Monday, August 30, 2010

Some One to Watch Over Me

So as I lay me down to sleep, I found myself rethinking and remembering what I could about the events of 36 years ago. And sort of reconstructing what I knew and experienced around the facts.

I know dad was buried on September 4, which was a Wednesday, the first day of school, which we missed because my mom didn't want the funeral on my sister's birthday, which was the third, a Tuesday.

For the longest time, I thought my father died on August 28, but the mass card said the 29th. The 28th was a Wednesday; my Uncle drove me up from Long Beach Island that day, for reasons I wasn't entirely clear about. My sibs minus my youngest and mom were at Beach Haven with my cousins. My younger sister, homesick, wanted to be home with mom, so left after a week.

I didn't understand why I was in the car with my uncle. I had been having a good time and wanted to stay the rest of the week with everyone else.

I talked about everything we did down at the shore, what fun it was, and my uncle said little.

I can't remember what my reunion with mom was like, only that I went to the carnival that evening with neighbors and rode the ferris wheel for the first time. And that our neighbor was at our house, watching me and my younger sisters. while my mom was at the hospital.

I remember waking up at one point and going to the top of the stairs. The Tonight Show was on, and our neighbor watched, smoking a cigarette, apparently unaware of me peering down at her.

Instead of going back to my room, I went to my parents room and fell asleep in their bed.

This was a big deal and major offense. My parents' room door was always closed. This was THEIR territory. But that night, I opened the door, went into their room, curled up in the middle of their bed and fell asleep.

So the first thing I saw the next morning was the sun streaming in on my mother's exhausted face. She was smiling, but the sadness in her face was bottomless.

"Daddy went to heaven last night," she told me.

Outside of my repeated "What do you mean? What are you talking about?" I don't remember much. There's so much I want to say to the bewildered child I was, not that it necessarily would have helped. I hadn't KNOWN that my father was sick, let alone terminally ill--no one ever said anything to me. And I wish some one did. Because I literally have no idea when the last time I saw my father alive was.

I never got to say goodbye.

So I sit here typing these scattered thoughts, 36 years later. Today, as of this day, my father is dead longer than he was alive. Hubby pointed out that this is true of us all, eventually.

But even so, all those memories of going to church with him, his steadfast faith, his odd but endearing sense of humor, all these things I share with my boys, who know their grandpop in ways I missed when I was younger. Well, I didn't miss it if I am living it, but there was much I didn't understand.

But I like to think that I am living the life he would have wanted for me, in the way he would have wanted me to live it. A lot of his beliefs and values inform the way I roll.

So, in a very real way, he continues to be with me, and with my family.

The irony, of course, is that he would have gotten my boys in a way few do, because they-particularly my Nic, who shares his birthday-are a lot like him.

His last words to my mom were about me, because he understood me in a way no one else could--or ever would. And he knew how hard it would be for me.

That I am still here is probably the strongest testament to the fact that I have ALWAYS had some one to watch over me.

And as my boys grow up, I know they have some one to watch over them, too.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Overnight sensation, 10 years in the making

So I thought I was going to lunch on Thursday, and that it was going to be a social outing. Instead, I found myself chewing over an offer for work.

Which I am taking, after careful consideration, since as of right now this isn't a 'law of physics' situation where this and my other sit are mutually exclusive situations occupying the same space at the same time. No, this stuff as of right now can be handled in my discretionary free time (HA!). But it's too good a learning opportunity to pass up, so I need to give it a try. I don't have to worry about breaking anything, and the very worst that can happen is that I learn something new.

No downsides, in other words.

And in other stretches of the world, we've had fun--dad will take the boys fishing while I attend a training and present (I was asked to present less than 24 hours before the presentation was slated to happen, so I just updated my slides and am hoping for the best. In any case, I don't expect to bomb too badly, and it's a friendly room).

A lot distracts me, but I can't escape the fact that tomorrow is the day that casts a long shadow around all the days around it.

Fortunately, the kids keep me smiling.

