Cousins, Football, Sweet Potato Pie, and Tryptophan Coma….Reflections of Thanksgivings Long Ago

It is late Wednesday night.  It is now just minutes away from Thanksgiving.  For weeks now, I have, almost daily, found myself in utter disbelief that it is late November 2014 – where did this year go?  I mean, for several years now, I constantly wonder how the time has seemed to speed up so swiftly the older that I get.  Remember how it was when we were kids?  The time between Christmas/New Year’s and the next Halloween seemed to be like, a decade!  But now?  I am ashamed to say that there is still at least one Christmas decoration still out, never put up after Christmas LAST year; and now it is time to drag all of the rest of the stuff out in order to decorate again in just a few short days.  I totally dropped the ball this year and didn’t decorate for Halloween, like I usually do; nor did I decorate for Thanksgiving, which is upon us and it is now pointless to do so.  But regardless of whether or not I decorate, Thanksgiving remains one of my most favorite times of year, despite the fact that the Thanksgivings of my adulthood are a bit different from those of my childhood.  Every year, as the weeks of November roll by, the memories of my family’s holiday traditions come flooding back, making me miss the cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents that I shared this holiday with every year.  Don’t you guys all remember how it was?

Thanksgiving 1970s:

Once Halloween had come and gone when we were kids, there was clearly a notable excitement in the air, anticipation for cooler weather, four days off of school for Thanksgiving (which meant, for us, our annual trip to my grandmother’s house), and shortly after that, two weeks out of school for Christmas break!  When we got to the week of Thanksgiving, it was almost more than we could take to have to go to school, and then to actually pay attention to anything that was attempted in the way of instruction.  Yes, we had to go to school – Monday, Tuesday, AND half-day on Wednesday.  Now, there WERE those, like us, who traveled for the holiday, whose parents took them out of school on Wednesday (some of them even did it for Monday and/or Tuesday, too).  But not MY parents.  Noooooo sirree.  We went to school on Wednesday, and when we were dismissed (not a moment earlier either), then we headed home, loaded up the car, and embarked on our evening of traffic as we were en route Southbound towards the Hill Country.  I remember the eager anticipation of getting there, knowing that there would only be one family there before us, and the rest of my aunts, uncles, and cousins would arrive the next morning.  It was so exciting for me to see family that I only got to see once, maybe twice, per year from far away places like Houston, Magnolia, College Station, Conroe, Humble, and Pflugerville!  (Funny to me now, since I know just how “far” those places really are, and have driven to all of them many times as an adult).  The car ride seemed agonizingly long, particularly after it got dark around 6 PM, where I was then stuck in the backseat, left to fight with my brother over crossing the invisible line, bringing his foot into my protected space.  Once it got dark, he would no longer play the license plate game with me; or really anything.  And once we left the interstate in Austin and headed east, we were on two-lane country roads for what seemed like FOREVER.  I must have asked at least a dozen times, “Are we there yet?” or “How much further?” of my dad.  Are_we_there_yet_Braizen1I would stare out the car window, amazed at the vast amount of stars that I could see that I normally couldn’t see in the suburbs.  My dad would mess with me, without fail, every year, with the same answer every time I asked if we were close:  “It’s just over this hill and around the next corner.”  Gullible me believed him.  Every time.  I would patiently watch as the car drove over the tiniest of hills, and then wait for him to drive in the slightest of curves that might constitute a “corner.”  Once those things passed by, I would ask again, and he would repeat the same answer.  Lather, rinse, repeat.  We would do this over and over for at least the last hour of our drive, until my mom would finally say, “OK that’s enough!  Tanya, just be quiet and we will be there soon enough!”  So eventually I would stop asking, and eventually would rest my head on my pillow and fall asleep – sure as hell just as we were arriving at my grandmother’s house in the absolute middle of nowhere.  We would be taken in and put to bed, while the parents unloaded the car and visited with Uncle Jerry and Aunt Charlotte for a bit before turning in themselves.

