Thursday, August 30, 2012

In with the good, out with the bad

Everyone knows that when something is full, you have to remove something to make room for something else. It’s harder to gauge these things when you can’t see them.

I realized this summer that my ability to “bite my tongue” grows weaker as I get older. I guess that it why older people tend to say what is really on their mind—your body gets tired of “holding it all in.” I’m tired of holding it all in.

"Happy" family--1979
When I was a little girl, things at home were a little rough. My parents suffered from extreme depression. They both worked from home, so it was hard to escape. But despite their mood swings and sometimes erratic behavior, I always knew they loved me.

We always had “party night” on Friday and we would make homemade pizzas with tortillas and spaghetti sauce. Mom had this enormous green Tupperware bowl that we would fill with hot popcorn and melted butter. We would sit on the floor (we had no furniture) and watch something on our little black-and-white 17 inch television and have ourselves a party. It was always fun—no drama, no depression, no screaming, and no crying.

Mom and Dad were always sure to tell us they loved us. They were always quick to say, “I know we have issues, but it doesn’t mean we don’t love you very much.” And it was true and I knew it was true.

But Mom and Dad were always hard to talk to. I didn’t have the luxury my daughter has to say, “That really hurts my feelings when you interrupt me when I’m talking.” If I had expressed my feelings several things might have happened—Dad would have lost his temper and yelled at me or Mom would have done something similar or she would have terrible guilt over hurting my feelings and then I would feel terrible for making her feel terrible. It was just easier to hold it all in.

The house where I grew up in Dublin, TX
Those habits formed early for me and stuck with me until a few years ago. Those habits forced me to hold it all in while I was married to my ex-husband. He also had a terrible temper and I felt it was best to hold it in rather than set him off. Of course, being secretly mad at someone doesn’t help an already flawed marriage.

The problem is that you can’t hold that stuff in forever—it has to go somewhere. When I started getting my life back on track after my ex-husband left,  I started replacing the bad in my life with good things. All that stuff that I had been holding in began to come out.

I would go for months and feel fine, and then I would have a day when I would just lie in bed and cry and cry and I didn’t understand why. I would think to myself, “My life is good now. Why I am so sad?” I finally realized it was my body’s way of finally dealing with all that hurt I had pushed down inside me for all those years.

After I met Robby and we began to fall in love, I began to have more of those days. My life was filling up with good and all that bad needed somewhere else to go. By the time Robby and I got engaged in December, I thought I was done with all that bad stuff. I thought it had finally been purged.

But then I had another episode this summer while I was in Texas visiting my parents.  We were sitting at the table at my aunt’s house eating breakfast when my mother began telling a story about a couple she had helped. It took everything inside me to not scream, “How can you help people who are total strangers, but not help me when I needed you?”

I tend to think these things in my head when I’m around my parents, but never has my inside voice been so strong. I had to leave the table and go to the bathroom to calm myself. I washed my face and looked at myself in the mirror and said, “You gotta get your shit together.”

I cried for days over the incident. I had nightmares for weeks. I finally realized it was time to come clean with my mom and dad. I realized the relationship I have with them is affecting all of my relationships—especially the relationship I have with my children.

My parents are in good places in their lives right now. They have spent the past 14 years talking to therapists and working on their issues. They are honest with us about their issues and they are regretful and reflective every day of their lives. They have always given me the freedom to tell them exactly how I feel or to yell at them about something that happened in my childhood. But I have never felt the need to do that, until now.
My family had issues, but atleast we weren't stacked up naked and forced
 to look happy that these poor children.
A few days ago, Mom called me. We were talking and then I felt we had reached a place in the conversation where I could let it all out. I didn’t scream at her or try to hurt her—I just talked. I talked and talked and cried and cried and she just sat there and listened.

And she gave me the best gift a mother can give her child—she validated my anger and she apologized.

She told me something profound. “The only perfect relationship we can have in this world is the relationship we have with God. But God put us together for a reason—you needed me as a mother to help you get to this place in your life. Perhaps without knowing such sadness and depression, you would have never had to fight so hard to get the happiness you have now. The fight is what brought you to where you are now.”

