Just Me and My Mom

indexWhen my girls were little, the Mercer Mayer books were some of our favorites; Just Me and My Dad, Just Me and My Mom, and Just Shopping with Mom; they were all warm and fuzzy and carried a thread of family togetherness.  I adored my girls and we loved reading; sometimes we would sit together with stacks of books, a bowl of popcorn, unsweetened iced tea, and read for hours.

Back then, I was naïve enough to believe I was creating memories with them that they would remember for their entire lives; memories I didn’t have a chance to cultivate with my mother.  I wanted them to remember the silly preschool songs I taught them about monkeys jumping on the bed and hot dogs frying in a pan, or that I taught them to write, their colors, numbers, and the alphabet, all before kindergarten, instead of the memories I had of my childhood.

I longed to live out the fantasy life of the Little Critter mom in the books as my girls and I giggled our way through the stories, trying to forget my past.

***

My mom and I never had a very good relationship; I always had the feeling I didn’t belong, and that she simply didn’t like or didn’t want me.  I wasn’t special or unique in the family; I wasn’t the oldest like my sister, not the youngest like my other sister, and I was not the only boy like my brother.

I was just me; I talked too much, asked too many questions, and I was a picky eater; when I came in from school I would ask in one word “What’sfordinnerIhateitandIamnotgoingtoeatit.”  When we sat down to eat, I would move my fork through my food trying to make it look like I was eating; often gagging, and sometimes throwing up at the table.  It was a battle scene every night; meals were tense, to say the least.

The rest of my life was just as stressful; I didn’t get new clothes, as my sister was only three years older, I had to wear her hand-me-downs, but I was the only one.  My brother was the only boy so there was nobody to hand anything down to him, and my younger sister was 10 years my junior.  Needless to say, I felt singled out by the process; it could be that was just the way the cookie crumbled, but it felt bad.

Out of four children, I was the only one who excelled at school; I enjoyed being part of the academic world, and loved being away from home any chance I could.  I loved my teachers and they loved me; I never skipped school and didn’t cause any problems, except talking excessively.

***

When I started playing the flute, I was excited that I seemed to catch on quickly and had somewhat of a talent for the instrument.  I loved the way it felt to hold the beautiful instrument in my hands and play; it made me feel cerebral and elegant as I stretched my arms and fingers to reach the keys and hit the notes properly.

I finally convinced my parents to allow me to take private music lessons after school from my music teacher every Tuesday after school.  I would go directly there after classes and my mother would pick me up when I was finished.  I was in junior high school, but the music room was at the high school so I would walk across the field to his class, take my lesson, and then sit on the curb and wait for my mother.

Usually, I would get out five minutes early so I would be waiting for her and not have her waiting for me, as she had a tendency to be highly impatient with me.

One afternoon, I was sitting on the curb at 3:25; 3:30 being the appointed time she was to pick me up that day.  I waited for her and time wore on; it started to get darker and colder.  I looked at my watch, petrified to move and look for a payphone, afraid I would miss her; it was 4:30.  As it got later, I was afraid she had been killed in a car accident and that my brother and sister had perished as well.

5:00, no mother; 5:15, 5:30, 6:00; I was terrified that my father had come home in a drunken rage and had killed them all and that I would be left a 12 year-old orphan.  I was sobbing when she finally pulled up in the station wagon; she was furious with me.  “Get in the car,” she demanded, “Where the hell have you been?”

I was stunned; I had been sitting on the curb the entire time.  “Mom,” I cried, “I have been here, on the sidewalk.”

“No you haven’t,” she threw the car in drive and peeled out, “You little liar.  Wait until I tell your dad what happened.”

“Mom,” I begged, “I was here. Mom, Mom…”

“I have been driving up and down this street, around the block,” she lied, “I went to your school. You are in big trouble.”

I clung to the door, looking out the window and cried all the way home.

***

From as early as I could remember, my dad used to say to me, “You are so beautiful and talented; you are going to be our little model or movie star.”  My mom would just roll her eyes or glare at him.  I don’t know why he said it, I never professed a desire to do either, but he was insistent; a few times my grandmother commented as well because I was “so tall”.  I was the tallest in the family, but certainly short by most standards; as a full-grown adult I am now 5’4”.

