind. I honestly do not know what I’ve done to earn such disdain from him.) He proudly told me on Christmas that he told Dad he had a crappy childhood because our parents didn’t take us on vacations or let him play hockey. Nevermind the fact that we had no money. Nevermind the fact that we were loved, had beds to sleep in and food to eat. But he is still holding a grudge for what he didn’t have. This is not a person I would choose to associate with if he weren’t family. I’m finding it harder and harder to figure out why I feel compelled to play along with the myth of the happy family celebration.

Mom agreed maybe it was time to quit trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. I told her to let me know what she decided. Her house with everyone, or my house with just us and Mom and Dad. Two days later, I got a text from my sister. Mom wants to know if one of us will host Easter this year.

I called my sister and asked what this was all about. I said I’d already had this conversation with Mom and I was not willing to host Easter for the entire family. My sister gave me the speech again about how we never know when it’s the last holiday with Mom and Dad. She said she would host Easter – in the house she just moved into with the many boxes she isn’t nearly done unpacking. Guilt kicked in and I said I would host Easter. She was in no position to do it. We went round and round but she finally insisted she really didn’t mind having it. I was relieved and told myself for the millionth time to quit holding grudges and just try to enjoy my family for who we are.

My sister and I decided to be smarter this time. Instead of asking everyone if they could bring a dish to share, she sent out a message that included the menu and asked everyone to pick an item to contribute. Youngest brother – all 43 years old of him – immediately called mom to complain that he was being told what to bring and he didn’t want to be told what to bring. Mom told him that no one should be telling him what to bring and he should just bring whatever he wants.

Do you see the problem here? Can you say enabling?

Also, Mom apparently mentioned to my sister, my brother’s verbal attack on Jake last summer. Long story short, she mentioned that Jake should be prepared for my brother to give him a hard time about the new truck Jake just bought. Even though I might think this is wrong, even though any sane person would think this is wrong, in my parents’ opinion, my brother is Jake’s elder and Jake should just keep his mouth shut and accept whatever my brother might have to say. Bottom line, Jake might be made to feel bad, but no one should stand up against this.

Over my dead body. Who are these people? And why do they think it’s okay for family to be hateful to each other and pretend it didn’t happen?

DysfunctionAnd still we planned to attend Easter, probably because I had responsibility for some of the main dishes and didn’t want to leave my sister in the lurch. In the end, we told Jake to stick near us and not to engage in any conversation about the truck with my youngest brother. Luckily the topic wasn’t brought up. Although I was glad when my older-younger brother asked Jake about it and expressed sincere happiness for him. That was good for Jake.

Meanwhile, youngest brother arrived with his family of six and dumped his Target bag of coffee cakes in the kitchen for someone else to slice up and find a serving tray on which to serve them. And I have to admit he was fairly well-behaved except for the part where my sister mentioned that one of the  dishes she made was from a Pioneer Woman recipe and youngest brother had to announce to everyone that the Pioneer Woman’s food is disgusting because it’s all made with lard and fat and it’s unhealthy. And did he mention disgusting? I said that it is southern comfort food and my sister said that it’s not like they eat food like that every day and still he had to have the last word which was disgusting.

Did I mention that the first thing I did upon arriving at my sister’s house at 10:00 am was to start drinking? Can you blame me?

We finally had all of the food prepared and sat down to eat. Youngest brother’s wife immediately left with two of their kids the minute they were done eating. No one quite knows why. Mark, my sister, our kids and I cleaned up the mess and did dishes while youngest brother sat in the living room, drinking beer and conversing with Mom and Dad.

And Dad said to me, You’re awfully quiet today. And all I could say is, I guess I just don’t have much new to talk about. Because really, what am I going to say? That after years of not having a healthy conversation about how much I hate the way we handle holidays, I am beyond reason and ready to explode? I don’t think so.

In two weeks, we have another family celebration, this time in honor of Mom and Dad’s 50th wedding anniversary. I will hold my tongue and I will play nice and I will get through it because I refuse to be responsible for putting a black mark on something this big.

And then I am done. Because I can’t help but feel that my parents choose my youngest brother over anyone else’s feelings, have always chosen him. We should not hurt his feelings, but we should just understand that he can’t help but hurt ours. It’s always been that way. He’s the baby of the family. His life is tough. (Not really. First world problems, believe me.) God help me if I repeat this cycle with my own kids. So I am done.

So I say now. Or until my sister convinces me again that if I make such a choice, I will not be proud of myself when Mom and Dad are no longer here to celebrate with, dysfunctional or not.

I would like to think that what we have is some kind of twisted family normal. Is it too late to move out-of-state? Would it be wrong to fake my own death just for the duration of the next holiday?

And in spite of everything I just said here, I’ll bet you twenty bucks I’ll be hosting a family celebration again before the year is done. Because clearly, I am insane.

