Thursday, April 7, 2011

A Ruined Life

Yesterday my 8th grader came home with the dramatic statement "X has completely ruined her life." Yes, teenage girls tend to be over dramatic but this had a different tone and urgency to it.

"Why is that?" I asked, in what I hoped to be an interested but not too interested voice.

"She's pregnant. She's really happy about it. She thinks the boy has to stay with her forever now. Stupid."

Whoa. A child who has been a classmate of hers since kindergarten is going to have a baby? I just saw her with her mom at a store recently. She's only 13, 14 tops. She's worried about a boy staying with her forever? What about the baby? SHE'S a baby!

Whoa. My daughter, 14 in a month who is still waiting for womanhood to arrive, thinks having a baby at her age is stupid? So glad she thinks it's not cool. Holy cow, I think I did something right. Hmmm, I hope she doesn't think having kids in general is bad.

The range of my emotions caught me off guard. What about the baby? How can a 13 year old take care of a baby? How can a 13 year old HAVE a baby? Poor grandma. Thank goodness it's not me. How much positive attention is she going to get at school?

"She's going to the X High School where they have child care."

I am so grateful I've been open and frank with my girls about choices, consequences, boys, sex and any other topic that comes up. I've tried to keep the discussions age appropriate. I haven't backed away from the topics that have come up unexpectedly, whether it came from a voice in the back seat of the car or a risqué moment on Glee. I've listened to the questions and let them explain them before immediately jumping to the adult version of the question. (Very often it wasn't what I thought it was.)

Wow. A baby in 8th grade.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009


On October 18 of this year I was at my parent's house celebrating my brother's 48th birthday. He was a Type I diabetic since he was 19 and the disease, not well managed, depression and alcohol was wreaking havoc with his spirit and his body.

On October 29 my mom found him at his house dead in his bed. Shocking, but not surprising and very, very sad. He was a master woodworker and could make anything you could dream up. If you wanted something and he didn't know how to do it, he'd figure it out. But he was one of those people who wasn't very proud of what he did.

A graduate of UW-Madison with a degree in business communications, he was rather surprised no one handed him a job. It was the second biggest shock of his life. The first was the diabetes, when he found out he was not invinceable. He was a very handsome guy and had first pick of all the ladies and he put a lot of stock into that. He was very smart and school came easy. It was life that got hard.

When he finally opened his own business doing woodworking and interior finishing he had a small but wealthy list of clients who fought over him. He made a very good living and by that time had a wife, stepson and two kids of his own. But he thought he should've been using his degree. Doing big business things. Being somebody "important." Things don't always have fairy tale endings.

They happily rented a small home in the middle of several acres of land. The kids grew up safe and sound, with a place to ride bikes, and to watch every sort of wildlife Wisconsin has to offer. He even shot a turkey in his front yard and grilled it.

One day a 100 year old oak fell on top of the house. The owners decided to raze the building. He and his family bought a house. His wife decided the house wasn't for her and left. It was the beginning of the end. Gone were the idyllic days in the small rental. Now there was a mortgage, property taxes, and repairs. Single parenting was hard. The kids played the parents off each other. My brother and his ex were not civil to each other at all.

He finally found another woman to love. He fell hard. And only a few months into the relationship he found her dead in her bed due to a brain aneurysm. No one - not friends, not his kids, not my parents, not the doctors nor the counselors - could help. He knew better. He promised counseling and didn't follow through. He tried antidepressants but they "didn't work" after being on them a couple of days. Tough love didn't work. Enabling didn't work.

Little did I know when I told my mom that he needed to get help or he was going to die 10 days later he would. Little did he know how many people loved him. Hundreds of people showed up at the funeral. His friends. The kids' friends. My parent's friends. My sister's friends. My friends. The guest book is filled with names of people I know but had no idea were there. The funeral home expanded the room twice during the visitation to accommodate so many people. I heard story after story of how many people he shoved away or ignored in the last few years. And I heard story after story from people who loved him. From people who he helped.

One of his old girlfriends gave my niece a bracelet he gave to her when they were dating in high school. She hasn't taken it off.

I tell myself there wasn't anything I could've done. That no one could've done anything. But in the back of my mind I will always wonder. I will try to figure out, like some Sudoku puzzle, if there was another solution. Any solution except the one that happened.

So now my parents have two living children. My nephew and niece only have memories of their father. My 12 year old daughter wears one of her uncle's fleece shirts. It's not supposed to be this way.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Breast Cancer Awareness

It's breast cancer awareness month. Now it's toward the end of the month and you aren't hearing quite as much about it as you do in the weeks leading up to October 1 and that first week, but it's still breast cancer awareness month.

I don't need a month to be aware of this disease. It reminds me in a million different ways at random times all year long. Cold, spring days, the first time I got drunk, a big gospel church, lasgna dinners and track coaches all make me aware.