The morning of Thanksgiving would dawn, and every adult in that house seemed to rise at the crack of dawn.  They would get in the kitchen at, I’m sure, something ungodly like 5 AM, and start making coffee, breakfast, and get the ginormous turkey into the oven to start cooking.  Nanny’s made-from-scratch biscuits and her sweet potato piessweet-potato-pie-1 were made and into the oven as well, and us kids had absolutely no chance whatsoever of sleeping in and enjoying our time off from school.  Oh noooooo!  The adults would either be so loud that there was no chance of sleep, or they would come and tell us that we needed to get up and get dressed so that we could help if or when they needed us.  A parade would be on the one TV that my grandmother had in her house, and my brother and boy cousins would go outside and play football until real football came on TV.  I waited anxiously for more cousins to arrive, 1) because I loved getting to spend this brief time with all of my cousins, and 2) because once the others arrived, I would no longer be the only girl there.  Sometimes, once everyone was there, we would get to drive on the tractor with my step-Grandpa; other times, there was a horse there (and I don’t remember if someone brought it or if my grandmother had one), and we would get to take turns riding.  There was always cousin football games going on outside, and the carport held each family’s Igloo ice chest with sodas for when we got hot and thirsty.  Once all of the family had arrived, and all of the food was prepared, everyone would go inside and find a spot at what I thought was the longest dining room table ever made (when I got older I realized that it was actually two extended tables put together, with a giant tablecloth over them).  Food as far as the eye could see, and all of my dad’s family together in one place, one time each year; all you could see was food being served onto plates, loud laughter, and the voices of everyone there catching up.

Once the meal was over, and everyone had finally pulled themselves away from the table, full & satisfied (and often, miserable and unbuttoning pants), then the clear division of roles and duties were made.  My dad, his brothers, and many of my male cousins would park themselves in front of the TV to watch hours of football.  There would be loud shouting, you know, from the armchair quarterbacks; and often, the use of very unflattering or colorful language towards the players.  5473a2be006f5.preview-620Once the coaching died down, there would undoubtedly be at least one or two who would slip into a tryptophan coma and pass out, head back and mouth open on the backs of sofas and/or recliners.  Meanwhile, all of the women would be back in the kitchen, cleaning up and covering the food on the table, so that it was available when everyone got hungry again that evening.  I remember clearly being told that I needed to get in the kitchen and help clean, do dishes, or something; but then when I got in there, among my mom, Nanny, and several aunts, then I would get yelled at for being in the way.  Ultimately I would end up going outside with most of the rest of my cousins to look for something to do, not used to being out in the country.  As the afternoon wore on, some of the family would load up and head out, having only come for the day, while the rest of us would have to figure out who was going to sleep where, and what order we were going to take baths (since there was only one bathtub and no shower).  Sometime in there we would make turkey sandwiches and have another slice of pie, while adults sat at one end of the long table either playing cards or dominoes, smoking cigarettes and drinking beer or coffee.  The three bedroom house would have three or four people per bedroom, and several more on the two couches in the living room.  And the years that my Aunt Laura and her husband, Charlie, came in their RV, you were considered one of the fortunate cousins if you got to bunk in the RV for the night.  But that night – Thanksgiving night – was one of my most favorite nights of childhood memories.  My family, well, a large portion of it, were all together under one roof (or two, if you count the RV), and this made me feel safe, loved, and happy.