On a lighter note…

It has been a busy week!

My women’s bowling league had our end-of-season banquet on Monday. It was my team’s turn to coordinate the big night, and I have to say we did a great job with a very small budget. Great Italian food, fun prizes and I’ve been reelected as the league president once again. (No one else wants to do it. Being president means you have to type up the by-laws every year.)

The Ball Busters with our "sistas," the Who's Up? team.

The Ball Busters with our “sistas,” the Who’s Up? team.

There were more dealings with car dealerships throughout the week, but I still don’t have my new car. I’m hoping it arrives this week! The waiting is killing me!

And of course, this was Easter weekend. Brad and Heather weren’t with us this weekend. It was Heather’s parents’ turn to have the kids for a holiday. But we all met for lunch yesterday afternoon at a restaurant halfway between us and them. We had fun conversation and good food. I learned that everybody’s family has a little bit of crazy and drama and we all stress about it to some degree. And I got a chance to give Brad and Heather their Easter baskets … because in my opinion, until my kids have kids of their own, they’re still eligible for Easter baskets. Although, Easter baskets for big kids might contain coffee, chunky peanut butter, Hershey’s syrup and ketchup in addition to candy treats, they loved them and it made me happy!

Kacey and Connor were here for the holiday, though. They also had a wedding to attend on Saturday. They got all dressed up and had a great time, dancing the night away at the reception.

Matchy-matchy

Matchy-matchy

Saturday night was Fun Night with our Saturday bowling league, planned and coordinated by yours truly. I can’t say I put a lot of effort into it. Last year’s Fun Night was successful, so I recycled it again this for this year. I’m not unhappy to see the season come to an end. It will be nice to have some free Saturdays again for a while. And besides, Wednesday summer league begins in just a couple of weeks!

I spent every free moment this weekend preparing food for our family Easter gatherings. We had brunch with my family at my sister’s house. We skipped dinner with Mark’s family, (we knew we’d be too full to eat again,)  and joined them later for dessert at his sister’s home. All in all, the day went well. But I’m sure glad that major holidays requiring extended time with extended family only come around a few times a year. I’m exhausted! The weather, though? Phenomenal. Easter Sunday was a short-sleeve, bare feet, birds singing, sun shining kind of day. Absolutely stunning.

But the biggest news of the week? Is this.

Jake and his new truck

Jake and his new truck

First major purchase of Jake’s adulthood. The shopping and buying of this truck were a good bonding experience for father and son. Jake is thrilled with it. Makes me happy to see him so happy.

And now, I think we’re all looking forward to a quieter week.

Justin

I have a cousin … step-cousin, really. Justin. He’s the son of my uncle’s second wife. I think he’s about thirty years old or so now.

I didn’t really know Justin when he was growing up. I can remember Justin at one family Christmas when the entire extended family would still gather together. After that, my parents started doing their own thing at Christmas time, since their kids were growing up, getting married and having kids of our own. I probably saw Justin a handful of times throughout the years after that. And then my uncle and Justin’s mom divorced.

The next time I saw Justin was four years ago when my uncle died. He was living with my uncle (who I also didn’t see often) and was estranged from his mom by that time. I was a little shocked to see how Justin had grown up. To put it mildly, he looked like he was no stranger to trouble. We were all gathered at my uncle’s home that day as the paramedics were taking him to the hospital. He was in the last stages of illness and we all knew he probably only had days to live. Justin was moving about the house. He looked like he was packing things. I guess he knew he couldn’t continue to live at the house after my uncle was gone. He was trying to look tough, but I could see he was struggling to face what was happening. He went outside and started up the lawn mower as my uncle was wheeled out of the house on a gurney.

I didn’t know Justin at all anymore, but I felt sorry for him. No one in the family knew him anymore and maybe everyone was a little scared of him. He couldn’t lean on his mom for support. And his step-dad was dying. After the ambulance left, Justin stood on the deck looking lost. I scribbled my phone number on a piece of paper and slipped it to him. I told him to call me if he needed anything. I was a little afraid that he might call; afraid I would be nowhere near able to give him anything he might need or want. He never called. I wasn’t surprised. Maybe I was a little relieved.

Then, maybe a year ago, I stumbled across Justin on Faceb00k. I friend requested him and he accepted. We messaged a bit and he shared a little bit about his life. He had hopes at that time of making a life with a girl he was dating. He liked her child and thought they could be a family. I gathered he didn’t have much and was left to wonder how he supported himself. Didn’t really want to know, really.

Over the past year, I’ve noticed Justin’s Faceb00k posts. Sometimes I can’t respond to what he’s said because he’s posted something too vulgar or violent. Times like those, I think maybe I should disconnect our FB friendship. He lives in a different world. Then another day, he’ll post something about getting sober, becoming a better person, being the kind of person who can be involved in his kids’ lives. (I guess he has kids!) Times like these, I leave him a supportive comment and feel bad about the times I’ve thought about disconnecting.