When I was 12, my dad decided I should go to modeling school; he found one in Salt Lake City and enrolled me despite my protests.  It wasn’t something I particularly wanted to do; at 12 I still played with Barbies, rode my bike and played with my stuffed animals.  The last thing I wanted to do was go to modeling school.

However, my dad was determined that I was going to be the next Brooke Shields; I started attending the school 45 miles away every Thursday night.  My mom had to drive me every Thursday after school; I would attend sessions for four hours, from 5 until 9 at night.  She would pick me up and we would make our way back home where I would have to do homework and go to bed; often times waking up exhausted on Friday mornings for school.

Some weekends I went out of town for photo shoots, or did local shoots around town; I was told to drop weight from my slender frame of 90 pounds, and I was overloaded with heavy makeup no 12 year-old should be wearing.

One Thursday evening when class got out I sat on the stoop of the building and watched the women from my group leave, one by one; then I watched the instructors leave; and finally, I watched the janitorial crew leave.  I sat and I waited in the darkest industrial area of Salt Lake City I had ever seen; nobody seemed to care that I was 13 (by this point I had turned 13) and sitting alone outside in a bad area.

It was almost midnight by the time my mother pulled up; she was drunk and angry.  I silently slid into the seat.  She sped home; I watched as the speedometer reached speeds in excess of 100 miles per hour, too scared to say anything; half wishing we would just die in a fiery car crash and get it over with, and half wishing we would just make it home alive.

***

The summer I turned 15, things with my mother and I had reached a boiling point; she was through with me in every way imaginable.

I cannot even recall what we were arguing over, but the fight escalated to the point where she attacked me; she began hitting me with everything and anything she could grasp.  At first it was just her hands, her fists, then it was a wooden spoon, a long stick kept in a planter to keep the plant growing straight, a handle of a broom, and finally a yardstick.  I had crawled underneath the kitchen table and she was hitting me with it and screaming for me to come out.

Later that evening, she called her friend; she was the wife of a co-worker of my father’s.  She asked the woman to come and get me and take me away for a while because she could not have me there anymore, she just couldn’t deal with me.  I was standing in the stairwell of our split-level home; I had a cut just below my eye and my back was welted from the broom and yardstick.

The next day her friend came to pick me up; she told me to pack my bag for a few months because we were leaving for Canada.  I begged not to go; I didn’t understand what I had done wrong, I didn’t want to leave, but I wasn’t given a choice.  I wasn’t wanted there.

***

Just Me and My Mom

 

I do Love Christmas – Despite my Protests

imagesWhen I was a little girl, I spent every summer with my grandmother; she was not what I would call a devout Catholic, but she required me to pray on my knees every night, attend Catechism classes and go to church with her occasionally.  She had a huge cross with Jesus stretched across it hung over her bed.

Before going to sleep, we would kneel side by side, hands clasped, head bent, and we would pray together.  I would pray aloud for my mom, dad, brother, and sisters, I would include the neighbors, my grandmother and her husband, and all of our relatives, and then I would pray for my dog, Woodstock and my donkey, Cinnamon.  When we were finished saying our spoken prayers, I would always look up, towards the ceiling, and I would silently pray to God for him to make my family get better; I would ask for my parents to stop fighting.  I wanted there to be peace in my home when I returned from my summer break.

Each year my prayers went unanswered and life in our house became more troubled; every time my mom went to the hospital or my father went to jail, I started to believe less.  I started to think prayers were like wishes; either they were only fulfilled for “good” children, and I wasn’t one, or there was no such thing as God.

As life wore on, I stopped believing; I became afraid to believe because I was tired of being disappointed.

***

When I was in elementary school and middle school, I used to play “school” often; I would line up all of my stuffed animals, my favorite toys and pretend they were all my students.  My two donkeys would always sit in the front, they were the best students.

Sometimes, I would recruit my younger brother and sister to play as well; I would create math problems and sentences for them to copy, they bored easily of the game, though, and weren’t the straight-A students my animals were.  If anybody had ever asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, a favorite question of adults, I would answer I wanted to be a teacher.