I know she is right. I know that God puts people in our lives to make us who we are. I just never believed He gave me the perfect parents—they aren’t perfect, but perfect for me. Yes, Mom and I have still have a lot of work to do, but we are moving in the right direction finally.

I need to fix this relationship in order to fully love myself. It’s just as important as building a healthy relationship with God. The relationship with my parents affects every relationship I have had or will have. I gotta get this right this time, so I can quit holding in the bad stuff and start holding on to the good.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012


So, it seems the political climate in our country is about to go from boiling hot to mother-of-god-that-burns. I hate election years and I really hate this part of the election year. Facebook is no help either…the sidebar to the right keeps telling me which of my friends is voting for Mitt or Obama or likes Chick-Fil-A or likes things made in America.

And sadly I find myself silently judging those around me for their “likes” and “dislikes.” I’m a reformed conservative who called herself Independent from day one because I refuse to make a choice and align myself with an entire political party—I’m the most judgmental of the political parties unless you count Libertarian (which I won’t since their votes never seem to really make a difference in the race for president).

I find myself agreeing with both sides. I make myself feel good about it by reminding myself that I must be so open-minded to see both sides. Yes, it’s crap, but it makes me feel good about myself and this country is all about making yourself feel good about yourself—especially when you are on Facebook looking at pictures of yourself while talking about yourself and seeing what other people think and say about yourself.

But I realized something today and it made me angry—we are arguing over politics but what we really should be arguing over is money. Of course no one likes to argue over money—except maybe Libertarians and that’s only because they get the luxury to look at an issue rationally since they get to try to prove two parties wrong instead of blaming everything on a liberal or a conservative like normal people do.

I think it is bad that we have politicized things that don’t need to be politicized—abortion, same-sex marriage, education, and healthcare. Why should it matter what political party you are if you think that abortion is always wrong? Does that mean that pro-choice people are also pro-abortion? Does that mean you have to be pro-life to be a Republican? When did they get to put their stamp on pro-life? And who isn’t pro-life? We are all pro-life, aren’t we? No one that I have ever met is pro-death—and I have even met women who were raped that got pregnant.

Why do you have to be liberal to say that Obama care is a good plan? What if you are a Republican and you can’t get health insurance for your disabled child because your job doesn’t offer health benefits and you can’t get a private plan to cover pre-existing conditions and you make too much money to qualify for Medicaid? Then you should say, “My kid can go without because I’m Republican and I refuse to agree with a healthcare plan that covers pre-existing conditions.” That’s stupid. Healthcare is not political, but it’s hard to see that when you are not faced with loss of benefits or disabled children with no health insurance. As a parent who lost my coverage and couldn’t take care of my daughter’s medical needs for a year, I can tell you that Obama Care sounds pretty damn good and it would be nice to hear a Republican agree with me.

And yes, there is same-sex marriage. You already know how I feel about that. Is Dick Cheney less of a dad because he chose to align himself with his political party over his gay daughter? My answer is yes. Politics doesn’t belong in adult love. You know, the kind of adult love that isn’t considered “forcible sex.” Perhaps the Republicans would find it interesting to know that gay sex is the only sex that never results in pregnancy so perhaps homosexuals have no need to be pro-choice because they have no choices to make? Maybe they are all just pro-life? But wait, they can’t be because that would make them conservatives and we all know that if you are gay, you have to be liberal because politics has somehow made its way into consenting adult relationships.

And now on to education—the platform everyone seems to embrace but no one wants to do anything about. I will gladly admit that I mad as hell at Obama for doing NOTHING for education since he has been in office. There was that one week when he addressed getting rid of No Child Left Behind, but then we never heard another thing about it. Why is education a political debate anyway? I’ll tell you why—it’s all about money. And our money is not being spent correctly and we can’t figure out who is more wasteful with the spending because it’s everybody—Democrats and Republicans should be ashamed of themselves for what they have done to this country.