I’ve since learned that Justin’s relationship with his mom (if you can call it a relationship) is very volatile. I know and love his mom, though I haven’t had much contact with her since the divorce. I don’t know her the way Justin describes her, but there seems to be nothing left between them. One day on Faceb00k, Justin posted a status update asking for a “mom.” Someone to check in with him for a few months and help him be accountable. I thought about offering, then for some reason, I didn’t. His life is so different from the one I live. I don’t know if anyone volunteered. I told myself I did the right thing. I alternately told myself that I was a coward.

Recently, I commented on one of Justin’s more vulnerable, yet positive status updates. It was something about wanting to be in his kids’ lives but nobody wanting him to be there. He thanked me for my words.  He said something about feeling bad that his mom had written him off. As much as I know he thinks he hates her, he clearly mourns the loss of her. I felt compelled to send him a private message. I told him to hang in there and keep moving in a positive direction. I told him that it meant a lot to me that he was with my uncle during those last months and weeks when he was dying. I told him that I worried about him and wanted him to have the good life he was trying to achieve. I said I’d like to hear about his kids.

Justin replied and said that he wanted to tell me about his kids. He also said he thought he should tell me about himself. In person. And did I want to meet for coffee soon? I said I would, even though I’ve worried about what we’ll have to say to each other. We don’t really know each other and a part of me is afraid that I’ll give the impression I can offer him more than I’m capable of. I don’t think he drives. I don’t think he has a “real” job, and I’m not entirely sure he’s always got a place to sleep at night. Maybe more so, I’m afraid that I won’t be able to make a difference and I’ll just be one more disappointment in his life. Then again, maybe there’s a real friendship in our future.

My Grandma’s Lasting Gift

My Grandma T made memories for her family. She made real, tangible memories with her own hands, loads of colorful yarn, her crochet hooks and a lot of love.

Birthdays and wedding showers brought stripe-patterned afghans meant to keep Grandma T’s loved ones warm on cold nights. Christmases were sure to bring new pairs of mittens, playful winter hats or long, bright scarves. My grandma was a product of the Great Depression and she found ways to use up or reuse everything in her house. Some of her creations were a crazy mix of colors because she wanted to use up all the remnants of her yarn supplies. Her gifts often came wrapped up inside empty cereal boxes or round oatmeal cartons.

When my siblings and I were growing up, there wasn’t a lot of money to go around in our family. New things came to us only on special occasions. We nearly crawled out of our skin with anticipation of birthday and Christmas gifts. And like all kids, our wish lists included many of the latest and greatest toys, games, music or clothing. If we were lucky, we might get one or two of those wishes. But Grandma T didn’t give the latest and greatest kinds of things when she gave her gifts. And that was just fine with us. We adored Grandma T’s  homemade creations because we adored her. Many cold winter days, we could be found fighting over which colorful hats and mittens belonged to whom.

Lately, it’s been hard to sit at a desk all day at work. The cold outside air seems to seep inside the office, under doors and through the windows. Sometimes I get distracted from my work by the chill I can’t seem to fend off. A few of my coworkers keep a sort of cape at work for this very reason. I’ve seen this kind of cape in stores. It’s a sort of designer blanket, made so that one can get away with wrapping up in a blanket in the office, without looking like one is wrapped up in a blanket. I’ve considered buying one. I’m just really reluctant to spend twenty-five, thirty dollars or more on something I’ll only use in the office. So I simply hope I’ll be absorbed enough in my projects that I don’t notice the cold. Or I try to remember to put on extra layers of clothing. Or I forget and suffer.

A few weeks ago, I was staring at all of the clothes in my closet, trying to decide what to wear. At the far side of the closet are things that are worn infrequently, or things that aren’t mine but couldn’t be parted with for one reason or another. Brad’s high school graduation gown is there. We had to buy it before the years when the school decided to just rent them. Kacey’s prom dresses are there too.

There was something else at that far end of the closet. It has been there for years. I’ve looked at it a million times and can’t believe it hadn’t occurred to me before now. It was one of the many memories that Grandma T made for me while she was still here with us – a cream-colored, lovingly crafted cape. My memory might be fuzzy on exactly when she gave this to me, but I know I was young, in my grade school years, I’m sure. And I know I didn’t appreciate it at the time. I didn’t wear it often, either because I was pretty much a tomboy who would rather wear her Smokey the Bear sweatshirt, or because my mom was afraid I’d ruin the cape while in the midst of my tomboy pursuits.  Years ago, after I was married and living in a house of my own, Mom gave the cape to me to keep. I wasn’t sure what I’d do with it, but Grandma T had made it for me. She was long gone by that time and I couldn’t stand the idea of giving it up. So it has hung in the closet, unused all of these years, until that day a few weeks ago.