* * * * *

So now, here we are.  Thanksgiving 2014.  Decades have passed.  My grandmother is gone, and her house in the country was sold years ago.  Divorce has happened, and the family picture in my mind from my childhood is disjointed and different…faded with time and now almost non-existent.  The Thanksgiving tradition that we shared year after year has disappeared, and now I don’t even hear of that side of my family getting together really anymore.  My parents divorced when I was 11 or 12.  Some of the aunts and uncles have divorced.  Cousins have grown up and now have families of their own.  Several of us cousins have strained relationships, if that, with one of our parents and no longer see or talk to them.  It makes me sad, and I miss these people, this family, of my childhood.  While I don’t have any physical pictures from the Thanksgivings of my childhood, my mind is full of photographs of memories that will stay with me forever.  Because for a time, for a period, the Clark family – with matriarch Nanny, for a while her husband Dewey, my dad and his siblings Laura, Betty, Jerry, and Arthur, my mom and the spouses Charlie, Charlotte, and Linda, my brother and our cousins Sissy, Laura Leigh, Paul Allen, Douglas, John Michael, Tod, Dewey, Leida, Sheryl, and Marcy – these were what made up my Thanksgivings.  And I know that people change and grow up, time marches on, and families splinter, grow, and evolve.  But I will never forget those holidays that will always warm my heart.  Something that I will always be thankful for, not just at Thanksgiving but every day, are the connections that I have with some of these aunts and cousins on Facebook, after all of these years.

A few years ago, dinner in The Woodlands:  Me, Aunt Charlotte, Leida, and my brother, Ron
A few years ago, dinner in The Woodlands: Me, Aunt Charlotte, Leida, and my brother, Ron

Nowadays, I am back into a family with Thanksgiving traditions that occur every year, and have for as long as most of them can remember.  My wife’s family, now my family, are a large and loving group that consists of brothers & sisters, aunts & uncles, cousins and future generations.  The ages span from a few months old to late 70s, and every Thanksgiving, a good many of the clan travel in to spend the day sharing food, catching up, laughing loudly, and spoiling the new little ones that have come along.  I am beyond grateful and blessed to have been received into my wife’s family and accepted into the fold.

Today, and every day, I carry gratefulness with me.  Grateful for a second chance at life.  Grateful for a large, loving family that shares my Erikka with me.  Grateful that we are blessed enough to give back on a regular basis.  Grateful for my sisters and their giving hearts.  Grateful for every opportunity that I have to interact with my cousins or aunts/uncles, even if it is mostly on Facebook.  Grateful for my marriage and my little family, and the fact that I am fortunate to get to spend Thanksgiving with them.

Today I somehow ended up at the tail end of a funeral procession like none that I have ever seen.  It was very sobering to see police in SUVs, with lights and sirens blaring, accompanying the bodies of a local family killed last week when their sixteen year old fell asleep at the wheel while they were on their way to Disney – the poor kid driving survived while his parents and three of his siblings were ejected and killed. But when I saw three hearses pass by me, it was almost too much. So  make your passengers buckle up my friends.  Please, I’m begging you, please be safe.

Life is short, don’t blink.

Walking the Talk

For many years now, I have actively made an effort to give to others more than I did the year before.  It is something that I enjoy doing, along with my wife, and together we are constantly striving to teach our children to do the same.  I am very blessed to have a teenage son who LOVES to give back to others, simply out of the kindness of his heart.  For most of his life, he has pretty much had all of his needs, and wants, met without knowing what it is like to struggle or go without.  His older brother, on the other hand, experienced struggling and going without – to a moderate degree – when he and his young, single mother scraped by for many years just trying to pay rent and buy groceries.  I wasn’t able to instill the importance of giving back to others when he was young, because we just didn’t have any extra to give.  There were a few Thanksgivings and Christmases that were so lean, that I cried at the thought of having nothing for my young son; feeling like a failure as a mother.  Of course I know that the holidays aren’t about superficial or material things, but just like most parents, you want to be able to provide gifts for those that you care about the most.  It was during those times of lean that I truly learned that there is indeed a lot of good in a lot of people.  I remember one Christmas in particular, when we lived in a small, two bedroom apartment, and I didn’t have any money for food, let alone Christmas presents for my three year old.  On a Saturday afternoon, a few weeks before Christmas, I got a knock on my door.  When I opened it, there stood Santa Claus – arms filled to the brim with groceries.  Santa Holding Stack of GiftsAs I stood there, with my mouth open, he brought them in and set them down, and then left to go get more.  He returned with more food, then left again, only to return with a large box of wrapped toys that he placed under my bare tree.  Just before he and his helpers left, he told me that someone had signed me up for the Secret Santa at the Methodist church in my town, and that he hoped that this helped us have a better Christmas.  I remember hugging Santa and crying, so thankful that someone had taken just a moment to think of us and provide such an endearing, life-changing moment.  That Christmas, and that ten minutes of my life, forever changed how I looked at the world around me.  I vowed that whenever I was able, I would always do whatever was in my power to do the same for those who needed help.