About 10 years ago, I sat at a table with my dad and we talked about politics. I told him that I truly believed we would begin to see a strong 3rd party emerge and all these democrats and republicans would have to change their tune. They would have to navigate to common ground or else the Independents would take over and win every election. I believed that notion—I thought I understood politics.

And now, here we are at 2012 and we are still a 2-party system with Democrats and Republicans tearing each other apart and polarizing our nation. I don’t like either one at this point. I can’t vote for Mitt because I don’t agree with his stance on social programs, same-sex marriage, abortion, or the economy. I don’t feel great about voting for Obama because he should have done something about education these past 4 years. I love his healthcare plan because it works for me (I understand it doesn’t work for everyone and I respect that), but he should have multi-tasked and done more. But then how could he do more with the Republicans blocking his every move. And they don’t block moves because they are right; they block them because they are polarized. The democrats did the same things to Bush.

So, I’m taking a break from politics for the next 3 months. I’m going to ignore your political signs and rallies and commercials. I’m going to just shake my head and nod and say, “I really don’t follow politics.”

Who am I kidding? I’m not going to do that. I’m going to keep getting mad and saying what I believe is true. We should all do that. We should all be mad at what politics and politicians have done to our country. And we should say what we believe is true whether or not our friends like it, because if we don’t say what we believe, then no one will ever know. Everyone will just continue to believe that hate abortion because you voted for Bush or that you hate gays because you ate a chicken wrap at Chik-Fil-A. They won’t understand that you like Chik-Fil-A because they offered you your first job when no one else would. They won’t understand that you lost a baby before it was born and that you can never agree with abortion. They won’t understand that you couldn’t provide health insurance for your child and so you like Obama Care. They won’t understand anything unless you explain it. Shout it from the rooftops if you have to. But just be honest—stop being political. And I will try to stop being so judgmental because I will understand that I asked you to just be honest with me.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

I thought I forgot about you...

Life has a weird way of bringing people into your life that you “think” you have forgotten about. The truth is, of course, you never forgot about them, you were just lucky enough not to have to think about them for a while.

Before Robby and I got married, we made the decision that the children and I would leave our long-time home and move in with Robby in Savannah. They would leave the only school they had ever known and make new friends in a new school system.

But our old school system is probably one of the best in the state of Georgia. As a matter of fact, the schools are probably some of the best in the country. It was a tough choice, but as things began to fall into place, I knew it was the right decision.

The children also lucked out because they ended up with an extra 3 weeks of summer break due to the move. But with all the excitement of a move, a wedding, and life, I had failed to withdraw them from their old school yet.

Last week I was driving Jude home from karate class. My cell phone rang and I let it go to voice mail. When I listened to the message, I began to laugh out loud. “What’s so funny Mom?” Jude asked from the backseat of the car.

The message was from one of Veronica’s former teachers—she was calling to inform me that she would be Jude’s teacher this year. I had forgotten about her—or at least I thought I had. But as soon as I heard that name and that raspy voice, I knew exactly who she was. I replied to Jude, “You better thank Robby when you get home.”

Jude was confused until I said, “That was Mrs. H (I will keep her name private). She was going to be your teacher this year if we had not moved.”

Jude was horrified. He remembered that name very well. Mrs. H had tormented Veronica to the point that I almost pulled Veronica out of 3rd grade. And the ironic part was that Mrs. H was a resource teacher who was supposed to be “helping” Veronica raise her grades and catch up before state testing began.

Third grade was a lousy year for Veronica. I was getting divorced and my soon to be ex-husband had just suffered a partial amputation of his leg and was in the hospital in Texas. And to top things off, the cast of “Mean Girls” had apparently set up shop in Veronica’s homeroom. She was a very sad little girl and she hated going to school. She had constant dark circles under her eyes, she rarely smiled, and she never ate.

She was so depressed that her mind began to not work correctly. She couldn’t comprehend short stories she read and she couldn’t even add simple numbers together. I began sending Veronica to family counseling and her homeroom teacher began to send her to Mrs. H’s classroom for extra help.