As a high school student, I had the opportunity to spend my junior and senior years working at an elementary school for one of my classes.  It was a true eye-opener as to what the experience would be like if I followed my heart.  I fell in love with so many of the students; I worked at one of the schools with the lowest income levels in town, so many students lived in the weekly motels.

One particular student would come to school with various bruises, bumps, bandages, and sometimes casts.  He wore the same clothing day after day, not a crime, but a sign his family needed help.  One day I asked him about his broken arm, one “kid” to another; when he confided to me his dad had broken it but he wasn’t supposed to tell, I told the teacher I was working with.

Her response was apathetic at best, she had explained how it happened all the time in the area and there wasn’t much she could do.  Times were different in those days; but, I was crushed, I understood some of what he was experiencing.  A few weeks later, the boy was pulled from the school and he was gone.  I never saw him again.

I finished my work experience, but I changed my mind about wanting to be a teacher; I realized I would fall in love and there was nothing I could do to save all of those children.  It was around the same time I started to adopt my theory that I did not want to be a mother, either, that I would be a horrible mother, not able to protect my children from everything.

Throughout the rest of my life, those words have haunted me; my family always reminds me and my children that I “never wanted kids”.  The fact is, I was so afraid of loving them too much and of having them ripped away from me; or of never being good enough.

***

Despite the fact that my family was a shade less than perfect, my mom did her best to make the holidays magical.  Our house was decorated throughout from the day after Thanksgiving until the day after New Year’s, including the yard.  We had homemade goodies galore, Christmas music wafted through the house, and presents practically covered our tree.

Still, no matter how much tinsel she used or how many lights there were, the magic wasn’t enough to keep the police at bay.  It turns out it just wasn’t a family holiday if somebody wasn’t drunk, in jail, in the hospital, or threatening somebody; that’s just the way it was.  Though, she tried.

When I became an adult, I did everything I could to make my children’s holidays as special as I could.  But, I felt just as cursed as my parents had been; there was never enough money in the first few years.  Though, when children are very young, they don’t notice the one foot tall Charlie Brown tree with two or three gifts scattered underneath and the paper fireplace.

Then, when my first husband left on New Year’s Eve when my girls were young, the event put a bit of a pall over holidays; especially since he made a habit of calling four times a year after that, my birthday, his birthday, our anniversary, and New Year’s Eve.  We eventually forgot about him and opted to move on with our new family, the three of us and the girls’ adopted dad.

However, their new dad could not have cared less about Christmas; no matter how special I tried to make it, he was not interested.  One year, we didn’t even have a tree; something the girls and I looked forward to as soon as Halloween came knocking on the door.

As each year passed, my enthusiasm for Christmas began to wane, his dislike for the holiday and my traditions made me feel small and sad.  I wanted to give my girls not just physical gifts, but the traditions I had enjoyed the most; the Christmas Eve traditions of new pajamas, board games, fondue and snacks for dinner; the morning traditions of eating breakfast from the stockings, making a huge Christmas dinner, and all of the other traditions.

The last Christmas we spent together, I served his dinner to him at his desk upstairs while the girls and I ate together downstairs.  The girls and I went alone to go look at the Christmas lights, typically a family event.

After that, I was afraid to love Christmas; the more I love something, the further it seems to slip away from me.  I am certain the logic does not make any sense, but in my fractured mind, it protects me from getting hurt.

Three Things I did Right as a Mother – the Challenge

imagesRecently, a reader posted a challenge to me to write about three things I did right as a mother; I honestly did not think it was going to be so difficult, however, I can think of two things fairly easily, but the third one is going to be a challenge.

As my children have fairly unique names and I would not want anybody to read this allowing it to get back to them, as they are already embarrassed by me enough, I will call them X and Y; X being 15 months older than Y.

***

One

When X and Y were around 2 and 3, I took a part-time job working two days a week for a manufacturing plant working in their company store.  The plant was extremely progressive boasting an on-site daycare or I never would have taken the position since it was mostly a wash on my salary.

Both of the girls hated going to the daycare; they were used to our days together of playing in the parks, water coloring, or going to the library or free museums.  I took advantage of anything free in our small community; as we lived on an incredibly tight budget.

