Friday, November 19, 2021

Grief is Complicated

 It has been just over a month since my dad died.  In the immediate aftermath, I wasn't crushed like I had imagined I would be.  I kept waiting for it, but I felt a strange sense of relief and peace.  My dad had really suffered, and I was glad it was behind us.  The waiting was horrible.  I don't feel like there was anything left unsaid or undone. I know in my heart that he wanted for nothing and few people are lucky enough to be surrounded by that much love.  What I find happening is that it sneaks up like a ninja, when I least expect it, and stabs me right in the heart.  

Before my dad got sick I would go for a couple of weeks without seeing my parents, but I would talk to them a couple of times a week.  Most of the time I was just catching up or would have a cooking question for my mom. If Dad didn't answer the phone, I would ask how he was doing but I didn't make a special point to talk to him.  

Yesterday I went to the house to help my mom with something.  I have been okay with that because I am at peace with my new reality, but the ninja struck when I saw his toothbrush still on the charger.  All of the sudden I wasn't seeing this as him dying, I saw it as him being gone.  There is a big distinction that I hadn't really considered.  He isn't going to be there to answer the phone.  He isn't there to start the birthday song.  He isn't there to brush his teeth.  

This really stinks.   

Thursday, October 14, 2021

Today I am the Luckiest Girl on the Face of the Earth!

 My dad died last night. 

That is not why I am lucky.  I am lucky because I got to spend 50 years with the original girl dad.  For those new to my story, I am the youngest of four girls. He was proud to be our dad and I never once thought that he was disappointed to not have any boys.  People asked him all the time how he handled it.  Even though he had to build himself a shower in the basement and threatened to go to Ireland on multiple occasions, he always brushed off comments with a quick wit and charm.   I will remember him being at my track meets holding my Holly Hobbie sleeping blanket while I was high jumping so I wouldn't have to be cold one second longer than necessary.  When I gave birth to Colin and we started getting visitors, he came over to hold my hand.  I asked him if he wanted to see the baby, and he said he would get to that, but he wanted to make sure that everything was okay with his own baby.  My dad could fix anything. MacGyver could have learned a thing or two from him.    He could make anything, and if he didn't know how, he would figure it out.   I once stopped by while I was living at school and asked him if he could make me a table for my fish tank.  Before I went back, I had the perfect table that was made out of old cabinet doors and a 2x4.  It was painted white and even had a shelf for the food and accessories.  I assumed that every house had a Shopsmith and a basement full of power tools.  

I could fill 50 posts with stories of my dad, but he is not the only reason I am lucky.  Over the last year I have been spending a lot of time with my parents as we have been navigating this experience.  This time, while devastating, has also been a great gift.  I have always known my mom was a force of nature who has non stop energy and never sits down.  She has shown amazing grace under pressure and patience and gentleness that simply cant be put into words.  Her remarkable generosity of spirit and kindness is an example that I will strive to live up to.  

Finally, I have three wonderful sisters.  We have not always seen eye to eye, but no matter what, they have always been my three best friends.  I am so fortunate to have spent my life with these strong women and to have them to lean on now.  We each have our strengths that have come together to form a formidable team.  If only one of us had gone into healthcare, this might have been a smoother ride, but one man has never had more love and attention showered on him as he has made this transition.  

All of us, the original six, are a team.  When you get one of us, you get all of us, whether you are prepared for that or not.  One of our leaders is gone, but the lessons left behind will never be lost.  The six of us have grown to 20 with new additions along the way.  We are surrounded by love and support and gentle kindness of spirit.  I know that we will make my dad proud as we continue to knock 'em stiff.  

Monday, January 18, 2021

My Nemesis

I'm just going to say it.  I hate squirrels.  In my eyes they are rats with fluffy tails.  I am sure they serve some purpose in the circle of life, but I think it might be to drive me crazy.  I have been chased by them at Kent State, had one that thought it was a pet and tried to get into my house and car, and they often eat my flower bulbs.  They also used my bird feeder as their personal diner.  They are a menace to society.  