I went to eat lunch with Veronica at school one day. I gave her money to buy an ice-cream and she had just pulled off the wrapper when she saw another classmate come into the lunchroom to fetch her for Mrs. H. A look of terror swept over Veronica’s face and she stood up and threw her uneaten ice-cream in the trash and said, “I gotta go.”

“Wait a minute,” I said. “You still have over 5 minutes of lunch time left.”

She hurried to the door and said, “I have to go or Mrs. H will scream at me.”

I walked Veronica down to Mrs. H’s room and then walked across the hall to Veronica’s homeroom. “Why is Veronica not getting her full lunch?” I asked her teacher.

She looked uncomfortable. “Well, Mrs. H needs all the children in her room at the same time and some children have already had lunch.”

I told her I didn’t care. “Veronica gets her full lunch from now on or I’m going to the principal next time. Got it?”

The teacher looked scared. But I knew she wasn’t scared of me. I began to realize everyone was scared of Mrs. H.

Veronica’s teacher did fix the situation with lunch by sending her to the lunchroom 5 minutes early. I didn’t complain because I got what I asked for and I thought that would be the end of the situation.

Several weeks later, I was trying to help Veronica with her math homework. “Veronica, you got every single one of these problems wrong.” I wasn’t angry, I was worried.

She started crying. “I know. I’m stupid. I can’t do math. Mrs. H says I’m never gonna pass and I’m gonna be stuck in 3rd grade forever.”

I almost broke my front tooth from clenching my jaw so tightly. “She said what?”

Then it all came out. Veronica began to tell me everything from how Mrs. H screams at them to how she yells, “None of you will ever pass anything! You are horrible students!”

I put Veronica’s homework in her backpack and told her, “You don’t have to worry about that woman ever again. I’ll take care of this.”

Veronica cried off and on for the rest of the night. I was so angry with this woman. Here I was trying to do everything I could to restore my daughter’s self-esteem and sense of self-worth and this stranger was tearing down everything I had built up.

I sent a note with Veronica the next morning and told her teacher that under no circumstances was Veronica to go to Mrs. H’s classroom. My phone rang about an hour after school started.

“Hey, is this Veronica’s mom?” said a gravelly voice.

“Is this Mrs. H?” I asked.

“Why, yes it is,” she said with a laugh. “I think we have a misunderstanding.” She was laying on the sweet pretty thick.

“No we don’t,” I said. “Veronica told me everything. I will be at the school at lunch to take care of this, so I suggest you get your story straight before I get there.”

Later that day, I met Mrs. H. She looked the way I expected—she had those crazy bitch eyes that she tried to hide behind her fake smile. She informed me that her method of teaching was very successful and that children do better when they think they are going to fail.

“That’s the biggest bunch of crap I ever heard,” I laughed. I told her that she better treat my little girl like a princess and do something to turn her self-esteem around or I would make sure the school board knows she’s the kind of teacher who picks on disabled children. I pulled every card I had and I didn’t stop until I saw that woman cry. Then I went across the hall and I got Veronica and brought her into the room. I made her apologize to Veronica and explain to her that the state tests have no bearing on her ability to pass 3rd grade. I made her tell her she was wrong to treat her that way.

Veronica looked up at Mrs. H’s teary face and said, “It’s okay. I forgive you.”

Perhaps it was mean, but I wanted her to feel the way she made my child feel. I wanted her to feel stupid. I wanted her to feel like an idiot. I wanted her to feel like everyone was laughing at her. I wanted her to feel something besides entitlement and self-justification.

It worked. She began to treat Veronica the way you are supposed to treat a child. She praised her hard work. If she asked if anyone needed more time to finish a test, and Veronica raised her hand then she would say, “Take as long as you need, honey.”

Veronica’s self-esteem began to blossom again. Her grades went up and she not only passed her state test, but she blew them out of the water. And most importantly, I got my little girl back. I got to see that smile again. I was able to see those beautiful brown eyes again and they weren’t clouded with tears or sadness anymore.