A few months into my new work experience, the receptionist was terminated; the plant manager asked if I could step in while they looked for a replacement.  This would mean full-time daycare for X and Y, but it also meant a full-time paycheck; at least for a few weeks.  I had not worked since I had been a teenager, so I was excited but apprehensive; still, I accepted.

My two-week stint as the replacement receptionist turned into a full-time gig and I became the receptionist permanently.  The girls were miserable; frankly, we all were.  The extra money turned out not to be very much by the time daycare was taken out of my meager entry-level salary; and, I missed so much work because the girls were constantly sick from the daycare exposure.  I still had to pay all of those days, though.

I was exhausted, too; I worked all day and then still came home and prepared full meals from scratch every night for the three of us, and sometimes four if my husband was home.  I was still responsible for the cleaning, laundry, and grocery shopping as well; not to mention the entertainment schedule for X and Y.

One day, while driving home from work, I was just too tired to make dinner; Y was a little older than three by then.  I decided to stop by McDonald’s and buy the girls the famed Chicken Nuggets; they had never eaten there.  Take-out was a luxury we couldn’t afford, but I decided we had a little extra money by then, so what the heck.

When we arrived home, I spread the food out on the table and tried to make it exciting for the girls with the tiny plastic toy that came with their meal.

Both girls just glared at me; however, it was Y who got up from the table and got a cookbook out and brought it to me begging, “Mommy, can’t you please just make a recipe?”

Their entire lives we rarely ate fast food; even years later when I remarried and we could clearly afford to.  I cooked for them every chance I could, trying to teach them it was better for them, and showing them I loved them with what I made.

Years later when X and Y were 19 and 20 and I lived thousands of miles away, Y called to tell me she was helping X move to a new apartment.  “Mom,” she spoke into the phone, “I just looked into X’s freezer.  She has all kinds of frozen meals in here.  Pizza, all kinds of junk.  Do you know she eats out at fast-food places all the time?”

I was stunned, I didn’t know what to say, “Y, I am thousands of miles away, and she is an adult, what do you want me to do?”

“I don’t know, Mom,” she replied, “Talk to her, we weren’t raised this way.  It’s wrong.  I make everything from scratch.  I could teach her if she needs me to.  She is just being lazy.”

I had no answers for her and she finally hung up the phone on me.

***

Two

When X graduated from high school, I took her on a trip to Minnesota to go to the Mall of America; everybody said, “Oh, you have to go, once in a lifetime shopping trip.”  Wrong.  Basically, it is a huge mall with several of the same stores over and over again.  Besides, I have no idea what I was thinking, as we are not really people who shop for no reason; I do not window shop, and I did not raise my children to aimlessly mill around if they were not purchasing something.

Still, we were there for five days; so we made the best of our time in the area.  We did go to the mall twice.  Once we were there for four hours and another time we went back for three hours.

The rest of our time in the area we went sight-seeing; we went to an old historic battleground, Fort Snelling something or other; we went to a castle; we went on a Mississippi River boat cruise; and we went to several museums.  Our days were filled exploring the city.

One of the best nights we had was going out to a fancy dinner where we delighted in paying $8 for a glass of tap water, and $10 to park our tiny rental car blocks away from the restaurant.  We enjoyed each other in a way we hadn’t in months.  She had been a pain since turning 18 and deciding she no longer had to follow the house rules; needless to say our home had been tension filled.

There was a lull during our trip when I turned to her and apologized for the trip not being as exciting as I had hoped; it seemed it was a little more boring than expected.  I was happily surprised by her response, “Mommy,” she has always called me Mommy, “You raised us to never be bored.  Only boring people can be boring, I am having a great time, thanks for bringing me.”

We went on to talk about what life was like when she was little; how I often times had to do so much with so little, making everything from scratch.  We laughed about how I would buy sheets from the thrift store for $0.50 and make matching outfits for her and Y.   We talked about how I made Barbie Doll clothes one year for them for Christmas, and how challenging it was to sew them because they are so tiny.

She seemed really appreciative, until our flight was cancelled; then she flipped out and became hostile at the airport, but that is an entirely different story.