 This is the current view from my window where I sit every day while I work.  

It might  not look like much now, but in the summer I like to sit on my porch while I work or read a book.  You can find me here anytime it is warm enough.  In the winter it is kind of dreary, but I dream of the day that it will be warm again.  

We used to have a large population of squirrels, but a hawk seems to have taken care of that.  We are down to two now.  I have adopted a live and let live policy with them as long as they stay on the outside of my porch.  One squirrels likes to push me to my limit by running around on the outside of the screen and taunting me.  If I am in a bad mood I will go outside and yell at it and shake my fist while it mocks me knowing that there is nothing I can do about it.  

Imagine my surprise when I was reading yesterday and I heard a commotion on the porch.  I turned around to see that damn squirrel hanging ON THE INSIDE OF THE SCREEN! I knew it was freaked out because it couldn't figure out how to get back out, so after I calmed down I decided I was going to go outside and prop the door open so it could remove itself from my side of the screen.  

I took the pole that keeps the slider locked and went outside and up our very steep steps.  I opened the door and put the pole in place and was trying to get behind the door when it went flying out and landed on the steps.  There we were, staring at each other as it blocked my path to escape.  Finally it took its leave and jumped into the tree.  

I have found the hole that allowed his entry, and it has been blocked.  I hope it enjoyed it's little joyride as that is the last time he is getting on my side of my happy place.  

Monday, January 11, 2021

Motivation (or Lack Thereof)

 You might have noticed that this blog has been neglected this year,  My motivation has been non-existent.  We are living in a worldwide pandemic, and I didn't think I had anything to write about.  I have spent the last few months in a haze of homeschooling a 15 year old, working, and watching untold hours of Law and Order SVU.  Seriously, what is it about that show that sucks you in?  There are over 400 episodes!

My first childhood best friend has written a book.  A whole adult novel, and it is spectacular.  People, when it comes out, it is going to rocket to the NYTimes best seller list.  SERIOUSLY! In messaging back and forth to her, we have spoken about my writing, and my idea for an adult novel.  The thought of putting that much effort into my idea is really overwhelming, so I have let it simmer on the back burner of  my brain for about 18 months.  I keep talking it over with my sister, Ann, and nothing really happens.  Oh well.  

Today on one of my many trips to the high school to drop Ryan off to basketball, Fresh Air was on my local NPR station.  Annie Leibovitz was the guest, and Teri Gross introduced her as a quirky writer who likes to share her opinions.  I thought, "Well I am a quirky writer, and I have a lot of opinions that I would like to share."  One of my favorites that can be controversial is that mustard and mayonnaise are disgusting.  If  Dave should choose to have that on his sandwich, a piece of gum or a good teeth brushing are in order before he comes near me.  (We are coming up on our 25th wedding anniversary in July.  He is a saint.)  My point is that Annie doesn't really have anything on me, aside from fame and fortune, so I need to get back in the game.   

Here are some topics that I have brewing:

1. How long should I wait before getting a puppy, and should I wait until it is warmer? 

2.  Living in a small house with 4 large people, and how we have survived. 

3,  Quantity over quality time spent with family. 

4.  Max.  This one is still a bit raw for me.  How could a 15 pound ball of fur capture my heart? 

5.  Covid-19  It is not a hoax.  

6.  Cutting Cable.  We finally did it!

I will try to stay away from politics, but I make no promises after what happened last week.  I just can't wrap my head around that yet.  

Susan told me that to get in shape to write her book she wrote fan fiction every day for K-Pop stars.  I had to look up what K-Pop was, so I think I need to pick a different subject. I need to get myself back into writing shape.  Shake the proverbial cobwebs from my brain.  It may be that I am not meant to write an entire novel, and I really should just be an essayist.  Either way, this should get me started.  

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

This Could Have Had A Very Different Ending or What I Have In Common with Bob Marley.

I wouldn't consider myself high maintenance when it comes to my appearance.   A dab of eyeliner and a quick swipe of lipstick, and I am usually good to go.  It has been at least three years since I have had my nails done, but I do enjoy a good pedicure.  