Thursday, August 26, 2010


I'd be remiss if I didn't touch on the single most important thing I learned in sociopath purgatory--the whole ownership thing. You know, how everything is somehow everyone else's fault?

Nic brought that home to me in a big way yesterday afternoon. He greeted me through clenched teeth that I was late, it was my fault he had a bad time from 4 o'clock on, and somehow all the other kids were at fault, too.

I sighed. And made him apologize to Miss J and the entire class.

Then I told him he lost his computer until he can own his own temper.

He wailed. Screamed. Blamed me.

"You have no one to blame but yourself for carrying on like this," I told him. "You alone can control how you act and react, and you choose to carry on like a toddler."

"I am not a toddler!" He howled. I retorted that we wouldn't be able to go into the library if he carried on like that.

"Why am I being punished?" G piped up. "I want to go to the library."

"G is never punished for anything!" Nic wailed, renewing his volume.

"Oh yes, G does get punished, for different things," I retorted.

"That's right!" G agreed.

"So you can stay here and cool your jets," I told him as I parked the car. "And if you come in there and are a howling embarrassment to me, you lose your computer until December. Got it?" With that, G and I gathered up our books and headed to the door.

"Nic really annoys me when he screams like that," G confided.

"Me too," I said.

Nic came in a few minutes later and tapped me on the shoulder. "I'm calm now," he told me. "Can I stay here?"

"Sure," I answered, and he went off to gather up some books to check out. Convincing me, once again, that theatrics play a huge role in how he responds to things. It's all in how people react to his reaction.

That's also kind of how sociopaths roll, although their theatrics are carefully calibrated to their victims. I don't want Nic--or either kid, really--to manipulate others. They are essentially good people with native gifts who are good enough to go without smoke and mirrors. I want them both to be able to man up and own everything they do, and I never want to hear either boy blame some one else for the way he reacts to some one or some thing. Cooler heads prevail, and everyone is looking to push your buttons.

Last week wasn't the first time and the only way it's happened, and it won't be the last. But it served as an important reminder to me to mind my own armor.

After all, a friend of mine reminded me a couple days ago, the kids watch me, too.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Swift-kicking Sherpa

I love my Sherpa.

Actually, she is one of two who guide me along in life. As it happens, both were out last week, but my onsite one has an awesome way of kicking sense into me and doing it with a smile and compassion. But she does it, just the same.

She helped me autopsy a couple situations today, work-related and otherwise. And of the work-related thing, she told me "you know, you're hanging onto this. You have to let it go."

I tend to perseverate on things without realizing it, so having an interested third party kick me in the pants is a good thing--and a gift.

I have some irons in the fire, and some connections I made over the last few months yield some good things. Nothing to lose, and everything to gain. I love that it's all happening now, in late August, typically such a grey time for me. So when Sherpa told me to let go, I heard not only the instance to which she referred, but everything else as well, including the strain of sorrow that has run through every August for the last 36 years.

So you know what? I am letting it all go.

And it feels pretty good.

Onward, upward, and thank God I can.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Self-cleaning Communication Breakdown

I'm just shoehorning those two ideas together because that's the way I roll, and both have been top of mind. I think the biggest reason the whole noisy breakup from last week looms so large is that I haven't had a break with anyone that big or noisy since, well, 24 years ago, and not surprisingly, a very similar personality was involved.

I had adopted a philosophy of appeasement in the earlier situation-basically covering over parts of my personality to make the other person happy. I realized--fortunately--that this methodology is unsustainable in any relationship. (And really, it doesn't bode well when the song some one dedicates to you has the line "sometimes I'd like to break you and bring you to your knees." Really?) As for the latter, I thought that was done and over, since I had no contact with the parties involved for months.

This has never been an issue. Most transitory relationships have a way of quietly fading away and no one is any more the worse for it. Real friendships can withstand just about anything. It's those relationships that can't, well, they served some purpose for both parties while it existed.

I think most people are reasonable when relationships end. But I guess it is also reasonable for people who are the beneficiaries of a relationship to be bitter.

And the other thing I keep coming back to is that I can't understand how this person thought this relationship was any more than it was.