***

Three

On December 31, 1994, X and Y’s dad came to me and said, “I don’t want to do this anymore.  I don’t want to be a dad or a husband.”  With that, he took two boxes of his things and drove away.  I later found out he had a 17 year-old girlfriend who was pregnant with his baby; he was 27 and we had been married for 7 years.

I moved in with my parent’s two states away; I immediately got a job and applied for college.  Other than my brief foray as a receptionist, I had not worked since I was a teenager; but I did not have a choice now.  My future ex-husband never sent a dime to support X and Y from the moment he walked out the door.

A few months after he left, he called and wanted to reconcile; we had gone back and forth as teenagers, but I was done playing games, I just couldn’t do that now that X and Y were in the picture.  As soon as I declined, he started to get nasty; the police showed up at my parent’s with a warrant for my arrest for kidnapping my children, and I had to get an attorney to defend myself.

As the months wore on, the fight got uglier, but I continued working and going to school; all the while, trying to maintain as much normalcy for X and Y as I could.  When their father would call, he would start to curse and tell them ugly things about me, so I would gently take the phone and hang up; leaving them in tears.  They were still very young, Y was just turning 5 and X had turned 6 by the time our divorce was finalized.

By the time everything was over with him, he never voluntarily paid anything for their support.  As soon as the child support order went into effect, he quit his job; so his unemployment was garnished and the kids did get something until it ran out.  After that, they would get checks for $2 to $0.32 for the next few years; then three years after the divorce, he finally terminated his parental rights.

My second husband adopted the girls and their biological father rarely saw them afterwards.   He simply was not a very good father; he did not provide financially, and when he saw them or spoke to them, he was high and belligerent.

However, during all those years, I never spoke one demeaning word about him.  I always believed the girls had a right to determine who he was on their own, that it was not my place to run him down.  I felt if I had issues with him because he was not right for me, I did not have to burden them with my bad feelings; that would serve no purpose for them.

I think that is something I did right.

Discovering my Family was Different

abuseI remember the day I discovered my family was not like every other family on the block; I was 15 years old.  We had moved around quite a bit when I was younger, by the time I was in the tenth grade I had already lived in five states and had attended my fifteenth school, so to say I had been around the block was an understatement.

My experience with close friends was limited; I had a sort of “love ‘em and leave ‘em” attitude when it came to friendships; why bother getting close to somebody when we would probably be moving in the next few months anyway.  However, by the time I was a sophomore in high school, I was told we were going to “settle down here at least until you kids get out of school.”  Where had I heard that song before?

So, I had a rocky start; my cavalier attitude and propensity for dating other girls’ boyfriends made me an unwelcome and unpopular choice of a friend among my school mates in my new high school.  As the months wore on and I realized we really were staying, my prospects for friends seemed to diminish; until one day, the new girl came from California.

She was different, sort of quirky; she wore cowboy boots, but had a haircut like one of the guys from Duran Duran.  We hit it off instantly; she was the new kid, and so was I.  Where she was shy and somewhat nervous around boys, I was outgoing and could talk to anybody about anything.  She kept me grounded when I was manic and had crazy ideas, like stealing her dad’s Corvette to cruise the strip; and I pulled her out of her shell.

Soon, we spent every weekend together; either she spent the night at my house, or I spent the night at her house.  We watched MTV until the early morning hours, then we would get up and make “Egg McBreads” our version of the Egg McMuffin; egg, cheese, and bacon, on a piece of bread.

She was part of my family and I was part of hers; I had never felt anything like it.  I thought I knew everything about her, and she about me.

One weekend, she was with my family as we spent the day in the foothills of a historic mining town just driving around looking at old mines.  My parents were drinking as they usually did.  They started to banter; they banter turned to fighting; nothing unusual.

By the time we got home it was a full-blown police intervention weekend.  It was about time, it had been a few weeks.

My father had been antagonizing my mother; well, everybody actually, by poking her with his cane.  She was aggravated and asked him to stop.  He would not.  By the time we got home it had escalated to the extent that when he walked into the house she walked up behind him and crashed him over the head with a rock.

He never saw what was coming.