Sometime in early 2020 I noticed a shadow at the edge of my thumbnail but assumed that I bumped it and it would go away.  I kept noticing that it was there and getting a bit bigger, but didn't want to go anywhere near the doctor as I didn't want to get Covid.  I was an early adopter of social distancing and wearing a mask, and once I discovered the joy of ordering groceries online, there was really no need for me to go anywhere.  

For the next few months I was happy living in my cocoon.  The weather was nice, and I would work and relax on my back porch where there was a quiet peace.  Ryan decided that he was done with baseball so we were able to relax for the first time in six years.  There was no running around from one game to another.  Life was quite good.  

My sister and I often have lunch together.  We would eat in my car and catch up on life.  In early October we were enjoying an unseasonably warm day when I mentioned that I had this line on my fingernail, and I wondered why it wouldn't go away.  Of course Ann said "you should really get that checked."  We joked about how it would be just my luck to be the first person we knew to have fingernail cancer.  

I kept putting off going to the doctor because my doctor that I had for 30+ years had retired.  We were in the middle of a pandemic, and I didn't want to bother my new doctor that I hadn't even met with a line on my fingernail.  I finally called and made the appointment.  I went in and introduced myself and told her how embarrassed I was to be bothering her with such a stupid thing.  We talked for a bit and she said that she thought it wasn't anything but that I should see a dermatologist.  

Here is where I should have seen the first red flag.  She had me set up with a dermatologist within 3 days.  Not thinking anything about it, I went in and again explained how embarrassed I was to be bothering them with a line on my fingernail.  She looked at it and said that she thought it was a mole under my fingernail and since 49 year old white people don't usually have moles under their fingernails,  I should really get a biopsy.  Oh, and was I free that afternoon as the doctor happened to be in the office and had some time to do it.  This should have been my second red flag.  I thought, oh, how convenient that I could get this over with.  

I went back that afternoon and we shall not talk about what they did, but suffice it to say, they had to take the sample by the base of my nail and not the tip.  Here is where I missed red flag number 3.  On the way out of the room, the doctor said that my next stop would be a hand surgeon.  I took that to mean that if this was bad my next stop would be a hand surgeon.  

I waited a week and hadn't heard anything back so I assumed that everything was fine and I got my thumb mutilated for no reason.  I was ready to put the whole thing behind me.  Dave can be relentless so he made me call on Friday to get the results.  When I called, the girl that answered the phone said she would look up my chart.  There was an awkward pause and she put me on hold.  She came back and she said that they weren't back yet and someone would call me on Monday.  I did get an uneasy feeling about it, but Max, my dog, was really sick and I put it out of my head thinking that I didn't want to borrow trouble.  That was red flag number 4.  I chose to ignore that one.  

Monday rolls around and I get a call from the nurse at the dermatologist who tells me that what I had was in fact melanoma and she was scheduling an appointment with the hand surgeon.  Leave it to me to get fingernail cancer.  The good news was that it wasn't deep and should be easily removed.  We talked about how long it might take to grow my nail back, and then hung up.  

I went to see the surgeon and he came in the room and told me that I wasn't going to like what he had to tell me.  I was expecting him to tell me that he was going to take my fingernail off and that it might not grow back flat.  What he really told me was that he was going to remove the entire nail bed and that my nail wouldn't grow back at all.  If it went really deep, he might have to remove my thumb to the first knuckle.  I didn't miss that red flag.  I appreciated how up front he was and asked if they were going to do it before the end of the year as I had met our deductible.  He looked at me like I was crazy and said that this wasn't something we should mess around with and we would do it next week.  At this point I fully understood what was going on.    

Before I knew it, I was getting surgery that required a skin graft, twilight sedation and a nerve block.  That was way more than I bargained for.  Because I like to do things all the way, we had to do it twice because they didn't get clean margins the first time.    

It turns out that this is the kind of cancer that killed Bob Marley.  (I know you all thought we had the same sense of rhythm.) His was on his big toe and because he was Jamaican, it was not as noticeable as it was on me.  I was incredibly lucky that I didn't wait any longer.  