It would be a good many years before I was in a position to do very much for anybody beyond my own family.  I would donate clothes, shoes, or toys regularly, and that was all I could do for a long time.  I would donate small amounts of money here and there as I could.  I would donate my time here and there for a cause, always remembering that Christmas and knowing that someday I would do more.  Eventually, I would join a service-based sorority, and over the years have done many charity functions and events with my sisters.  It has just been in the last few years that I have been in a place where I am able to do more and give more than I ever have in the past.  We, my family, along with the families of my sisters, have started many traditions of giving that we have watched continue to grow with each passing year.  Some years we have donated our time and our cooking to feeding families staying in the Ronald McDonald House of Dallas while their children are in the hospital.

Giving Ronald McDonald some love at his house in Dallas
Giving Ronald McDonald some love at his house in Dallas

We have, for several years, donated items to Newborns in Need, who provide sleepers and blankets for young moms having babies at Parkland Hospital of Dallas.  We donate time, money, and physical energy towards at least one breast cancer event each year.  My family, along with my sisters this year, collect diapers in lieu of gifts for our daughter’s birthday, and donate them to an organization in Dallas that gives them to homeless families.  Last weekend, at her third birthday party, between my sisters and those who came to her party, we collected almost 1700 diapers to donate!

Harrison atop the diaper mountain that was donated at her birthday (and 5 boxes came in after the pic!) - Oct 2014
Harrison atop the diaper mountain that was donated at her birthday (and 5 boxes came in after the pic!) – Oct 2014

My wife and I also volunteer four times a year at a cancer retreat, where she might lead a session of arts & crafts, and I run the kitchen for the weekend.  Recently, one of my sisters and I volunteered on a Saturday morning to make sandwiches for the homeless, and were blown away at the coming-together of our community to make 4400 sandwiches in less than an hour.

My sister, Danielle, and I spending a Saturday making sandwiches - Oct 2014
My sister, Danielle, and I spending a Saturday making sandwiches – Oct 2014

Several years ago, I wanted to give back to one of the schools in our community that my middle son attended, so my sisters and I made them a Thanksgiving basket to gift to one of their families in need.  The next year, we did two baskets.  The year after that, we did three baskets.  And last year, we did ten baskets.  Our goal for this year is a dozen baskets, but we may end up exceeding that if the interest and donations are up!

So while all of this feels wonderful and makes most people want to keep doing it over and over, there often comes a time when we are faced with putting our money where our mouth is, so to speak.  What do I mean?  I mean that sometimes we are confronted with the choice of supporting a charity, or not, based on personal choice, moral codes, or ethical behavior that we either agree or disagree with.  I’m not talking about not going to Chick-Fil-A and giving them my money because the founder’s son doesn’t agree with gay whatever.  Or not giving Hobby Lobby my money because they stand against women’s rights of choice in their own family planning.  But we don’t typically give to Boy Scouts of America because of their stance on allowing LGBT parents to act in a role of leadership in individual troops.  We feel strongly about it, as parents, because the parents of these scouts are just exactly the same as any of the other troop leaders:  Parents.  We typically don’t give our money, or donated goods, to the Salvation Army, largely due to their anti-LGBT policies and practices of discrimination.  But those are just a few examples and reasons that are important to US – and no, we don’t expect anybody to go along with us in our stances unless they hold the same ideals and beliefs.