He staggered to the side somewhat, but continued into the duplex, his head bleeding profusely.  By now, my brother-in-law, both sisters, brother, my friend, and me had gathered on the front lawn and were yelling at them to stop.

My mother followed him inside and the fight continued down the hall as evidenced later on by the trail of blood on the walls.  My father walked along a bar of antique glasses and with one fell swoop, wiped them off, crashing them to the floor, breaking them to bits.  This enraged my mother, she took a stick that had been holding up a plant and began beating him across the back.

I do not know who hit whom next or the exact chain of events, but there was quite a bit of blood all over the walls and the household contents were in disarray and destroyed.  I ran in to use the phone to call the police, but the phone had been ripped from the wall.

So, I ran down the street looking for somebody; luckily, we lived in a bad neighborhood and a policeman was driving down the street a few blocks away.  I was able to flag him down and get him to come over to our home.  Upon questioning the family, everyone except for me claimed my father had started the melee.

True, his antagonistic attitude had begun the arguing, but if my mother had just let him walk into the house and go to sleep, it would have ended.  In my eyes, she had started it by cracking him on the head with the rock.  I was outvoted, and my father was arrested and taken to jail.

Of course, back in those days he would only be held for as long as it would take to “sleep it off” and he would be released.  It would not have mattered anyway, as my mother would move earth and sea to bail him out anyway.  The whole matter was an exercise in futility.

We all got back into my sister’s Bronco and headed to Burger King; we ordered our food, and sat down to eat.  It was then that I noticed how stunned my friend looked, she had been so quiet.  My brother-in-law broke the silence as he dipped a fry into the ketchup, “Hey, doesn’t this look like Dad’s blood when mom cracked his skull?”  He was simply trying to lighten the mood, we all accepted it.

My friend stood up, in the middle of Burger King and screamed, “What is wrong with you people? Are you all nuts? What just happened?  You are sick!”  Then she just sat back down in the booth and started crying hysterically.  It was my turn to look at her, stunned.

Later, when we left the restaurant, my mom said, “Okay, I need somebody to volunteer to sleep at the house,” she went on to explain, “When your dad gets out of jail, he is going to be mad and I don’t want him to come home and destroy the place.  I can’t come home until he calms down. You can have a gun.”

I volunteered my friend and me to spend the night; we slept in the living room amongst the broken glass, shadows cast over the bloody walls.  As we sat there, I shoved the gun under my pillow and said, “I don’t get it, your parents must have fought.  They’re divorced.  Isn’t it like this for everybody?”

She looked me straight in the eyes and said, “No, not everybody lives like this.”

That was the first time I knew.

The Best Christmas

(Sorry, I know this one is long… but, it is what it is…)

christmasOne year when I was separated from my now ex-husband, I was staying with my older sister for a few months.  I had previously been staying with my parents after suffering a nervous breakdown and leaving my job at the local community college.  The year had been a difficult one, nervous breakdown, walking away from my four-year job, bitter feud with my parents, eventually becoming a virtual squatter on my sister’s couch.

However, the month before Christmas, things started to improve; I landed a job as a manager at a local family owned business.  Still, I was having a difficult time as my out of control spending habits from my untreated illnesses started to creep into my real life.  Whenever I felt unhappy or alone, as I did on most days, I simply went shopping for things I did not want, did not need, and could ill afford; a classic symptom of borderline personality disorder.

I had cut up my credit cards months before the holiday approached, but I knew I could not afford to spend $10 on either one of the girls I loved so dearly.  Each day I watched as the stack of presents grew underneath my sister’s Christmas tree.  The presents were neatly wrapped in glittery paper, tied with ribbons and adorned with bows, all carefully marked with the name of her son, daughter or husband.

I was happy to have a place to live, but my heart ached at feeling so out-of-place at Christmas time.  My sister and I were not very close, and she made it clear I was in her way daily when she would sigh loudly every time she had to move something of mine that was in her way.  I felt terrible, even though she would profess, “Oh, knock it off, if it was a big deal, I wouldn’t have invited you to stay with us.”  Still, I couldn’t help but feel like I had been a pawn in the big feud between her and our parents.