Here are some of the lessons I learned from this experience:

1.  I need to be my own health advocate.  There is really nothing too insignificant to share with your doctor if something is changing.  There was no need to be embarrassed or to feel like I was wasting someone's time.  

2.  This type of melanoma comes from a previous injury and not sun exposure.  I had previously cut this thumb twice that both times required stitches.  This is proof positive that, out of an abundance of caution,  I should just stop cooking,  

3.  I have surrounded myself with amazing people that bent over backwards to take care of me and my family.  My mom is a Rockstar!

4.  In reality, this was a painful inconvenience.  I was so very lucky that this didn't go very, very wrong.  

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

What to Expect When Your Child Goes to Basic Training

This subject was too hard for me to talk about for quite a while, and now I think I am far enough away from it that I can talk about it.  For me, the hardest part was the fear of the unknown.  I have never sent someone to basic training before, so how was I to know? 

Here are some hard and fast truths about basic training
  1. No news is good news.  Your soldier will not have phone privileges unless and until there is something very wrong.  If they call you in the "Red Phase", there is a big problem.  
  2.  The Army knows what they are doing here.  This is not their first rodeo.  It may seem cruel and heartless, and it really is.  Welcome to the Army.  If your child is old enough to have made the decision to join the service, they really don't need you while they are there.  This is as much training for you as it is for them.  When your soldier is stationed in a combat zone, (God help me!) they are not going to be able to contact you for a very long period of time.  You, as a loved one, have to be okay with that.  Think of it as the band aid of parenting being ripped off, really hard and really fast.  
  3. Write to your soldier as much as possible.  Share the address with anyone who might write. Support from home is so very important.  Go ahead and use Sandboxx as that will almost ensure you will have the correct address in the correct format, and it is much faster delivery.  You can also easily send a picture with each letter.  You wouldn't think twice about spending $3 or $4 on a card, so feel free to spend the money on this.  Your mileage may vary.  
  4. DO NOT SEND ANYTHING TO YOUR SOLDIER UNLESS THEY ASK FOR IT.  They have very specific things they can and can't receive, and it varies by company.  DO NOT SEND FOOD.  They WILL be smoked, and most likely, the whole platoon will get smoked as well.  (smoked is punished.)  Don't put your soldier in a very awkward position.  
  5. FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS HOLY, DO NOT CALL THE BASE!!!!!!!  I really can't stress that enough.  The ONLY reason you should call the Red Cross is if there is a death in the IMMEDIATE family.  Notice that I said the Red Cross, and not the base.  Never call the base.   For those in the back that might not have heard the first time, Don't Ever Call The Base.  You will receive a letter from the Commander that contains dates of graduation, etc.  The only reason you will get a call from your soldier is if they are not graduating.  
  6. Make reservations for graduation as soon as you know when graduation will be.  Hotels on base WILL BOOK QUICKLY!!!  You will want to be on base as your soldier will most likely not be able to leave the base, and you will have to find something for your group to keep yourselves occupied, which is surprisingly hard to do.    This will also allow them to grab a nap.  They will be tired.  
  7. Social media is your friend.  Most companies will have a face book page where you can find out what is going on with your soldier and ask questions.  I was able to meet my own battle buddy moms who made the whole experience bearable.  We all shared information from letters and calls (they will most likely get phone privileges after "The Forge"), and together we were able to figure out what was going on.  Sometimes they posted pictures, and that was as if all of your best gifts in life had been placed together in one package and handed to you.  Not going to lie, the first time I saw one of Colin, I cried like a baby.  
  8. Please look at the frequently asked questions section of the page before you ask your own question.  Most of the main questions have been asked and answered.  Some several hundred times.  The moderators of this site will soon become your biggest ally.   They will likely know the answer to most questions, and if not, they can usually find the answer for you.  Again, DO NOT CALL THE BASE.  If these people think it is truly something you need to know, they will call for you.  They were patient and kind and truly angels on earth.  
  9. Sign up for informed delivery from the post office. It is easy and free.  You get an email every day showing you a scan of what will be delivered.  Again, whenever I saw one with Colin's chicken scratch, I would cry and stalk the mailbox.  
  10. Lean on any support you can find.  My Battle Buddy Moms, my family, and a group called Colin's Fan Club really helped.  
This will get you started, and just like nothing can prepare you for parenthood, nothing will prepare you for sending your loved one to Basic Training.  It is an experience unlike anything I have even imagined.  Buckle up Buttercup. You are in the Army now! 

