BooWho

Things I want to keep in mind.

Domestic?…continued

…the shells are on the bed.  We stand face to face, each holding the stock with both hands.  He outweighs me by eighty pounds but I have more to fight for.  I am pleading with him to stop this.  He is ranting about failing and losing, having no reason to live.  He finally releases his hold on the gun and I set it on the bed, while he continues his tirade.  He backs me up to the closet door and is screaming in my face.  I am repeating the same words over and over, “Okay, okay, please stop…”  I would have said anything, agreed to anything.  He raised his fist and beat it against the hollow closet door just above my head saying he can’t fail again – pounding until his hand broke through the door.  I shout for him to stop, to look at his daughter, to look at how much he is scaring her…and finally, he stops.  We all stand crying – in shock, horrified and out of breath.

He is still in a state of agitation.  Breathing rapidly and staring at the floor.  I am talking in my dispatcher/mom voice, I convince him we must go to the emergency room.  This has gotten out of hand, out of control.  I get my little boy out of his crib and put him in the car seat.  My little girl rides in his lap, on the pretense that she is very upset and he is going to “hold” her to calm her but in reality it is a distraction for him to prevent him from jumping from the car as I drive down the road.

As we drive the 24 miles into town enroute to the hospital, we talk about what to do.  He continues to tell me that he just cannot fail at this marriage, he can’t get divorced.  He won’t do that to his kids.  I promise to go to counseling to help us through this – being careful never promising to “stay”.

By the time we arrive at the hospital, he has calmed down and decided against going to the emergency room.  He tells me that his best therapy is to go for a run – so, instead, we drive to a park and he goes for a run on the trail.  I sit in the car with my kids, waiting…in survival mode.  I consider leaving him at the park but I know that will make him VERY angry.  I consider who we can tell, who would help me convince him that he needs help, this whole episode was horribly wrong.  I decide on his mother.  She and I have been very close and I feel certain will help me convince him to seek medical help.

He returns to the car.  We drive to see his mother.  As I am changing our son’s diaper, he tells her his version of the story and by the time I return to the room, she is angry and defensive.  She asks me if I ever loved him.  It was then that I realized I was on my own and this was not going to be an easy road, for any of us.

The rest of the story is long and blurry.  We never had another violent episode, although I would periodically find the shotgun shells out of the drawer and on the bed – as a reminder or threat?

We did seek counseling but I insisted we have individual counseling first.  I knew that I hadn’t intended to stay and my purpose for seeing a counselor was to help me figure out how to end it safely.  His counselor gave him some suggestions for how to deal with the situation, I think she told him to give me time and space.  She also told him that she needed to speak to both of us.  My counselor told me that I should pack his bags and leave them with his family – along with a restraining order.

He tried several strategies to coerce me into working on the marriage, telling me the kids would be ruined.  Also saying our families would never forgive me.  I would be excommunicated from our church.  The courts would never give me custody of the kids.  I would never find a man willing to take on our two kids.  They would be mistreated or abused.  I would go from relationship to relationship – failing over and over.  He knew all of the weak spots in my self-esteem.

I kept my head down, shields up. I learned.  The direct approach would never work.  The truth wasn’t the answer.  I had to bide my time, stay the course.  I would never confront or respond to his faulty reasoning, saying very little.  But inside my head, I was moving forward.

I was determined not to raise my kids in that type of environment, without love and having to live under someone else’s “rule”; a rule and lifestyle that I couldn’t abide.  I wanted them to learn that marriage and parenting was a partnership – no one is the “owner” or “dictator”.  At that point, even being a single mom would have been better for them.  I could be stronger and more secure, for them.

More importantly, I would not live that life.