But, some people are just takers. And that's the way they roll.

And I for one, just would sooner roll out of their way. Life's too short.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Standing Down

This weekend delivered precisely what was needed: good times, perspective, and a swift kick.

We spent Saturday reconnecting as a family, which culminated in a great canoeing/kayaking/fishing trip down the Delaware. The first time I had ever gotten into a kayak was 11 years ago in the Bahamas--and fortunately, I have improved since then. I scouted out fishing spots for the boys, and they caught a couple (hubby lost a 3 lb bass he will mourn for months).

While I birded down river, the quiet gave me the time and space to reflect on the previous week. And put that in its proper place and perspective.

I continued these reflections while I ran 4.4 miles in the rain the next day. Hubby reported that he saw me smiling as I walked up to the house.

We herded the boys to mass a little while later. Fr M was replaced by an African missionary, who knocked it out of the park; who reaffirmed to me that kids DO learn what they live, and that we are heading in the right direction. Hubby's disappointment that this man wasn't joining our parish was palpable.

As for those screeds and the resulting baggage brought up, I'm reminded that sheer volume doesn't make anyone else right--or wrong. All feedback is ultimately valuable in one way or other.

Even the most vengeful. Trouble is, you have to dig a little more to sort the wheat from the chaff. AND withstand the stench. AND get your hands dirty.

S'alright. No one said this life wasn't messy.

Friday, August 20, 2010


“People always blame their circumstances for what they are. I don't believe in circumstances. The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and if they can't find them, make them.” ~GB Shaw

It's not the difficulty that defines us; it's how we deal with it.

In the immortal words of my beloved spouse, I attract trouble. For the longest time, he was convinced that I sought it out. A couple for instances:

Once in Penn Station about 20 years ago a homeless woman approached me in the bathroom. At that time, hubby was in grad school, we were barely paying our bills, and I had totaled our car with no replacement in sight. The woman asked me for money, and when I responded I had none, I exaggerated not.

Then she grabbed my arm and told me not to give her any of that sh*t.

Then I threw her up against the wall and quietly repeated that I had none to spare.

When I came out of the bathroom shaken up, Hubby told me I had done something to bring that on myself.

About four years after that, I was walking along the northern outer boundary of Grand Central Station, headed from the East side to Penn Station to hop the LIRR home. Immersed in my own thoughts, I emerged to notice that a large man, at least 7 inches taller and 100 pounds heavier than me, was walking in my path. I moved out of his way. He moved back into mine. I moved out again. He stepped right up in my face and swung at me, telling me "wipe that sh*t off your face."

Without thinking, I blocked his punch (which otherwise would have hit me square in the jaw) and squared off with him. He was momentarily stunned, but he hurried away. It all happened in less than a minute, and I don't even think anyone on that crowded sidewalk blinked.

That time, hubby didn't accuse me of starting anything.

But he did notice that I had a weird way of attracting the walking wounded and all variety of predator. And usually, I'm able to thwart, evade, or otherwise parry as necessary.

But I do get caught off-guard occasionally, and it happened again this past week. I guess things were just a little too happy and quiet.

It's all good. That which doesn't kill us makes us stronger...and I might add, wiser.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Quiet Mind

"Why me? I don't know. Everything about me he finds offensive. You'd think it'd be a waste of his time."~Alan Parrish Jumanji

They say pride is the deadliest of the deadly sins because it begets all the others. That may be true, but I think anger is the scariest.

Good angels, be on my guard. My best situation would be for the storm to blow over, but I, as a girl scout, I stand prepared.

Bring it.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Solar Flares, Looming Large, and Perspective

Not too long ago, I listened to an author talk with Terry Gross on the radio program Fresh Air about his experience as a minor character in his parents'--who were also writers--stories. In short, he described how uncomfortable it is to be a minor character in someone else's drama--since we are all front and center in our own lives, it is somewhat disconcerting to be marginalized in someone else's life.

Yesterday, I had an inversion of this experience. Not only did I loom larger than expected in these people's lives, I also failed them on multiple levels dating back four years.