I pulled it out and wrapped it around my shoulders. The cape had been made for a child, but it was still plenty big enough to wrap around my adult shoulders and cover my adult arms. I knew how I would keep warm at work whenever the chills set in from then on.

Just the perfect size for keeping warm while working at the computer

Just the perfect size for keeping warm while working at the computer

And it has "arm" holes to free up my hands while staying wrapped up

And it has “arm” holes to free up my hands while staying wrapped up

There are so many times I’ve been reminded of and missed my Grandma T. She loved her family so dearly. She was so quick to dole out praise and so generous with her heart. She was “home” to all of her daughters, sons-in-law and grandchildren. Even as kids, the world could be such a difficult place, but when we were in the company of our grandparents, everything seemed simple and easy. How could we not miss Grandma T every single day? There are times I still hear her calling me Honey Girl and I still miss how she wrapped her arms around me and hugged me so tightly. Now I have a daily reminder of Grandma T to put a smile on my face. And I’ll bet she’d love the fact that her tomboy granddaughter is finally so happy to wear the beautiful cape she made.

A few of Grandma T’s mittens, hats and scarves still occupy space in the winter-wear bins in our front closet. They rarely if ever get worn. Some of her afghans are still folded up neatly in a cabinet in the family room. They are too short to cover our long bodies, so we opt for the newer, heavier fleece blankets instead. But all these years later, the cape is finally, happily worn!

And again with the weather!

20140126Boy, the weather sure is demanding our attention this winter, isn’t it?

My weekend did not go as planned, thanks to the weather. I was looking forward to some family time. Brad sent a text message early in the week, asking what we had planned for the weekend. I responded, “Nothing much. Just bowling. You thinking of coming home?”

“Maybe.”

I figured he was bored. I think all of the various hunting seasons are over and it’s probably too cold to go ice fishing. But I was more than happy to let the kids come here and hang out for a couple of days. We let Kacey know that Brad and Heather might be coming home, and soon she was contemplating coming home from school after her last class of the week on Thursday. I love that my kids like each other enough to rearrange plans to spend time together. There was a time when they would have done anything possible not to have to be in the same place at the same time.

Brad’s maybe turned into definitely and Kacey was home by dinner time on Thursday. It had been a really challenging week at work and all I wanted was to walk away for a couple of days and spend time with my kids. Wouldn’t you know it, though, the weather forecast began to look a little sketchy by Friday morning. Brad didn’t think he’d be able to leave work before seven o’clock and he sent me a text message that afternoon saying that if he and Heather couldn’t get on the road before the snow began to fall in their area, they would probably just stay home. I understood. As much as I love to see them, I don’t want them risking their safety to get here. The highway that takes them from there to here is notorious for white-out conditions when it snows and I always worry when they’re out on the road.

In the end, it wasn’t snow that kept them away, but sleet. Brad wisely chose to avoid traveling several hours in the dark in such slippery conditions. I was disappointed, but relieved that I wouldn’t have to worry about them.

And so a quieter couple of days loomed ahead. Still, Kacey was home and I wasn’t the only who was happy about that. Lucy knew she was in for some pampering.

So instead of big family breakfasts, Kacey and I cooked up an omelet to share on Saturday morning. Instead of dogs racing and chasing in the back yard, Lucy soaked up the attention Kacey showered on her and only her. Instead of everyone being home, Jake went to work on Saturday to earn some extra money. Earlier in the week, I envisioned family movie nights, when we would all get into our comfy clothes and wrap up in fleece blankets in front of the living room t.v. Some of us would fall asleep before the movie’s end. Instead, Kacey and I discovered a new series to watch on Netflix. By the third episode, I was losing the fight to keep my eyes open!

I pictured games around the kitchen table and imagined conversations full of laughter and so loud that one would overlap another. But those things weren’t to be. Instead, Kacey and I got out of the house. In spite of the cold and wind, we did a little bit of shopping. She had plans for some of her Christmas money. We grocery shopped and spent time in the kitchen making granola and a batch of soup for her to take back to school. We missed Brad, Heather and Dacotah-Dog because we didn’t get to see them in person this weekend. But thanks to the wonders of technology, we got to see them and talk a while on FaceTime. (For the record, dogs do not appreciate FaceTime. Neither Dacotah nor Lucy was interested in talking into the iPhone camera!)

We made the best of the change in plans and we had fun. Kacey headed back to school after dinner this evening, but not before making Brad and Heather promise to give it another try in two weeks. I sure hope the weather cooperates next time!