It was another month or more before he finally gave up and moved out.  I will never forget the feeling of that day.  I had to work but he had told me that he would be leaving after I got home.  When I arrived, he was waiting for me with a pile of old greeting cards.  He sat me down and asked me to read what I had written in each card, then asked if I was lying when I wrote it.  It was one final attempt at shaming me into submission.  I didn’t falter. (Also, all of the evidence of that one fateful day had been destroyed; the broken door was burned and the glass shards of the flower vase were thrown away.  I wouldn’t have noticed but my daughter told me later when I asked what they had done on that day…)

After another hour of him trying to convince me I was making the biggest mistake of my life, he loaded up his old truck with his belongings and drove away.  To this day I can still feel the relief, as I watched that truck get smaller and smaller.

I wish I could say that was the end of it.  He drove off into the sunset and all was well.  So many painful details in the divorce and remaining years of our life together.  (If you have children, you never really see those taillights disappear for good.)  It took years for me to stop feeling fearful of him and what he would do.  Every time he took the kids for a visit, I worried he would take them and disappear, never to return – as he had once threatened.  I worried that he wasn’t taking care of them, they were not safe, they were afraid, they missed me as much as I missed them.

To this day (and 34 years later), in writing about this difficult time, I still feel shame, fear, guilt, anxiety.  I have triggers that bring me back to that time and feeling.  Reminders of how I felt during that marriage – the helplessness, the anger, the fear.  I know that I was luckier than most.  It wasn’t easy but I did get out, it was the right choice even though it was hard on my kids and hell for me.  We survived and are better for it, then and now.

 

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Domestic?

Here’s how it begins: it seems so vague at the time, something tugs at the edge of your brain, something small and almost like a whisper of air but noticeable enough for you to stop to try to identify it.  Eventually, you ignore it just like all of the other tugs, shoves, and screams of protest that follow over the days, months, years.  Inside, you know but you overlook it and pretend it doesn’t matter.  You tell yourself you can deal with this, you can make it work.  You can suck it up.

Most of us have survived at least one bad relationship.  When it is over and you have finally gained your freedom – in hindsight, you can remember the beginning of your personal uprising.  It is usually one moment when the voice inside finally reaches maximum impact.  It may have been when he told you he had to “approve” all of your friends; or you couldn’t have money of your own; or he had to pick out your clothes; or he didn’t want to be around your family (because they mistreated him); or when he told you the other woman didn’t really mean anything (he only slept with her because you weren’t giving him any attention); or when he hit you (for the last time).  If you’re lucky, breaking free is as easy as packing your bags (or his) and saying good-bye forever.  If you are not so lucky, it is a long process; one that requires planning, resolve, ingenuity and courage.

I was not so lucky as to be able to just pack the bags and say good-bye but I was luckier than most.  I had a full-time, secure job.  I lived close to my family and they provided support by caring for my children free of charge while I worked.  Our home was in my name and because he was not working, he couldn’t afford the payment.  I worked for a law enforcement agency as a 911 dispatcher.  He would never bother me at my work.  Our home was out in the country and it was not convenient or possible for him to covertly “drive-by” to check up on me.  Two months after our divorce, he moved away for a job in another state.  Our children were very young and I was awarded residential custody.

All of that is not to say it was easy.  It was hell.  Perhaps the biggest advantage for me was that we had only been married for 4 1/2 years and there were no financial constraints for him to lord over me.  Since I was the main breadwinner, he couldn’t prevent me from ending the relationship.  That isn’t always the case.  In fact in most cases, lack of the financial means are what keep most women in abusive relationships.

DEFINITION OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
Domestic violence is a pattern of assaultive and coercive behaviors, including physical, sexual, and psychological attacks, as well as economic coercion, that adults or adolescents use against their intimate partner.

1 in 3 women are in abusive relationships.  A woman is more likely to be killed by a male partner (or former partner) than any other person.  Approximately 75% of women who are killed by their batterers are murdered when they attempt to leave or after they have left an abusive relationship.

Can you identify a potential batterer when you meet him/her?
Just as there is not one reason for abuse, there is not one type of batterer. Many batterers are highly successful professionally and in other areas of their lives. With history and society to support their beliefs, they may have little remorse or regret over battering.