At night, when everybody would sleep, I would sometimes cry, as silently as I could so I would not disturb them; I would wonder what part I had played in the feud.  My dad was not speaking to my sister over some letter he had written and had given each of us kids a copy of; I am not even certain if I read it.  In turn, we all had to take sides.  I needed a place to live, so I guess I chose hers.  The family became divided in a dispute that lasted until the day he was shot; me and my older sister on one half of a canyon, my mom, dad, brother, and younger sister on the other.

So this is Christmas, I thought, wondering what I could do for my girls as I looked at the presents under the tree.  Well, absolutely nothing.

My girls were coming out and spending Christmas Eve and Christmas day with me, their father did not really care about celebrations and we had maintained a civil separation.  I drove the 45 miles into town and picked them up, happy to see them, but sad that I did not even have the money to give them their traditional Christmas Eve pajamas.

They were excited to come, “Oh, Mommy,” they exclaimed, “We don’t care about presents.  We’re just happy we get to spend the holiday with you.”  I was so warmed to hear those words; but, still, I wanted to give them so much.  I knew their cousins were getting lots of toys; the tree was already buried, and Santa would be bringing even more.

When we arrived at the house, the girls didn’t seem very interested in sticking around and visiting with me; instead, they wanted to go outside with their cousins.  I agreed, wanting desperately for them to enjoy themselves and have a good time.  They disappeared outside in the cold for hours.  I looked outside and didn’t see them.  “Where are they?” I asked my sister as she started cooking their Christmas Eve dinner.

“Oh, I think they are in the trailer,” she said as she looked outside noticing a swinging door open on the tractor-trailer door.  Their yard is reminiscent of a car graveyard, old vehicles lined up, rusting away in the sun; my brother-in-law used to own his own trucking company, so they have two of the box type trailers as well.  The kids would often play in there to get out of the wind and cold.

When they came in late in the afternoon, their cousins settling in for Christmas Eve dinner, I assumed we would be eating as well, “No, Mommy,” they urged, “Put your coat on and come with us.”  I followed them as they led me outside to the trailer.

As soon as I stepped foot inside, my eyes filled with tears; they had transformed the inside of the trailer into a festive Christmas hall, complete with a paper Christmas tree.  There were paper chains, ornaments made of Popsicle sticks, tinsel from the Dollar Store, candles, candy, and presents sitting on floor underneath the construction paper tree.  They had even constructed a fireplace and had hung three stockings over the make-believe fire.

“How did you do this,” I asked them, not believing my eyes, “where did you get the money?”

They explained that their dad had taken them shopping at The Dollar Store and had chipped in some of his own money, wanting us to have a nice day; and their cousins had spent the afternoon helping them set it all up.  I hugged them tighter than I ever had in my life.

They had stacks of sleeping bags, apparently we were to spend the night outside as well; just as well, I thought, I did not want to wake up in the house full of gifts my children couldn’t have.

We spread the sleeping bags out and sat down to a feast of Dollar Store snacks and junk.  Later on that evening as we were singing Christmas songs and telling funny stories, my niece and nephew came out and begged to stay the night with us, claiming it was more fun out there than in their boring house.  They were allowed to stay about an hour until my sister came out and demanded their return.

Christmas morning we awoke to stockings filled with lotion, soap, body spray and candy, Santa had been good to us.  We opened presents they had bought for us and each other; I have never been more delighted with things purchased for under a dollar.

I am teary eyed as I think of that year and the love I know my girls had for me then, and I for them.  I couldn’t give them anything, but I wanted to give them the world.  I can only imagine when they saw how much their cousins had, and how they received nothing, they must have known how much I screwed up.  Yet, I wondered who taught them to love that way…

 

On Being Judged

I recently discovered I do not like being judged by others; I get enough from myself.  Every day, I scrutinize every inch of my body in front of a mirror and scold myself for every stretch mark, every bulge, every blemish, every scar, and every mole.  Then, since I have not mocked myself enough, I take out my handheld mirror with three times the magnification and I continue the process so of picking on me. Of course, the day would not be complete without hours of ruminating over my personality and character flaws, not to mention my parenting and partnering skills.  With two failed marriages and two children who do not speak to me, those are difficult to overlook.