Imagine my surprise. Here I was, blithely living my life, working my multiple jobs, raising my family, and for these things I am charged with negligence, narcissism, and insincerity. Apparently, my offenses spring from the fact that I neglected these so-called friends for my family.

Really? I had no idea that they--and not my family--were supposed to come first. Somewhat disconcerting when others attempt to impose their value system on you--even more so when they condemn you for not living your life their way.

And the other piece was that they hadn't communicated ANY of their expectations to me. They just assumed that I knew exactly what they expected of me. It would have been nice if they just came out and told me instead of ripping me a new one after the fact.

Although re-reading the screeds enlightened me. Suddenly all the negative vibes made sense. Still, I gave them both a lot more than they gave me. Not that I keep score on these matters, but damn, you'd think they actually contributed something other than angst.

This acquaintance detailed multiple insults, perceived and imagined, with minute precision. I wondered why they hadn't seen fit to break up with me years ago, since my apparent failures as a person were so onerous, numerous, and without any hope of redemption. Not since I ended an abusive relationship almost 25 years ago have I been on the receiving end of such intensely hateful spewage (not surprisingly, he, too, thought I failed him, never mind his own shortcomings, dalliances and outright deceits).

Because I am a lemons-into-lemonade kind of gal, I sifted through the accusatory bile and bloviation with a cool head. I know my shortcomings, and honestly, the sin of pride is one I go toe-to-toe with daily. I own that, and I fight it, and I am constantly trying to better myself by getting the better of it.

And you know, maybe that was the point of all that invective. I really am so blessed in so many ways by all the good and wonderful people in my life that I do have to be reminded that there is real evil at work in the world, that I cannot afford complacency, and that I always need to be on my guard.

And I am all these things. Sometimes the reminder, however, is a good thing--no matter what form that takes.

Meh. Everything for a reason, right? It's all teachable. I'll simply continue to count my blessings, be thankful I can count that high...

...and move on.

And he would do well to do the same.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Night of a Thousand Stars

Life does not get much better than camping out under the stars with your closest friends and family, although my back can attest to the need of an air mattress.

My single favorite moment this weekend came with the sheer, silent appreciation of a starry wide open sky in front of a camp fire.

Even the rain yesterday didn't dampen my glee. Took the kids through a wet trek in the woods where we saw green frogs, many different kinds of birds and small mammals, got messy, and had a blast.

The best part? Yesterday was the eight-year anniversary of Nic's dx, and I had completely forgotten all about it until just now.

Wow. I am finally taking back August.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Fulminations and Team Work

My level of organization yesterday surpassed my usual by a longshot.

I had armed myself with a checklist before leaving work yesterday. After all, it was hubby's birthday, and I wanted to make sure I did everything the right way (as opposed to my way). I even made a grocery list to make absolutely sure I missed no detail or left any variable to chance.

The boys, correctly sensing my insistence on MY WAY, minimized their pushback as we made one, two, and finally, three stops. (I momentarily lost G on stop 2, but that's actually par for the course. Nic border-collied him back to me, under the disapproving glare of another mom and a store clerk).

At the supermarket, we haggled over cake.

"Chocolate," Nic insisted.

"Nuh uh," I answered. "Not your birthday, and we have strawberries, and I think dad wants a strawberry shortcake."

G located a pound cake. I couldn't find a ready-to-go angel food cake, so that would do.

"Chocolate sauce," Nic parried.

Done. "You need to pick out a card," I told Nic.

He zeroed in on one that looked like a license plate. "Old Fart!" he exclaimed, causing everyone in the aisle to gawk. "This is the perfect card, mom, it will make him laugh."

I added it to our goodies with a sigh, mentally reminding myself to tell dad who picked the card out.

At home, Nic went into howling overdrive with a problem he "needed me to fix RIGHT NOW."

After several minutes of yelling back and forth, I talked directly to God while I put together the marinade for the steak. "Seriously? What did I do so wrong in my last life that you're kicking my ass for now?" I wanted to know. I went on in this vein for a couple of minutes before Nic realized I wasn't yelling back at him anymore and came into the kitchen.