Are victims of domestic violence “weak” people?
The fact that people experience domestic violence doesn’t make them inherently “weak.” Through manipulation and coercion abusers often chip away at the victim’s self-esteem. Sometimes this process happens so subtly that the victim is unaware of the psychological, emotional and other types of abuse that often precede a physically violent attack. In addition, it is important to note that many victims grew up in homes where there was excessive violence and turbulence. They may have seen their parents abuse alcohol and drugs, and consequently blamed themselves for the dysfunction and unhappiness.   domestic abuse article 

 

During the course of our marriage, there was only one episode of violence.  It was the scariest day of my life.  And, yes, it was at the end of the relationship, when my husband realized I was saying that it was over.  I had just worked a day shift.  He picked me up in the parking lot holding a vase full of roses.  We had fought that morning on the ride in to work.  He had accused me of having an affair with a deputy friend I worked with.  I’m sure he could sense that he was losing control, I no longer cowered at his barrage of accusations and insults.  He said he had spent the day contemplating our relationship and realized he had been too hard on me.  For the entire ride home, he continued talking about the importance of our life together, for our sake and especially for the sake of our children.  Meanwhile, I am rehearsing in my head what I need to say, how I need to tell him that I was done.

When we arrived home, my little 8 month old son was asleep.  I moved him from his car seat into the crib.  Our 3 1/2 year old daughter was playing in the living room and he pulled me aside.  He wanted to talk to me, to tell me how much he loved me.  When I didn’t return the sentiment, he asked me outright if I loved him.  I said, “I care about you”.  This sent him over the edge.  He began ranting and seething.  He picked up the vase of roses and my daughter and I watched from the window as he went outside the threw the roses to the ground, shattering the vase.  All while crying, holding our daughter in his arms.  In my mind, I am thinking of all the phone calls I’ve taken as a dispatcher with this identical situation.  A woman crying on the phone, her husband in the background screaming, children somewhere in the house witnessing mayhem.  I was petrified.  How do I get my little girl safely away from him, get my little boy out of the crib and all of us into the car with the least amount of trauma?

He came back into the house and put my daughter down.  We are all in tears – he is sobbing and I’m trying to calm him.  He goes into our bedroom and I hold my daughter trying to calm her down and figure out how to get out.  I can hear him open a dresser drawer and I think maybe he is packing some clothes, maybe he will just leave – I step to the doorway and see that he has his shotgun and shells and is beginning to load the gun.  My deepest fear.  I’ve taken this call before.  Man kills family then turns the gun on himself.  I KNOW I can’t get my children and I to the car safely.  I SEE that the gun is not yet loaded.  I grab the gun.  We begin wrestling over the gun – both of us sobbing and crying.  Me begging him to stop, him saying he has no reason to live.  Our little girl, eyes wide with terror, watches from the door.

 

To be continued…….

Fearing old age

I had an appointment with a dermatologist the other day.  Since my brother passed away from metastatic melanoma, it is recommended that his siblings see a dermatologist once a year or if a new mole should grow or an old mole should change.  There were two moles that she removed – they were dark and big and one was very itchy – all the time.  She said she wasn’t concerned but would biopsy both and they would let me know by mail.

My dermatologist is young – isn’t everyone once you reach my age? – she is very attractive and very thorough.  She made a couple of references to my age, about staying young by having time with my grandsons.  It was a simple conversational reference but as I left her office, I found myself feeling very old.  In my mind’s eye, I am still quite young.  I am constantly surprised to find that others don’t view me as such.  So odd.

I also find myself realizing more and more how much I have discounted women who were older than me.  As if once you reach a certain age you have no further value?  What the hell?  Now I’m there and I can see women in their 30’s and 40’s discounting me.  It is very disheartening.