Saturday, October 5, 2019

What to Expect When Your Child Joins the Military

Colin left for boot camp on May 14th, and he finally came home this week.  It was the longest 20 weeks of my life. I have sent the same kid to college and boot camp, and I am here to tell you that they are nothing alike. 

When I sent Colin to college, I had attended the same university myself.  I knew what to expect, and had a vocabulary to talk about what was going on and to ask questions.  In fact, I was able to ask him questions because there was a communication device called a cell phone.  I could text him or, much to his dismay, I could call him. 

Our family is not a military family.  When your child joins the military, your whole family joins as well.  We needed to learn a whole new way of life, as well as a new language.  Everything is an acronym.  I didn't even know what the words in the acronym meant, much less what the acronym itself meant.   To say that we were fish out of water would be a huge understatement. 

I had so many mixed feelings.  The most obvious and pressing was scared.  The fear of the unknown is a powerful thing.  I had no idea what to expect besides what I had seen on "Stripes" or "An Officer and a Gentleman."  Neither of those were something I wanted my son involved in.  I did some research, but that is like googling medical stuff.  DON'T DO IT!

I was confused.  I still don't know why Colin decided to join the military.  He has always held himself to a higher standard, and honor and duty are some of his strongest traits.  In fact, it is sometimes hard to be his mom  because those are impossible standards to live up to.  He has developed the same look of disappointment that my dad has that has kept me from doing stupid things my whole life.  They have a lot of eerily similar features. 

I'm going to be honest here, I was mad.  When your kids are toddlers and you dream big things for them, this would have been so far down the list as to not make the list.  Here is the thing.  Colin's life is not about me.  It never really was.  He was born going on 40.  In many ways, he raised himself.  I had my chance to make life choices, this is really his choice, and only his choice to make.  That is a kick in the stomach when it happens, and even more so when it doesn't fit into the neat little box of my dreams. 

I was proud.  It took me some time to get here.  I really thought I could change his mind.  He brought me along kicking and screaming since he was 17 and told me, while I was driving no less, that he wanted to join the Army.  I had to pull over.  This is when I was mad, and boy was I hot.  I am not proud of how I reacted.  It is my second biggest parenting fail for Colin.  I was talking about my utter dismay at the prospect of my baaaaaaby joining the Army, and one of my friends pointed out that he was going to do this, and he needed me solidly behind him.  Parental support makes things so much easier.  I have made a lot of parenting mistakes, but the one thing my kids know about us is that we are always going to have their backs, and also be their safe place to land. That was a turning point for me.  (Thanks Larry!)  Only 1% of the American population joins the service.  It is not even easy to join the service.  Warfare is not like it was 40 years ago, and they can afford to be more selective now.  Colin took the SAT of the army and scored in the 85th percentile which allowed him to pick his choice of MOS.  (I now know that this means mode or method of service.)  He chose well.   There are only 19,000 people that currently do his MOS.  It has been a long journey for me to accept this decision, but I could not be more proud of Colin if I tried. 

This week Colin graduated from AIT (Advanced Individual Training, not to be confused with BCT, which is Basic Combat Training.)  It was never so obvious that he made the right decision.  For the first time, he looked comfortable in his own skin.  He has found his people.  The Army has given him everything he has wanted and we never gave him.  Discipline and stability.  I will forever be proud of Colin for telling me something he knew would temporarily devastate me, sticking to his guns instead of caving to my will, and for knowing what he wants when he is 19. 

In more ways than one, he is my hero.