Quiet House

Lucy's chairFor the past month, the house has been so full of energy and activity. With Kacey home from school on winter break, there was never a dull moment here. We had frequent visits from her friends who would hang out here to watch movies and play games. Lucy reveled in all of this company and endeared herself to whomever it was that came through the door. Connor was here almost daily, watching football or hockey with Mark and eating whatever there was good to eat.

I loved coming home from work to find Kacey in the kitchen preparing dinner for the family. What a treat! And there was never a shortage of conversation, silliness and laughter.

Not that I wasn’t aware, but it really hit me yesterday that this was my last weekend with her before break came to an end. Kacey was still sleeping when Lucy started barking at a dog and its owner taking their morning walk outside on our street. She made enough of a ruckus to wake up Kacey. Kacey came trudging down the hall from her bedroom, trying to scowl at Lucy, but a smile snuck through instead. I wasn’t too sorry.

“Can’t you just not go back to school?” I fake pouted and nudged her as she found herself something to drink in the refrigerator.

“Um, yeah,” she said agreeably. “As long as you don’t mind me living here until I’m forty.”

“I don’t think I’d mind,” I said.

“I think I would,” she laughed. Really, I was relieved she felt that way. Good to know she’s got enough ambition to want to create a life of her own outside of this house.

Kace and Chase

Kace and Chase

This morning Kacey and Connor attended his baby cousin’s baptism and first birthday party. I puttered around the house, waiting for Kacey to return. I didn’t want to go anywhere because I knew that almost as soon as she was back, she would pack up her things. And then she and Connor would be on their way back to school. I didn’t want to miss my chance to hug her goodbye. She was back by early afternoon with stories about how adorable the baby was. She got to spend time too with Chase, Connor’s little brother. She always has fun with Chase. I think he likes her pretty well too.

I helped her pack up her stuff. There was a lot of stuff to pack. A girl apparently needs a lot of stuff for a whole month at home. There were a couple of duffel bags, a tote bag, a back pack and a giant, reusable Ikea bag. We laughed when she said she hoped Connor had room in his car for all of her stuff in addition to his!

As it turned out, there was enough room, and they were off. A couple of hugs, a couple of I-love-yous, and the car was backing out the driveway. I closed the front door as they drove away and the house felt immediately subdued. The water, heat and grocery bills will probably go down this month. That’s little consolation.

I know she goes to school fairly close. It’s not like we go months without seeing each other. She spends weekends at home pretty frequently. We text or call each other almost daily. I almost shouldn’t miss her when she’s away. But I do. I just love having her here.

When we were packing up Kacey’s things and I was looking at all those bags of clothes and accessories, all I could do was wonder how many more times I’ll be able to enjoy having my girl home for winter and summer breaks. She’s a college junior this year. Next year, she’ll likely get a job near school and her ability to come home on weekends and during breaks could be much more limited. Who knows? In the very near future, she may end up staying in her apartment over the summer instead of coming home. In not too many years, her own life will be taking off. And that’s what I want for my daughter. But until then, I will continue to love having her here, as often as she wants to be. Home always feels more like home when my kids are here.

Still in a holiday-lazy groove

I had to go back to work today after having the past two days off in honor of the New Year. This morning felt like Monday all over again. And it wasn’t easy getting out of bed. It’s been so cold for the past couple of weeks! I have a blanket, a heavy comforter and a quilt on the bed. Last night I threw a fleece blanket on top for good measure. Mark was gone to work for the night, so I tried to convince one of the dogs to curl up and share some body heat, but when Brad and Heather are home, which they are right now, Lucy forgets I exist and attaches herself like velcro to Heather’s side for the duration of their stay. Dacotah, sick of fighting for attention against Lucy, hung out with me for a while, but soon wandered off to find her own people again.

cold-weather-winter-outdoors-indoors-seasonal-ecards-someecards

Can you tell I’m one of those people who can never get warm? Now I remember why I was in an exercise slump around this time last year. Just the thought of making even the short jaunt from the gym parking lot into the gym in this kind of cold is almost painful. Of course now that Jillian Michaels lives in my DVD player, I can’t use that excuse anymore.

I didn’t exercise this morning, though. I had the best of intentions of going to the gym, but … it was  seriously cold out. Also, I didn’t really sleep much last night. The combination of “kids” home on break from school and work, coming and going, the dogs romping around as long as someone was awake, and Dacotah periodically wandering back in to stick her nose in my face and make sure I was still in my bed, all kept me from getting a solid night of sleep.

I was kind of cranky as I drove to work today. In weather this cold, the roads can be icy even when they don’t look it. But some drivers drive stupid anyway and it annoys me. And then I was thinking about how once I arrived at work, how much I didn’t want to have to deal with an annoying coworker who constantly comes across as such a phony and always manages to push my buttons. I literally prayed as I drove that she would call in sick. No such luck. She showed up to work not long after I arrived.