I also find myself doing the things that “older women” do — like discussing bodily functions too openly and too much!  Or having an unwillingness and inability to learn new things like phone apps and dealing with computer difficulties.  Things that I previously viewed as a fun challenge are now beginning to baffle me and I give up very easily.  So much easier to throw up my hands than to just sit and work through it.  (I also realize that sometimes, I am truly baffled and can’t figure these things out.  When that happens, it is SO sad and disappointing…)  I always begin fretting that it is the early signs of dementia!  Horrifying.

I recently viewed a TED talk What you can do to prevent alzheimer’s and it was reassuring to hear that learning new things will help prevent alzheimers.  I’ve read several articles on this topic and they all lean toward staying active, staying connected with “real” people (not just on social networks), getting good sleep and learning.  It is common sense really.  All great objectives to strive toward.

In truth, the most difficult obstacle to overcome is our own fear of aging, our own negative view.  At least that is the truth about my case.  I have fallen prey to our societal mindset that “youth” is to be revered and “old age” avoided.  Ridiculous.  We don’t become useless because we’re old; unless we believe it to be true.  Don’t rest on your laurels.  As with all citizens, we may not contribute by discovering a cure for cancer or winning the gold at the Olympics (most citizens don’t – no matter their age!) but we continue contribute in our own families, in our communities, in our own way.  We’re not finished yet.

Another list

Life expectancy: the average period a person may expect to live.  Of course, it all depends on diet, genetics, exercise, income, education, risk-taking, and stress.  My husband and I talk about life expectancy all the time.  2018 was a big birthday year for both of us – he turned 70 and I turned 60.  According to the life expectancy calculator I consulted – each of us still has time but once you reach this age, you begin to realize you are on the downhill side.  Scary.

Insurance companies use life expectancy charts and calculators all the time to base their risk of insuring you and to calculate your rates.  You can find a multitude of articles about how to calculate your own life expectancy by looking at your risk factors.  If you are a smoker – deduct 10 years.  A heavy drinker – deduct 8 years.  If you exercise regularly – add 4 years.  If you eat 5 portions of fruits and vegetables daily – add 2 years.  If you’re in a good, stable, relatively happy relationship – add 2 years.  A good network of friends and an active social life – add 4 years.  A happy and optimistic outlook – add 2 years.  Depressed and unhappy – deduct 4 years.  On and on.  That in itself is depressing!  I’m doomed!

Not really.  All kidding aside, it makes you realize that you do need to change a few things.  I’ve never smoked so that is of no consequence.  I do like a friendly happy hour but I wouldn’t say I’m a heavy drinker (defined as drinking over 21 units a week).  I don’t exercise as often as I should so that is at the top of the “Life Expectancy Improvement” list.  Frankly, that will be easier to accomplish than eating 5 portions of fruits and vegetables daily, which also makes the list.  I feel like I have a happy, stable relationship and while I do have friends, my social life isn’t horribly active.  Also on the list.

As for my life outlook – I am alternately optimistic and depressed.  How do you gauge that?  It certainly isn’t enough depression to deduct 4 years….is it?  I’ll circle back to that one and pencil it onto the list.

The truth is – there are a lot of factors for life expectancy that we can’t avoid or change.  Cancer, dementia, accidental death – those are the ghost factors that we can’t put on the list to “improve”.  If they happen, they happen.  My dad always used to say that you can’t worry about death – wait and watch for it – none of us can ever know when only that we will die.  Worrying about it only impedes actually living.

In our retirement, we are being realistic about our age and our life expectancy.  We are doing the things we want to do – while we are physically able.  When our relationship began, we both had children and were not able to travel or spend a lot of time together, just the two of us.  For years, we talked and dreamed about the time when we could – after the kids were grown and we had the time and financial stability.  This is that time.  So, we go on cruises in the winter, we take road trips to warm places and we stop at historical and scenic sites.  We drive until we’re tired, then we stop and rest. We spend time with our grandchildren and enjoy playing with them and watching them learn and grow. We try to keep our minds active – he does puzzles, I write.  We each have our own hobbies and interests. We love our life together.  We enjoy talking about our past and our future – whatever our life expectancy.