But what if we are called upon to provide help in a time of need to a group (like a church or charity, for example) that we don’t care for all that much, or that we don’t agree with and also know that they don’t particularly care for us?  Is it our place to judge their level of need?  Is it our place to pick and choose, knowing that without the help that we could provide, their need might not get met?  I feel like, when faced with two roads before me – one is to give without question, and one is to say that the need is not great enough – which one will I choose?  It shouldn’t be a hard choice.  If my heart has in it to give – be it time, money, service, or goods – then when a need is presented to me, there should be no question as to whether I will or not.  When charitable work becomes about US, then we are no longer doing it for honorable reasons.  So what I thought might be a dilemma should never be.  If I give of myself, and I share that with those around me, then my gift of paying something forward should never be in question because of the recipient.  THIS is how we become an example to our children, and how we teach them to become selfless people who care about their fellow mankind.  I’m excited for all of the upcoming opportunities that my family, along with my sisters, will have to give back.

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Meeting Pastor Lisa at SoupMobile in Deep Ellum last week when Noah and I dropped off blankets, sweaters, hoodies, coats & hats – Nov 2014

And all of this is not to brag, boast, or say how great I am because I do these things.  This is hopefully a way to show how easy it is to help others, and hopefully inspire even one person to do so.  Pay it forward folks.  You never know when you might be the one in the position of needing that help.  This is repayment time in life for me. Repayment for countless times of help, either monetarily or otherwise, when I wasn’t in my best places emotionally or financially. Repayment for every meal, visit, help with kids, fundraiser, message of hope, and encouragement that I received from diagnosis to remission. I am forever grateful to those who came together for me and my family after my cancer diagnosis – friends, family, and many that I don’t even know.  People gave of themselves with their time, their talent, their finances; and I will forever be indebted to do the same as often as I am able.  And always remember, a little goes a long way.  We need to all just take care of each other…okay??

Halloween of Days Gone By…

10/31/2014

Well folks, it’s that beloved time of year again, where Pumpkin Spice everything is everywhere you go and shop.  Where some places of the country actually experience a fall season, while others of us long for the days that leaves might change colors for a few days before dying and falling off, and temps of highs in the 70s seem like cold fronts.  Well, I guess in these parts, highs in the 70s ARE actually cold fronts.  We hope for cool weather for Trick-or-Treating, so that nobody has to sweat inside of their adorable little costumes.  And we look forward to upcoming holidays, hoodies, hot drinks, and warm fuzzies.

So here we are, at the end of October, on the kickoff of the fall/winter trio of holiday greatness – Halloween!  Earlier this week, as I read a Huff Post piece about Halloween in the 1970s versus now, it reminded me of many a great Halloween of yesteryear.  So I thought that I would write my own version of how Halloween has evolved over the years, and how way different it is now.

1976 (Six years old – first grade):  While I don’t remember too many of my childhood costumes, and I don’t remember if we wore them to school or not, I DO remember that it was called Halloween, it was celebrated as a fun holiday, we DID have parties at school (with homemade baked goods even!) complete with a carnival AND a haunted house in the choir room.  It scared the bejeezus out of us!!  They had pumpkin carving/decorating contests, and in third grade, my brother and I won Grand Prize and made the front page of the local newspaper!

My brother and I on the front page of the Lewisville Leader, around 1977? 1978?
My brother and I on the front page of the Lewisville Leader, around 1977? 1978?

We were not, however, ever allowed to have costumes that were witches/warlocks, devils, skeletons, or anything that my mother remotely considered to be “evil.”  We were lucky to be allowed to Trick-or-Treat, because this was “the devil’s holiday,” and mom was just sure that somehow Satan was going to get to us through our candy, I guess.  I asked mom if she took pictures of us on Halloween, and if so, where are they; but she couldn’t recall having any, even though she was sure that she took some because we were just “so darn cute in our little costumes.”