But I was busy after a couple of days away. There was plenty of catching up to do, several month-end processes to complete and a couple of client “fires” to put out. I barely had a free moment to spare and thankfully, my coworker kept her distance. It also helps that I’ve finally learned to refuse to respond when she initiates conversation over the cubicle wall. If she can’t come address me directly, I’m going to pretend I can’t hear her. It helps.

The day was full enough that it passed quickly. I got everything caught up and under control, enough for me to have one more day off tomorrow. I figured that since the kids are home, I might as well make use of all that PTO time I accumulated over the past year and stretch out the holidays just one more day. So by afternoon, that Monday feeling had passed and the Friday feeling took over.

Sure is going to feel strange to have to work all five days next week. But I think it’ll do me good to get back into a normal routine again.

Not Quite Perfect Christmas

In the hours before company started arriving on Christmas Eve, while I was puttering around doing last-minute cleaning and putting food together, I told my kids, “I think this is going to be my favorite part of Christmas. This time right now, when you are all here, helping me out, relaxing, and having fun with each other.” I’m glad I thought to tell them that.

017

A quick nap for Dacotah and Kacey

020b

Brad and Jake having a friendly war

I had all weekend and Monday to get things ready for a house full of extended family on Christmas Eve. I was on top of things. Brad was supposed to work a half day on Tuesday, Christmas Eve. He and Heather were then going to drive home and arrive here in the late afternoon, just ahead of our company. But on Monday came reports of a big snowstorm in their area, beginning Tuesday in the early morning hours. Brad’s boss generously gave him Tuesday off and told him to get a head start on his drive home. He and Heather arrived home at midnight on Monday.  I was relieved to have them home safe and sound. During the day on Tuesday, while we prepared for the big night, my boys moved furniture in the living room to play Call of Duty on the X-Box. Kacey and Heather helped me in the kitchen. Connor passed through a time or two while taking care of his own last-minute Christmas preparations. They all laughed and joked and seemed to enjoy each other. It was a joy to be in the midst of it all.

I worried about other stuff, though. I’m sorry to say that I worried my way through Christmas. I wanted to pull off a nice Christmas for my parents. My dad had made it a point to say how happy he was to be home for Christmas this year and how much he was looking forward to spending it with all of his kids and grandkids.

Bu every family has its tensions at one time or another. I’ve had my share of family tension this year. I thought I could put it all aside for Christmas and particularly for my parents. The brother who had hurt me and my kids so much this past summer with his cruel, alcohol-induced words really seemed not to get that what he had done was so hurtful. I told myself that he had no idea how hurt I was and I should just let it go. I was ready. I wanted to let it go. But it wasn’t to be. Some people are just unhappy in life and the only thing that seems to help is making other people feel small so that they can feel bigger. I’m a non-confrontational person. When someone gets out of line with me, I seem to be physically incapable of speaking up. I do not sling hurtful words back in anger, as much as I sometimes wish I could. (Believe me, those words are inside of me. I just can’t make them come out.) In particular, with this brother, biting my tongue means keeping my parents happy. They don’t want their kids fighting and disliking each other. But I think I’ve hit the end of my rope with always having to say, “That’s just how he is. Let it go. Walk away. Be the bigger person.” A string of passive-aggressive communications from my brother and his wife during the days leading up to Christmas had frayed every last nerve in my body. It was stupid, juvenile, unprovoked stuff, like a text message conversation. “What food can we bring for Christmas? How about a veggie tray? We don’t want to bring a veggie tray.” … and then no further commitment to what, if any food they might bring to what is traditionally a somewhat pot-luck type of event. Their family of six showed up at the door with a 12-pack of Pepsi instead. There was the annoyed-sounding phone message left after I’d missed a call to my cell phone. “Yeah, I wanted to talk to you about something, but apparently you don’t want to answer my call. CRAZY!” And then when I picked up the land line, “Oh. Nice of you to answer the house phone at least.” I tried to brush it off, not take it personally, and did my best to appease them, the end result being a knot of anxiety in my chest that would not go away. Still hasn’t.

I think I managed to pull off something resembling a decent holiday for the rest of the family, but I came out of it…. scratch that… I went through it and came out of it feeling defeated and angry. I know that Mark and the kids were not the least bit oblivious to my stress. I clearly have not really let go of the old hurts and now every new hurt, no matter how small, seems monumental. I told Mark that I’m done… really done with the extended family gatherings. It’s just not worth it to make myself and my own family miserable before, during and after every event, just because one person can’t manage to treat other people with respect. Or maybe because I take things so personally. Either way, Mark says in another year’s time, I will have forgotten how passionate I feel about this right now and I will change my mind. Not that he disagrees that I have a right to feel hurt after opening up our home and spending hundreds of dollars to entertain twenty plus people. He just doesn’t feel as fiery inside as I seem to. Maybe I will change my mind. I don’t know. But it wouldn’t be so abnormal for us to start “doing our own thing” on the holidays. Our kids are adults. Not long from now, they’ll be getting married and having children of their own. It’s normal for the holidays to become more fragmented as families grow. I want to create good holiday memories with my kids, not leave them with a string of dysfunctional scenarios to mark the years.