Truth or fiction

“Writing more” is easier said than done.  While I love to write and it is often therapeutic, finding something of interest to write about can prove difficult.  Flash fiction is fun but, as with any writing endeavor, the mood has to strike.

Writing about politics and the state of this country provides a plethora of possibilities but is also quite volatile – depending on your audience.  We are a nation divided – which is truly unfortunate.  These are scary times.  I honestly don’t feel qualified to write in that realm as I tend to avoid those topics myself.  My head is buried deeply into the sand.  Sad but true.  Besides, most of politics these days is truly just flash fiction, isn’t it?

The state of politics in this country is frightening.  I am fortunate to live in my little isolated valley in Montana.  We are about as far out of the line of fire as you can get.  It isn’t that we don’t care and it isn’t that we aren’t effected by the state of these matters – but we aren’t barraged with moment to moment media vomit – unless we choose to be.  (I say “we” but I should say “I” because there are those who monitor news channels, twitter, facebook and all the usual outlets – even though we are not in the mainstream of political jargon).   For the majority of valley residents, there are animals to feed, kids to raise and snow to plow – the conversation and focus is different on the whole.

I don’t read the newspaper.  I don’t watch the news. I don’t even watch regular television — I watch Netflix or Prime movies and TV shows.  I am not proud nor ashamed.  I just don’t want to get caught up in the media circus where I am told bits and pieces of the truth.  Who do you believe?  How do you believe anyone?  I catch snippets of reports periodically.  My husband shares his reactions to his news alerts and the newspaper.  I see a multitude of facebook posts.  I do get the gist of most current events.  Enough to have fear for our future but I can’t/won’t let that dictate the direction of my daily life.

I found an interesting article about the remote areas of our country and how different it is for those of us who live here.  News is not the main event nor is it the main focus of conversation.  The author took a road trip and talked about getting away from his normal “media diet” by listening to books on tape instead of talk radio and not being able to post on social media because he was busy driving.  Also, along the way, televisions in bars and restaurants showed sports and not news or talk shows.

“How people get their news has changed dramatically over the past few decades — starting with the rise of conservative talk radio starting in the late 1980s and continuing through the founding of Facebook, YouTube, Reddit, Twitter and other new platforms. The results have included more attention to previously obscure topics, which is great, and more openness to ideas outside the prevailing mainstream, which isn’t necessarily bad, but also includes a lot more tendentiousness and untruth. The reaction of the mainstream media to the loss of its information monopoly has often exacerbated the divisions and distrust. And President Donald Trump, who seems intuitively to understand this new media landscape better than anyone, has chosen to use it mainly to foment further division and anger.

If one exits this roiling media landscape to spend a few weeks interacting with the actual (and often spectacular) American landscape, and talking to people about things not directly related to Donald Trump, this country can actually feel like a pretty calm, friendly, well-functioning place. Maybe it is! But until its citizens find better ways to talk to each other about national issues, it will also probably keep feeling like a country on the brink of something awful.”     https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2018-10-26/road-trip-america-takes-us-beyond-news-media-politics

Sometimes, I consider whether I should probably try to get more involved so that something akin to Hitlers Germany doesn’t suddenly surprise me from left field.  I can’t imagine that would happen but apathy of the majority will be a contributing factor if it ever does.  We have to pay attention.  Maybe just not so much attention that we feel doomed in our everyday lives.  I believe there are still good, strong, powerful people at the helm.  The right will prevail.  I know, rose colored glasses.

A new year

New Years’ Resolutions? How do we feel about them? How do we stick with them for longer than a few days/weeks?

I love the beginning of a new year. It is a fresh start, a place to “begin” doing something that you have been postponing or just to initiate a new plan/idea. Most of us begin a new diet or workout routine. Some of us vow to read more, drink less, walk more, watch less TV, etc. etc..