I'm aware when I think of my 7 year old. One of my best friends from high school was visiting me in Las Vegas. After a great lunch we confided in each other. I was heading to see a fertility doctor after two miscarriages and when she got home, she was visiting a different sort of doctor to check out a lump in her breast. I won that hand. I got a baby. She got a coffin.

Wigs make me laugh and make me aware. My neighbor in Las Vegas got breast cancer and lost her hair. Vegas has great wig shops and not only are there completely natural wigs, there are wigs in every color in the rainbow. We went shopping, along with my 4 year old and her tween. Long blue wigs, short hot pink wigs, silver metallic wigs. We tried them all. Laughter was the order of the day and we got kicked out of the store. The four of us could barely eat our lunch we were still laughing so hard.

Being online makes me aware. I have some amazing friends online and a certain group of women helped me through my miscarriages. We bonded and will be lifelong friends. We also buried one of us because of breast cancer. I traveled to Georgia to say good bye. There is a hole in my online life.

Picking out a card makes me aware. I sent a goofy card to a gym mom every week or so during her treatment and afterward until it was certain she would be a survivor. She still thanks me.

There are huge, empty spaces in my life and they won't be filled because of breast cancer. Three kids lost their moms - one will never really remember her mother, one might and one knows very well what she lost. There are four kids who still have their moms and are back to underappreciating them. It's a good thing.

I'm glad there's a month for breast cancer awareness for those who don't know anything about the disease. Personally, I wish I needed the month. Unfortunately, I don't.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Plan B

Over the weekend I was told I was Plan B. OK, not those words exactly. And not in a destructive way. But that's what I heard. It's been bothering me ever since.

You see, I'm a stay-at-home mom (SAHM). I've been a working woman, a work-out-of-the-home mom, a part-time-work mom. A very responsible employee. Reliable friend. Always came through in a pinch. But I wasn't a SAHM until I was 40. Work pretty much was my identity. Then at 42 I found myself in a new town, in a new state with a 5 year old, 3 year old and a 5 month old. No family. No friends. No support.

So the responsible, reliable me offered to help a neighbor, since she worked. Her daughter came to the house every morning for 5 years for 30 minutes before the bus came for school. Because I was home and didn't work. I drove kids to practice after school because their parents worked. I drove kids home from chorus because otherwise they wouldn't be able to be in it because their parents worked.

I have helped out, oftentimes last minute, at fundraisers, book fairs, meets, classrooms, coaching and every other thing you can imagine. I am the person who never forgets, is always prepared and is always there. (Now I sound like State Farm.) I am the person who people wonder what's wrong if I forget an appointment or don't show up to something.

Currently, I drive a middle school carpool every morning because everyone else works. I drive home on Wednesdays because it's early release day and no one is home from work yet. I am the person called when neighborhood kids miss the bus. I get the call when it's an odd time for a sitter.

I've done it to myself. I have volunteered. If I don't do it, who will? Somehow there is something in me that needs to be useful. But hearing I've become Plan B just was never in the cards.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Did I Ever Tell You I Hate Birds?

I hate birds.  When they are out in the open in the wild they are fine. They are tolerable in houses in cages, LOCKED.  But when they are flying around my head, indoors, in aviaries, or outdoors, I HATE them. This story from a few years back nicely illustrates the point.

I went out the front door to take the garbage out and IN flies a finch.  I cannot believe it.  It's 10pm, pilot is gone, the girls are asleep and I have a @$#@*$* bird flying around in my house.  My first thought is to go close ALL the doors inside the house so can't get into some rooms.  I do that, it flies around and I duck at every move.  (My house has 20 foot ceilings in parts.)  I also have both the front door and back sliding door open so I might get lucky (the only kind for me tonight) and have it just fly out like it just flew in. Right.

Next move, call pilot in New York City, 1 am his time.  He says, got a net?  Like I have a net or the will to find one.  He tells me to make the bird fly around to tire it out so it flies lower and maybe find the door.  I say I'm calling the neighborhood patrol and good bye.

I call the security people.  I ask them not to laugh.  He says they've heard everything.  I say OK, and explain.  He says he's never heard of this.  I laugh.  He says he'll take down my info but all the patrols are out handling calls.  I tell him I would like them here because it's Las Vegas, both my doors are open and I would just feel better.  He mumbles something and takes my address and number.  Good bye.

I call pilot.  Tell him the bird is still in the house.  I decide to call the neighbors even though I know they are in bed. Bye, pilot.

Hello, Sharon?  It's me.  I need help.  She laughs.  They come down. I've been swatting at the bird with a broom and have the ladder out.  It likes the very highest pot shelf in the abode - only the 12 foot ladder comes close.