I want to love my brother, but right now, I need to love him from afar.

After the big, loud, chaotic family party, Mark and I settled in the living room with our kids and Heather and Connor to open our family gifts. And it was wonderful. Wonderful. My kids are grown ups now, and I love to see how much more joy they now feel in the giving, rather than receiving. We laughed. I smiled. It was such a happy, relaxed time. I no longer felt as if I were walking a tight-rope.

Even Lucy got into the spirit!

Even Lucy got into the spirit!

We hit the sack well after midnight and Christmas Day arrived with a repeat of the extended family gathering with Mark’s relatives. I was physically exhausted, but much more relaxed not having to play hostess. There were family tensions there too, but at least they weren’t mine. And the day provided some of the most heart-warming moments and biggest smiles I’d felt in days.

My kids really seem to have grown up to like each other and enjoy one another’s company.

Christmas 2013 1We are all so excited that Heather will soon be our daughter- and sister-in law.

Christmas 2013 2And my kids are proving that they will someday be fabulous parents, aunts and uncles.

Christmas 2013 3

Ryan knows you are never too old to race Matchbox cars.

Christmas 2013 4

And Jake knows how to get a belly-laugh out of a kid.

I’m always sad that Christmas is over so soon. This year I have mixed feelings. There is too much I want to put behind me. I’m not proud of the way I let things eat away at me and the person I became as a result. I complained too much and couldn’t seem to let things go. This Christmas brought me many reason to feel blessed, but instead, I chose to dwell on the hurts. I need to move past this and move on.

New Year’s Eve, I’ll have another chance to spend time with all of the kids and Mark. I’m so looking forward to it. We’ve decided that we don’t want to go out, don’t want to have people over either. We’re going to get into our comfy clothes, eat appetizers, maybe play some games and watch movies until we fall asleep. I owe this to them.

A new year is just around the corner. A fresh start. A chance to learn how to deal with life better. I’m ready.

My unexpected early Christmas gift

My kitchen window paints pretty pictures when the temperatures drop below zero.Kitchen Window(Humor me here, and pretend you don’t notice that what the window is really telling me is that it’s not fully protecting us from the cold and needs replacing.)

The single digit temperatures are the reason that my Sunday morning began so early today. My dad had duties to fulfill as his church’s deacon and was on deck to deliver the homily at both the eight and ten o’clock masses today. He did the five o’clock mass last night too, and Mom attended that mass with him. But it’s not good for her fragile health to go out in this cold unnecessarily, and since Dad can no longer see well enough to drive, I was out the door at 7:00 this morning to pick him up and take him to church for today’s masses.

I didn’t mind playing taxi driver for my dad this morning. It gave me an excuse to get my day rolling early and get things done once I dropped him off. ‘Tis the season and all that, you know? Lots to do. So my mind was already on the time just after I would drop Dad off and could be on my way. But the car ride brought something unexpected. It was a comment about the fact that even for Minnesota, this seems early for such drastic cold. My dad agreed and started reminiscing. I remember years ago, when I was still working at Brown and Bigelow. We had to work Christmas Eve day back then. They didn’t allow us a day off as part of the holiday. We probably got to leave early that day and it had been snowing, one of those snowfalls where the flakes are big and wet. I could just wipe them off the windshield with my glove. It was snowing, but it wasn’t so cold that day.

Nothing earth-shattering in this story. You’d have to know my dad today to appreciate it. See, these days, his thoughts come more slowly. His words take a while to form. It’s painful sometimes to wait for his meaning to make itself clear while I try to be patient and resist hurting his feelings by finishing for him. It occurred to me that I was enjoying Dad’s little story so much because his words just flowed naturally and it brought me back to a time when he was young, when he was strong, when he was the one who took care of us. I wanted him to go on.

And then right after that Christmas, I remember working New Year’s Eve day. And then it was cold! Really cold. I couldn’t imagine anyone wanting to go out and celebrate the new year on such a cold night, but I suppose people did anyway. And I don’t think they were as strict about drinking and driving back then.

“Probably not,” I agreed peering through the windshield as tiny snowflakes battered against it, trying to read the street signs. I hadn’t wanted to interrupt him, but I was pretty sure I’d missed the turn to his church. I told him so and he took closer notice of our surroundings.

Oh. Yeah. I think that was it there, he pointed over his shoulder at the side street I’d just passed. My eyes aren’t so good anymore. 