I am no different. I want to walk more – get moving. I know that fitness is important as I age but I continually put it off. It is too cold/hot/wet/dry. No more excuses! I’m starting today.

I want to read and write more – which means less television viewing and limited screen time (youtube, facebook be damned!). I have to find a happy medium. I tend to go all or nothing and that doesn’t work for me – I feel deprived. Perhaps if I force myself to watch something of VALUE I will learn something new? And to make myself get up and turn things OFF after a time limit will compel me to seek out other entertainment.

I want to eat more green vegies. Eeeewwww! That is almost more difficult that getting out in the cold and walking every day! HOWEVER, I have a new magic bullet and can get my “greens” by way of smoothies.

One train of thought is NOT to make specific resolutions in an effort to avoid feeling like a failure when your list of changes/enhancements falls through. To my way of thinking (for me anyway) that just makes it all the more easy to let the resolutions slide. I must have a list. I must have a GOAL. I’m anal retentive that way…

And so it begins. My list is short but full – walking, reading, writing, eating, moving more, both physically and mentally. In reality, just living more.

***Side-bar — I tried the new block editing and I don’t like it. My second paragraph disappears when I publish and I can’t figure out how to get it back. Very irritating…..

The chair

As his eyes flutter closed, I lean my head back against the pad and reminisce about all of the babies I’ve rocked to sleep.  His body is warm and relaxed against mine and though he barely fits in my lap, he tosses and turns until he finds a comfortable position.  Every nap time he tells me that he is not tired, he doesn’t want a “snooze” but once we read a book and he falls into the rhythm of the chair, he starts to drift off.

The first piece of real furniture I ever purchased was a nice, wooden rocking chair.  I was pregnant with my first child and we could barely afford groceries but THIS was a necessity.  I rocked all four of my children in that chair.  Years later, it was replaced with a glider chair and I don’t recall what happened to the original.  It really isn’t about the chair, it’s about the rocking.

Rocking an infant is one of the more peaceful joys of this world.  The motion of the chair will inevitably bring the desire to sing a soft lullaby. You find yourself drifting into a mild slumber; still aware of your surroundings but on the verge of dreaming.  To watch their little face as they drift with you is a rare treat.  Their eyelids are heavy, their cheeks chubby and soft, sometimes they will stare right into your eyes until they can no longer hold theirs open.  Their eyes roll back, their bodies give in to sleep.  You will sit and continue the flow until you hear their breathing deepen, basking in the warmth, comfort and trust.

These days, I take great pleasure in rocking my grandsons.  Of course, the older they get, the less likely they are to agree to allowing such an endeavor.  But I am happy to report, I’ve been able to rock each one of them until they were too old or too big for my lap.  It is glorious.  We have had our best songs and conversations while rocking in that chair.  I have weaved many an adventure or non-rhyming songs, we’ve laughed and chatted, making elaborate plans for our future.  Moments I will treasure until my last breath.

These are moments from their infancy and toddlerhood that they may never remember the exact days and conversations, but they will have the muscle memory of that motion, that calm voice and those long arms enfolding their bodies.

Comfort and joy

In the wee morning hours as I get up and prepare for my day, I step out onto my porch to turn on my Christmas lights.  It is dark and amazingly quiet.  My neighbors, most of whom are relatives, also have their Christmas lights on and it looks like a Christmas Village.  It is lovely.  As I stand and admire the neighborhood, my eyes are drawn across the road to the little green trailer with no lights, no tree, no tinsel, not even a single ribbon to signify the holiday.

It gives me pause.  Not all of my neighbors have lights up.  For some, the holidays are a time of sadness, loneliness and isolation.  We experience loss and when the joy and cheer of holidays arrive, we are not in a place receptive to that frivolity.  Most of us look forward to the holidays, spending time with loved ones.  We look at the lights, the music, the food with joy and anticipation.  For others, those same symbols are a reminder of what they’ve lost or have never had.