But the name Mrs. H still evokes fear in Veronica. When I told her that Mrs. H would have been Jude’s teacher, she almost cried. She hugged Robby and said, “Thanks for moving us to Savannah.” I guess it was just meant to be.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Lazy women

I should be working on my thesis, but I don’t feel like it today. I should also be getting my homework done, but I have no motivation for that either. I’m over half-way through with this quarter of classes. I am usually an emotional mess at this point, but not this time. I don’t even remember the last time I cried about getting homework done.

I would like to say that it is because I really don’t care about school anymore. But that is not true. I still care and I still try to get good grades. I still do my homework on time and keep up with my reading. But this quarter has been a real eye-opener for me.

One of the classes I am taking this quarter is an online course where we have to work on a group project for almost every assignment. We were assigned our group at the beginning and we have to stay with that group for the entire course. I am stuck with 4 other ladies, and it has been nothing short of a nightmare.

I realized that I don’t like working in groups—especially an all-female group. I also realized that my tolerance for excuses and bullshit gets lower as I get older.

A few of the ladies are fine partners—we get along and we get our stuff done and that’s about it. But there are 2 other girls in the group that are about to drive me insane. I know more about one girl’s gynecological problems than what research she did for the last project. And the other girl will drop off the face of the earth for about a week and then resurface with a million excuses about why she couldn’t do her work. She gets extremely defensive for a day and then turns into the biggest butt-kiss for another few days before she goes back to her cult or wherever it is that she disappears to.

There was a time when I thought it would be great for me to have my MFA so I could teach college courses, but now I think I would rather work anywhere else. I don’t know how college professors do it. At what point to do you look at a twenty-something year old and say, “I don’t care that your roommate broke-up with her boyfriend and you had to stay up all night talking to her—you still have to do your work!”

I guess I have always been one of those people who admit to my mistakes. There are times when I forget to do assignments or I fail to submit homework properly. It’s always easier to just say, “I messed up.” And most of the time, the professor will let me correct my mistake or give me partial credit for being honest.

I also have to wonder what it is about these slackers that make them think anyone cares about their long work hours or menstrual cramps? We all have real issues that make college work even harder. If life is so bad then might I suggest you contact the professor and have him give you another assignment—it’s just a thought.

I usually make pretty good grades. I will be lucky to pass this class at this point. Our grades suck so badly and I have no control over it. It’s a group project and you get graded on the lowest common denominator—and we all know who that is.

So, I’m trying to figure out what lesson I can learn from this experience. At first glance, I realized  that there is no lesson to be learned. I already knew that there were sucky people in the world. I already knew that there were lazy people in the world. I already knew that I hate group projects. I also already knew that there are some people who only care about themselves.

I guess what I didn’t know is that I don’t feel it’s my job to try to control everything around me anymore. My professor can either change our grade to reflect our individual work or he can continue to say “my hands are tied.” These lazy women can either do their work or continue to drag us all down with them. It doesn’t matter what these people do. I’m done with trying to fix everyone around me. I’m done with trying to manipulate the situation so that I can get what I want. I’m done with doing other people’s work so that I can look good. And in a few weeks, I will be done with this class and I will never have to work with these people again.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

I'm not wanted

It’s been a while since I wrote a blog. I am swamped with life and it seems to be catching up with me a little more each day. But I guess that is the way it goes for a newly remarried mother of two who is also a full-time graduate student and freelance writer—did I mention it’s summertime and my school-teacher-husband and both kids are still out of school?

I also slipped away to Texas for a week to take Veronica to Camp Just Like Me. The camp is sponsored by Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children in Dallas and it is just for children and teens with Arthrogryposis. Yes, it's also the same camp where she fell and broke both legs last year. But she loves that camp and wanted to go back. I agreed that she needed to go back, too. That camp seems to bring out the very best in her and it’s always a life-changing event.

But this year was different than previous years. I had this weird feeling from the moment we got there that things were “off.” After the first day, I thought the difference was the change in ownership of the camp.

The family that used to own the camp is no longer there. It left a huge hole that was obvious from the moment we walked in the front door of the lodge—no big hugs from Scott and his family and no dogs running around outside. And not only were they not there, but there was a new group of camp counselors and a new group of staff from Texas Scottish Rite Hospital.