Alan climbs onto the pot shelf, Sharon stands guard on the stairs. They make the bird fly back and forth between them and I play duck-duck-goose in the middle of the living room every the bird comes near.  It finally starts to get tired and likes the little hallway upstairs by the girls' room.  Sharon just about gets the bird trapped in a box and in walks the security guy who kindly ushers in a SECOND bird with him.  It's obvious this is the male finch looking for his woman.

Now there are TWO #$@*&# birds flying around in my house!  I pray the girls don't wake up and then I totally freak out.

Now the female really gets tired and Sharon traps her.  She puts Bonnie (yes, I named her) outside in the box but the winged offender is not seeing the light of night until we get her Clyde out too.

It's a four vs. one situation with time running out. Alan's ON the high pot shelf. I'm on the stairs with the broom. Security man accomplice is upstairs in the tiny hallway. Sharon is in the living room. We are ready for battle. Clyde decides to land on the chain on the chandelier in the entry way.  I start throwing soft kid toys to make it fly - it doesn't move.  Then I have a direct hit and Clyde flies again.

Security accomplice mutters about how hard it's going to be to write this one up. I tell security it's his fault bird #2 is in the house because we nearly had #1 gone before he came in.  He shuts up.

Then Clyde tires and security man grabs him barehanded and then holds the thing out to me.  Having kept it mostly together so far, I let out a squeal.  He says "They really bother you, don't they?"  I just stare at him and point to the door.

Security leaves. Alan helps me fold the ladder back up. I thank them and they leave.  I shut all the outside doors. I desperately look in the fridge for a cold beer. None. Then I hear the dog bark.  She's trapped in my room, totally oblivious to the preceding drama and wants to go outside.  I start laughing.  I go up to let her out of the room and see three feathers in front of the door.  I've got proof.

And the girls never woke at all.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Quite a Revelation

I'm all for exercise. And truth be told, I don't mind a McDonald's hamburger once in a while. I don't even mind if the kids eat there, either. So when they built a McDonald's within biking distance of our house, I have been known to combine a bike ride with a trip to McD's. Or vice versa. Either way, we bike and eat.

This new McDonald's doesn't have a play area but it does have a couple of coveted tables with computer games. Usually only one is working so if you happen to be there when the table with the working game station is open, it's just a bonus. Such was our luck recently. 

For the record, there were four of us. Three of us were related and one might as well be. I had three expectant faces looking at me the moment we walked in and THE table was empty. "Sit down. I'll get the food." Bike helmets hit the table and they were playing.

I came back with the food to the normal bickering of who touched the screen before whom while another wasn't ready to play yet and the horrible decisions about who gets to play in what order. With the sage advice of "work it out, girls" given, my blackberry promptly became my refuge.

And then, from my table in a voice not quite from the mountaintops but giving it a run for its money, came 


Imagine. In McDonald's. In a word search.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Eight Years Ago - 9/11/01

Eight years ago my oldest daughter was four and we were living in Las Vegas. Her dad is a pilot for United and had just slipped out the front door heading to the airport to commute to Los Angeles to begin his work day. For the first and only time ever, she woke up frantic at 5:45 am asking if her dad had left yet.

We rushed out the door in our pjs and caught him in the driveway. She hugged him and he whispered to me a plane had hit the World Trade Center. Since we both had aviation backgrounds, we both assured ourselves the pilot of a small aircraft must've had a medical emergency. There was nothing in our wildest imaginations that could have let us even entertain the thought of what was rapidly becoming reality.

I brought my daughter back into the house and tried to get a little more sleep. Her sister was still asleep and I was 5 months pregnant with another girl.

An hour later the phone rang. It was my sister-in-law asking me if I knew what happened. Since I hadn't turned any media on, I told her I knew a plane hit the World Trade Center. She told me I didn't know anything and filled me in.

Not wanting to upset my still-not-sleeping daughter, I turned on the computer. There was no way any news site would load, so I had to go to the TV. I called the pilot and told him to come home. He said he wasn't released. I told him everything was grounded and just come home. Luckily for us, he eventually did.

My phone started ringing and e-mails started flooding in. The pilot worked for United and flew the exact type of aircraft involved. He even flew the very route that was hijacked just the week before. I got e-mails from a dear friend in Manhattan, completely traumatized while watching office papers from the WTCs flutter down onto his apartment balcony.

A lot changed that day. My daughter asked why Daddy's plane kept flying into that building. We did a lot of soul searching and decided, in part, to relocate closer to family. We, as a family and as a nation, changed. Innocence was lost.

A year later we were living in a new state and our daughter just started kindergarten. We had the last of our kids in our arms. And Diane Sawyer had a special on about the babies born to the women who lost their husbands and boyfriends in the tragedy. And I found the pilot crying. Although it was touching, I found a lot of hope in that special and was confused by the tears.

He finally had a realization. All he said was "That could've been you."