What does that mean for us?  During the holiday, we try to think of those less fortunate.  (Sounds a bit elitist doesn’t it?)  We make donations, we bake goodies, send cards, make phone calls, make visits.  The visits and phone calls are the most difficult.  We are reminded of how LUCKY we are to have such joy amid such sadness.  The best gift would be calls and visits throughout the year, not just at Christmas.  Therein lies the challenge.  Way out of our comfort zone.

Good old catholic guilt.  What started out as a day fill with calm and joy at the neighborhood lights has dissolved into guilt and self-deprecation.  The truth is we cannot save everyone, we can’t invite everyone into our homes, we can’t bake goodies for everyone. But we can for some.  We can take time to make contact – especially during the holidays but NOT JUST during the holidays.  We can teach our children to be aware of others, to help others WHENEVER they can.  We can show kindness to everyone, always.  We can step out of our comfort zone and bring joy.

Shopping with the crone

Sensory overload.  I’ve just spent an hour looking for gifts on Amazon Lightning Deals.  Good lord.  Not only did I not purchase anything, but now I feel disillusioned.  An hour of my life that I can’t get back and I didn’t purchase a single item!  Oh, the indecision…….

I am a miser (cheapskate more like…) I can readily admit that.  I’ve tried to change but I always lean toward spending very little money, stretching every dollar.  Enroute to the mall, I will give myself a pep-talk; “Today, we are going to buy a gift/shirt/shoes (whatever is on the list) and we are not going to buy the cheapest but something of good quality within a reasonable price”.  Then, as I begin my shopping expedition – with my head held high and my pocketbook at the ready – I start browsing through the racks, look at the price tags and the old crone in my head begins her diatribe.  “Are you kidding me? You could buy a small country for that price!  What is it made of – real gold thread?  You could make it yourself for a tenth the cost!  It doesn’t even look good on the mannequin!  I know you could find something cheaper at TJMaxx or Target!  I mean, do you REALLY need this?” and on and on and on.  I leave the store with my head down and my purse between my legs.

Of course, this shopping routine comes from a childhood of poverty and an adulthood of middle class necessity for frugality.  When we were young, we were quite poor and it was most noticeable at Christmas.  I remember one Christmas when we had a very small Christmas tree, and only ONE gift for each of us.  The reason I remember this particular Christmas is because I didn’t understand why Santa couldn’t bring us what we asked for and everyone was sad.  There were tears all around – my mom crying the hardest because she couldn’t begin to afford giving us what we wanted.  That Christmas is branded in my mind – planting the seed and imprinting a need in me to make sure that Christmas is a happy morning for all.

On to adulthood.  As a mom, you suddenly realize how difficult it can be to purchase those “ideal” gifts on a limited budget and with multiple children to appease.  It is difficult enough to manage buying school clothes, shoes, birthday presents, etc but at least those purchases are staggered so you have time to save between birthdays and school years.  Christmas is ONE day where you need to get multiple gifts for multiple people.  And the older they are, the bigger the price tag.  Christmas morning always brought angst — worrying and wondering if they would be happy with their gifts.  It was a rare thing to actually be able to purchase what they asked for…and when you couldn’t, you always worried whether the “substitute” gifts were ever really ENOUGH.

It was so much easier when they were younger.  They would play as much with the boxes and wrapping paper as they did with the actual gift!  But as they got older, had friends in school and someone to compare gift lists with, it became more and more difficult.  While their friends were getting new bikes and Gameboys, they weren’t. Naturally, I had forewarned them that they won’t always get EXACTLY what they wished for… I think there were several Christmas days when they may have been disappointed, but they were gracious enough not to show it.  We tried to make the day about having fun together – with a big meal and playing with whatever gift they DID receive.