"Who are you talking to?' he asked.

"God," I replied. "I'm asking Him what I did to deserve you and your yowling."

I had to remind him. He started again. "YOU HAVE TO HELP ME!"

I handed him a colander filled with snap peas and a saucepan. "You have to help me first," I told him, setting him up at the dining room table. "I have dinner to make, and you can help by snapping off the ends and putting them in the pan."

He fuliminated in the next room while doing his assigned job. "This is hard work! This takes a long time!" and so on until he quieted down and started up again a few minutes later. "Hey, this isn't too bad!"

By the time I finished everything I needed to do, Nic was nearly done his job. We did the last dozen or so together.

"It goes a lot faster when there's two," he observed.

"Everything does," I answered. "Thank you, you did a great job. Now let me help you."

Hubby came home and pitched in to finish dinner while we set the table. He loved his cards, even the one Nic picked out for him, and enjoyed the dinner and cake we made for him.

"It was a really nice birthday, thank you," hubby said to me as we fell asleep.

I'll say.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


Posting my trip pictures to Facebook generated a lot of conversation about the spirituality of the West. The comments that emerged most were 'spiritual', 'peaceful,' and 'healing.'

All true. One of my former fellow Jersey moms (former because of me, not her :))pointed out that the Northeast Corridor of the US has a go-go-go mentality, an astute observation. Truly, I replied, there is a low-level hum that's in the air here at home that's inescapable, even if you are hiking or camping.

I think I was out there two or three days before I realized I wasn't hearing that hum. And that I could hear myself think.

Meanwhile, I tied these feelings into other observations. For example, there is a real respect for Native American culture. I had been impressed with my visit to the Museum of the American Indian in DC a few weeks ago, but couldn't escape the guilt factor that seemed to permeate the place. And the guilt factor is compounded by the removal from experience--after all, Eastern settlements are old compared to the West. The real conflicts played out past the Missisippi where the Native populations were literally beaten into submission.

And you can feel this out West. You can feel the regret, whereas in the East, the regret is more academic than visceral. No, you can feel the ferocity, insistence that we remember that the Native American is part of this land, tempered with a deep respect of the spiritual investment (there has to be a better word, but this will do) that both the native and white settlers have for this land.

And what better explanation for those pictures we took at dusk on the Yellowstone river? This is holy ground.

And truly, there are not many places like it left here on earth.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Spirits in the Material World

The first pic was shot without flash; the second with.

Many shots we took in Yellowstone follow this pattern. The flash shots at dusk reflect dozens of globes, while the shots without are clear.

We did nothing to the lenses in between shots.

Agnostic hubby does not like when I talk about globes, and I can't be sure why. I do know that we had pretty intense globe activity at dusk around the thermal areas and on the river.

A few months ago, my friend C sat beside me at a task force meeting and said she liked my family's Christmas Eve photos on Facebook.

Then she chased it with this question: Do you have anyone in your family who has died?

I laughed. And gave her my list.

I had my laptop, so she asked me to pull up my pictures. And she showed me the globes--and I had noticed them and wondered about them.

The most interesting picture was the one with all 26 of us--mom, her five kids, their spouses, and 15 grandkids. And there was a globe where my father would have been sitting.

That took my breath away.

So when I see these images now, I wonder what--or who--it is I see...


I've made gratitude my attitude.

As my older son would say, I had a music note in a thought bubble over my head as I drove into work today, thinking about how relieved I was to get my various tasks done. I found I had even more reasons for gratitude when I arrived at the office; my Sherpa cleared my queue for me.

I bought her a coffee for her trouble, promising her a drink and some vintage clothes shopping before heading off to my meeting.

While I sat in my meeting, I actually spoke more today than I have in the previous two months' worth of meetings combined. My opinion and input matters. The reasons for happiness and gratitude just kept piling up.

Lunch with Sherpa tipped my happiness scales. I was just too gleeful for words by the time I left work.

I feel so fortunate to do something I like doing, am good at, and make decent money doing--especially in this economy. For as long as this gig lasts, I will be happy. And when it ends, I'll be glad I had the opportunity.