“That’s okay, Dad,” I said. “It’s still a little dark out and the snow coming down doesn’t help.” I made a u-turn and then turned on the correct street. I pulled into the empty parking lot that would soon fill up with church goers and then walked Dad up the steps and into his church. He clutched the manila folder containing his homily that Mom had printed for him in huge type. I was a little disappointed that our ride had come to an end so soon. But Dad had things to do and so did I. I was on my way back to his house to spend the morning with Mom, putting up Christmas.

Because Dad is so dependent on Mom, there’s rarely a time when I get to spend time just with her. I meant to go to my parents’ house and get right to work, doing a little vacuuming and dusting and then putting up the tree. But Mom was sitting comfy in her chair with Little Bear (the dog) on her lap. We started talking and before I knew it, an hour had gone by. I told Mom that I had probably better get something done before Dad was back home already. I laughed and said I especially wanted to make sure I was done with any vacuuming and mopping, since Dad has a tendency to stand and hang around wherever it is I’m trying to clean.

After I’d run the vacuum around the floors, we went to the basement and Mom pointed out the boxes that needed to be brought upstairs. First, I assembled the artificial Christmas tree in the family room and Mom helped me fan the branches out so it didn’t look so smushy anymore. The Mom sat with Bear in her lap again while I fished ornaments out of the box and decorated the tree. Mom commented on the memory that each ornament held. There’s an entire set of bulbs with hand-painted depictions of local churches on each one. Dad receives one each year in honor of his donation to the Annual Catholic Appeal. Mom said that someday, us kids might want to divide them up. She clearly considers the ornaments to be special, but I hated the implication. Someday, when we’re gone…

The final touch to the Christmas tree is, of course, the Nativity set. Mom showed me where she wanted the stable to sit under the tree, then I took out the box of figurines and began to unwrap them. They’re a motley crew of pretty gold and pewter pieces as well as some old, painted ceramic figures that my dad made sometime years and years ago when he was a kid. The ceramic pieces aren’t the most artistic figures you’ve ever seen, but Mom and Dad have used them for as long as I can remember and their Nativity scene just wouldn’t be the same without them.

“Uh oh, Joseph fell over,” I deadpanned as I picked up the figure that had immediately fallen as soon as I placed him in the stable.

Maybe he’s been drinking already today, Mom joked and we laughed at our own irreverence. Mary, Jesus, the wise men and animals all behaved themselves and stood upright on the first try. The crazy angels with Pepto Bismol pink gowns and aqua blue wings took their place in front and soon the Nativity scene was complete.

NativityI had brought my iPod along and Mom and I had been listening to Christmas tunes. I picked up the docking station and carried it up to the living room. It was time to assemble the ceramic village and Christmas trees in the front window. The biggest ceramic tree has fake plastic light bulbs that have to be placed in their holes one by one. Mom and I continued talking, about I don’t know what, while I tried to make sure that the colors were evenly disbursed on the tree. Then one more Nativity scene needed assembly. This one is a clear acrylic set of figures that stand on top of a lighted base. I wrestled with a small broken piece, trying to figure out where it had come from. I couldn’t tell for the longest time, then finally realized that Joseph’s hand that was supposed to be wrapped around a staff was missing from his wrist. This clearly was not Joseph’s day.

“I’d glue it back on if I could figure out how it’s supposed to connect,” I complained.

Don’t worry, as long as he can stand up, no one will notice he’s missing a hand, Mom said. And she was right. Joseph will have to manage without one hand for this Christmas season.

I’ve always admired this set. It’s very peaceful and pretty. Mom remembered this too. Don’t forget, that set is yours, if you still want it, when I’m done with it.

“Yes, I still want it,” I said. “But not for a while yet.”

The house looked good and festive by now and I had time to take the boxes back to the basement and run a mop around the kitchen before my sister showed up with my dad. I had all the kitchen chairs back in place when they came in through the front door, just in time for Dad to come and stand – not on a rug – and let the snow melt from his shoes all over the clean floor! I laughed inwardly because there had been no doubt in my mind while I was mopping that this is exactly what would happen.

Hun? Mom said. Can you take off your shoes? Terri just mopped the floor.

Oh. Yeah. Dad said, not making to move in the least. But eventually, he did. It was lunchtime by that point and I had Christmas shopping to do so I said my goodbyes. My sister and I walked out to the driveway together and I said, “I had such a good time with Mom this morning.”

“Are you being sarcastic or serious?” She asked. I guess she thought I couldn’t be serious about having fun doing housework and putting Christmas up for a second time this season.

“I’m serious,” I laughed. And as I thought about it, I realized how grateful I was for the simple pleasure of spending time with my parents without rushing, without thinking how much I needed to be somewhere else or about all the things I wasn’t crossing off my own to-do list. This morning was a gift, one of those times I hope that as my parents continue to age and slow down, I will always remember as simple and unexpected and joyful.