I realize now that I probably burdened them with worry about our finances by telling them that we couldn’t afford to buy the same things their friends and classmates were getting.  I wonder if I could have found a better way to address the Christmas gift dilemma about money and BIG gifts?  Frankly, there were many times where I WOULDN’T have fulfilled their wish lists even if I had the money, as I thought those big ticket items were ridiculously expensive and not in their best interest.  But if I am to be honest, it was my old crone voice that usually convinced me to find something more affordable.  HOWEVER, that old girl never did convince me to do my Christmas shopping at the dollar store!

To this day, I fret about my gift giving.  My children are all adults and we exchange names for Christmas gifts and give each other a “wish list”.  This helps tremendously and takes so much of the worry out of my gift buying.  I buy small gifts for friends and family.  And as I write this, it occurs to me that I need to face my fear of disappointing someone; of being judged as a shitty gift giver.

For those who know me and receive gifts from me – know this: the size and price of my gifts to you in no way reflects my true feelings for you, nor does it show how much I value your friendship, love or our relationship.  If I give you a gift – whether it is a bar of smelly soap or a pair of warm socks- it means you are important enough to me to take that old crone out shopping and wrestling with her over the pocketbook!

We knew

I will forever remember the last time I was able to talk to my brother, to tell him how much I loved him – so that he could hear and know it.  He was in his hospital room, the room was lined with his children and their spouses.  This was day 2 of their vigil – we all knew what was coming.

My brother was a big man, strong, sturdy and kind.  He loved to laugh and tease and talk about important things – like love and life, doing the right thing, being a good person.  Most of all, he was a likable sort.  Everyone who met him, genuinely liked him.

I was in Canada on a little getaway with my husband when I received the news that he was in the hospital.  My sister told me that he had suffered a stroke and was not doing well.  Weeks before, he had been given the dire news that the melanoma had metastasized and he would have months to live.  He had begun experiencing more pain with each new tumor and was getting more and more weak as the cancer grew.  My husband and I decided to come home a day early so that I could see my brother one more time.

It was a five hour drive home.  I had plenty of time to think about my life with my brother.  I realized a few things about our relationship.  The biggest realization was that our relationship was very strong, we were very close in my heart and mind, even though we rarely saw each other.  The bond of our friendship was from our childhood up until our mid-twenties.  During that time, we spent a lot of time together and spoke frequently.  After our children were born and we moved into our own lives, we only saw each other on holidays or special events.  The bond remained strong despite the years of  sparse and only sporadic contact.  As with any family relationship, you remember those core days very clearly.  They were the days that influence the course of your life.  Those days are held in a special memory chamber marked “vital”.

Since his passing almost three months ago, I’ve thought a lot about our relationship as adults.  As his sibling, I’ve realized that I was in the outer portion of his circle of beings.  He had a wife, children, grandchildren – they were his troop, his tribe.  I hold memories of his life before them – they hold the memories after me.  The significance of those memories for each is of equal measure.

I will think of him every time I see a bit of slapstick comedy.  We both loved a good laugh over someone tripping and falling.  Every time I see a motorcycle, I will remember how much he loved to ride.  Whenever I walk, I will think of seeing the outdoors through his eyes. Above all, I will safeguard the vital memory chamber and if his children ever ask, I will open it and spread out a display of the moments we cherished.

As I walked into the hospital that day, I tried to prepare myself.  My sister had told me that he could not speak, nor could he use his right arm.  He could recognize people and understand what was being said and he had full use of his left side.  I had been crying off and on during our drive home – dreading this moment.  I knew it was going to be difficult but I needed to see him and I needed him to see me.  As I opened the door to his hospital room, I was greeted by his wife and kids.  He was lying in the bed awake.  It struck me that he must feel sad having everyone watch over him and being so powerless – without the ability to speak.  He was someone who always wanted to make sure everyone else was okay.  He held his one good hand up, beckoning me to his side.  I took his hand and we cried.  Neither of us could speak.  So many days…

We didn’t need to speak.  We both knew.