So when I came home, I applied my positive energy to cleaning my second floor. I began a bag for St. Vincent de Paul, recycled a bunch of things that were just collecting dust and taking up space, and outright threw out some things that were broken and that for some reason I couldn't bring myself to toss previously.

I went through the boys' artwork and culled. I went through hubby's reading material and culled. I went through closets and culled.

I am so over nostalgia.

I've conquered every room but hubby's office and the basement. But overall, the house is looking better than it has in a while.

The exterior, not so much, but I'll tackle one thing at a time. :)

Monday, August 9, 2010

My Own Worst Punishment

I sit here a wiser person than I was yesterday, certainly a happier and more relieved queen of darkness, there is none. All I can say of the wreckage of the past week that I have finally cleared is that I need to stop thinking that I am a teenager.

It's not that I willingly or even deliberately think this, it's just that I need to be reminded that the years have a way of telling on you, even if your spirit remains young.

I'm just feeling relief, having slogged though my to-do list and suddenly I have time and energy to think and plan again.

Right after I take my nap.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Doing the Needful

I have two different deadlines crowding me as I listen to the birds outside my window. Stuff will get done as it needs to get done, but I am determined now to limit, say no, as needed, and be more productive.

This week was a bit of a wash in that coming back from vacation in addition to MIL's health situation conspired to make sure that I didn't get much of anything done. And really, I didn't get how stressful the trip out West was until about Thursday. It was a good stress, but boy, I know if we all survived THAT adventure, we can pretty much do anything.

We can.

And it is in that spirit that I will buckle down and clear my desktop. I will not spend another day tied to this laptop when I should be outside with the boys. And I do believe we will go fishing today.

Just as soon as I have completed the needful.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Unwired Bliss

The single most refreshing thing about my vacation? Being offline.

The beauty of the West lies in its wide open skies ringed by mountains. And the sheer lack of wires. After my initial shock of not having ANY service in Yellowstone, I acclimated quickly and enjoyed the peace from the lack of low-level hum of technology that rules my life otherwise.

Nic complained bitterly about it while we were there. But didn't he tell us that "This was the best vacation ever!" repeatedly on the way home? He certainly did.

And why not? He learned how to play billiards, went whitewater rafting (and even jumped in and floated alongside the raft with the other kids in our craft), and saw wildlife up close while we barbecued our last evening in the park (well before dusk, naturally).

G stayed in the raft, but he happily sat between me and dad in the front of the raft as we captained the rest of the rowers down the Yellowstone, bouncing and shouting gleefully as we bumped and splashed through the rapids.

Dad helped our guide unlodge our raft from the rocks at one point, then guiltily admitted later to steering us to them in the first place. I had seen that coming and tried to cancel him out--unsuccessfully.

One of the funniest moments came when I was greeted with polite hostility for stepping between two boys and a charging bison on the boardwalk near the mud volcano. I'm not sure what that dad was thinking, but I should have told him fine, let your kids get trampled, see if I care.

That blew me away, how some people regard these animals as domesticated. I saw a lot of that craziness in a week.

Back at home, I play catch up. MIL is hospitalized a second time since Sunday night, and I await news. There's plenty of work to be done. And the kids are good to go for the rest of the summer. I scored free tickets to the Renaissance Faire, and our calendar is filling up again--or still--with things to do and people to see.

Gee, it's good to be back home!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Total Victory

I'm back on the east coast, but my heart and head are on Mountain Time. I took off with the boys over a week ago headed for Bozeman, met up with hubby, then roadtripped all over Western Montana, Idaho and Wyoming, spent some spectacular days in Yellowstone, added over two dozen plant, bird and animals to my life list, and on top of it all, the boys did amazingly well. Nic says it was the best vacation ever!

He played pool, went whitewater rafting, caught his first trout on a fly, and tried half a dozen new foods. And he made friends on the flight home today.

G was his usual amazing self.

We had close encounters with wildlife and many other adventures that I will detail over the next few days. What a great time.