Yet, daily, I invite others into my life to pass along their judgment on me as well; it seems my daily rituals are not enough and I need to allow somebody else to beat up on me as well.  The black and blue marks around my eyes are not from sleep deprivation, they are from being boxed around until I am blue in the face; figuratively speaking of course.

As I walk into the gym each day for three hours of working out, I see the judgmental eyes staring my way; are my arms jiggling?  Am I wearing last year’s colors?  Is my hair mussed?  I look over at the man on the treadmill next to me, he is around my age, not bad looking, but he has a gold loop earring. YIKES!  I pass my judgments on him.

Later on in the day, my mother makes her weekly phone call to me; “I told your kids you don’t want them to have your new number.  They really hate you now,” she announces.  Thanks, Mom, I think to myself.  “You know, they say you never respected them.  You were not a very good mother, anyway,” she continues.

“Yes, I know,” I answer, thinking, and neither were you; passing my judgments along to her now.

I come home, settle down in front of the computer and read a review of a story I had posted online.  A reader blasts me, not for the story or the writing, but me personally; I feel hurt, attacked.  I read the review, pick apart the grammar, the spelling, and judge the reviewer.

Honestly* I try very hard not to judge others; I have even said many times that I have changed my outlook on judging others, holding back my opinions and reserving comment because “I wasn’t there” or “I don’t have all the facts”.  However, that was as a result of my mother’s trial for the murder of my father; I typically mean regarding scenarios such as guilt or innocence.  Though, I do not intend to be so judgmental.

Perhaps, I should simply sit home, stare in the mirror and judge myself more; although, I am fairly critical and nobody could hurt me more.

*Caveat… I abhor using the word honestly; it looks as though I have to announce when I am being honest, as if I usually lie.  I don’t.

Happy Thanksgiving

I woke up virtually unaware it was even Thanksgiving this morning; it does not feel like a holiday to me for several reasons.  The fact that I am currently residing in a state with two seasons, hot and less hot, does not make me feel very festive and almost makes me irritated when I see Christmas lights against the backdrop of the Camelback Mountains or when draped around a saguaro cactus.

However, the fact that my children have stopped speaking to me some months ago and I am almost two thousand miles away from the man I love does little to add to my holiday cheer.  In fact, it leaves me feeling downright Grinchy.  So, when I woke up this morning and headed to the gym, it was just another day to me.

Only when I was forced to plaster a fake smile on my face and spend the afternoon eating a dead bird and a sack of potatoes on the lanai while the 80 degree sun shone down melting the ice in our tea at the home of my sister’s relatives did it finally strike me that it was indeed Thanksgiving.  No, it was not my Thanksgiving, not even close.  I would be celebrating in an entirely different way; but, those days are gone, at least for now.

As I sat there at the table breaking bread with a sister I have known sporadically as an adult, barely knew as a child, and her relatives, with my best Stepford Wife smile, insinuated into their lives temporarily, I tried to fit in.  They talked easily with each other about their mundane lives, their memories, and their shared relatives.  I smiled politely, helped with the dishes, and held back my tears.

While the sun was setting on the day, I decided I would take an inventory of my life and write down some of the things I have to be thankful and appreciative for even if they are not always apparent.

Even though my children do not speak to me, I have two intelligent, beautiful, and charming daughters; I hear through the family gossip mill that they are healthy and mostly happy, for that I am thankful.  One of my daughters has two children, I do not know one, but the other is adorable, and I love him dearly; he surely does not even remember me now, but I hear he is fine, I am incredibly thankful for him.  As for her daughter, I am certain she will be fine as well, so I am happy for my daughter.

I have a man who, while we are not together at this moment for various reasons, loves me even though I have given him many reasons to leave; I am more thankful for him than for anything.  He is the love of my life.

I am reasonably healthy.  Thankful.

My mother, sisters, and brother all have homes, and family and seem to be doing well despite the troubles in this country and the economic downturn in the recent years.  Very thankful.

Life could be worse; I know it is for so many people.  So, while my Thanksgiving Day was not what I would have envisioned, I am certain I will have many more; and I do have reasons to be thankful…

Sometimes you just have to look beyond the clouds to see the rainbows, I suppose.  I hope you had a better holiday.