By day two of the camp, I began to realize that the change in leadership and counselors didn’t seem to make that much difference. We did pretty much the same activities. Everything was still fun. All the kids and parents had smiles on their faces. I thought maybe I was just tired, and for the first time ever, I was homesick. I finally had someone at home who missed me, and I could tell he missed me. I just wanted to be at home with my husband.

By day three I finally realized why camp didn’t feel right. I realized that there was no reason for me to be there this year. This was the first year when I didn’t need to dress Veronica. She didn’t need me to push her wheelchair. She didn’t need me to bathe her or fix her hair. Quite frankly, she made it very clear that she didn’t want me there when she asked me to not sit with her at dinner.

At first I was hurt. I mean, I spent all this money for travel and I took an entire week away from home and I had to use every free minute we had at camp to finish homework and keep up with my classes. I thought this trip would bring us closer, but I never felt more useless as a mother as I did sitting alone in the cabin while she was playing at the pool with her camp friends.

I’ve noticed that life has a way of slapping me in the face with reality just when I need it. On day four of camp, I went for a run before breakfast. I came back to the cabin to take a shower. The cabins have a large bathroom with 2 toilet stalls and 2 showers that face each other so that you are facing the toilet stall when you step out of the shower.

As I finished my shower, I pulled open the shower curtain to reach for my towel and dry off. I noticed a typical scene in the bathroom—4 feet showed at the bottom of the stall. At camp, it is rare to ever see the children in the bathroom stall without an adult helping them. Most of the children cannot use their arms very well, and they need help pulling their pants up and down or wiping themselves—some of them cannot get on and off the toilet without assistance. When you're a toddler, it's not that big of deal. But when you are a maturing young lady or man, it's uncomfortable at best.

Instead of feeling sorry for myself, I realized that I should be down on my hands and knees thanking God for helping my little girl to get to a place in her life when she doesn’t need me to do those things for her any more. Last year, I had to pick her up and place her on the toilet and help her with her pants. A lot of times I had to help her wipe herself, too. There is no privacy for these children. Nothing is sacred when you are disabled—you don’t get the privilege to say, “I want to go to the bathroom by myself today” or “I don’t need help putting on my panties.” Puberty makes things even more complicated--especially for girls.

I spent the rest of the day keeping a lot of distance between Veronica and me, and I felt great about it. And if I wasn’t smiling, it was because I was too emotional. I cried on and off all day long, and I didn’t try to hide it from the other parents this time. No one asked me why I was crying—most of the parents cry at some point during the camp because it is such an emotional feeling to see your child “acting like a normal kid.” And for some of us, this camp is the only place we ever get to see that.

On the flight back home to Savannah, Veronica asked me if we were going back to camp next year. “Probably not, sweetie,” I said. “What? Why?” she asked. I leaned down to her face and whispered, “Because you don’t need me to go to camp with you anymore.”

She didn’t seem too upset by this. I know she doesn’t want me to go to camp with her anymore either and she can’t go to Camp Just Like Me by herself until she is 13 years old. “How about we find a camp for you next year where you can go by yourself and then you can go back to Camp Just Like Me the next year?” I asked. The thought of sending her to a “normal” camp made my stomach churn, but I know it is the next step in her journey to become independent.

She shook her head and thought about what I said. “I guess so, but where could I go?”

And quite honestly, I didn’t have an answer to that. I don’t know what is going to happen each year—I never know what new obstacle will be thrown at Veronica. I know that she will never be “normal” and I’m okay with that. But for the first time in my life, I know that she is going to be okay. She is going to be able to live in the “real world” and survive without me. Life is always going to be hard for her, but I know she can handle it.

She will always be that sweet little baby who smiled and played despite the long leg casts and painful therapy. She will always be that sweet little girl who stood in front of her first grade class and said, “Hi, I’m Veronica and I have arthrogryposis.” But most importantly, she will always be that young lady who got up one morning at camp and dressed herself while I was in the shower and said, “Mom, can you please stay in the cabin today?”

And trust me; staying in the cabin alone is just fine with me now. I couldn’t be happier.