I remember that we would come home from school and count the hours until we could go Trick-or-Treating with our friends.  Too excited to eat dinner really, we danced around in our costumes waiting for night to fall; our giant plastic jack o’ lanterns waiting by the door.  As soon as we saw people on the sidewalks and porch lights aglow, we were GONE!  Sometimes my dad would walk with us, but as we got older, we either went by ourselves or with a group of friends.  No flashlights, we were led simply by the street lights.  People would decorate their homes with the specific purpose to scare us little kids, and they did it well.  They had makeshift haunted housed in their garages for the kids of their community, and we went in, unafraid and without fear of abduction.  We accepted any and every candy, popcorn ball, apple, orange, or pixie stic – however, we didn’t so much as sample a piece of any of it while out.  Our costumes, in the younger years, were typically store-bought plastic smocks that were hot as hell (unless, of course, it was cold that year, and then we attempted to bundle up UNDER our plastic smocks and looked utterly ridiculous), and the plastic mask with tiny elastic string to hold it on the head – eye holes and small nose holes cut out for us to breathe through.  I remember one year wearing Wonder Woman in this style of costume – crazy hot but I didn’t care!  My mom would have already bought big bags of snack sized treats, and loaded up her popcorn bowl in order to give it out until it was gone.  And back then?  The bowl pretty much ALWAYS got emptied by a constant stream of youngsters ringing our bell.  We wandered the streets until our pumpkins were so full that we could hardly carry them from the weight.

1979 (Nine years old – fourth grade):  Somewhere in these years, I recall one year either not knowing what I wanted to be for Halloween or not being able to find it.  So what did most kids do when they had no costume, but still wanted to go out Trick-or-Treating with their friends?  They made their own!  On more than one Halloween night as a kid, after not being able to decide on an acceptable costume, I ultimately became the thing that I could do in a pinch:  a hobo.  My pants and shoes, one of my dad’s button-up dress shirts and a loosely tied necktie, some goofy looking hat of his, and some of mom’s brown eyebrow pencil that would create my scraggly whiskers.  Boom.  Done.  On my way out the door.

Regardless of all the things that we were NOT afraid of, there was never a shortage of urban legends that DID manage to keep us on our toes leading up to Halloween night, and all the way until our heads hit the pillow at its close.  Why do you think that we never ate a piece of candy while we were out begging the neighborhood?  Because our parents forbid us to touch it until we got back home, spread it all out on the table, and had it inspected.  Oh you remember why…there were weirdos out there who would inject poison into fruits and candy via needle.  Or drugs even!  They also had been known to put razor blades in kids’ buckets in a twisted scheme to cut us up….scary stuff!!  So off we would go, collecting our loot, and then drag it back home for inspection.  One parent would take mine to either the kitchen table or the dining room table and spread every single piece into a single layer, while the other parent took my brother’s to the other table.  Anything homemade – cookies, brownies, etc. – automatically thrown out.  Any piece of fruit – apples or oranges typically – out.  Popcorn balls – out.  Any piece of candy with a loose or torn wrapper – out.  Once all of that sorting and tossing was done, we would gather everything that was left back into our pumpkins, meet at one table, and begin trading and negotiating.  Once business was all done and taken care of, THEN we got busy enjoying our favorites.  And for weeks after Halloween had come and gone, we enjoyed its sweetness while we walked to school, in our lunchboxes, after school, and after dinner.

1986-1987 (sixteen/seventeen years old – junior/senior years):  Once we got to a certain age, we stopped donning costumes and going door-to-door, not wanting to be those teenagers who we saw walking the neighborhood trying to scare the little kids, and shopping for free candy in no costumes while carrying a pillowcase.  The exception to this was if one of our friends was having a Halloween party, and then we would find a costume for that.  Other times, we would go to haunted houses with friends, but typically didn’t dress up in costume for those trips.

At sixteen, I dressed up as a prisoner in black/white strips for a party – complete with plastic ball & chain around my ankle, and handcuffs hanging off my wrist.  The next year, as a senior, my best friend and I decided that we wanted to go Trick-or-Treating one more time.  I used the same prisoner costume, but her dad decided to add to it.  He was a makeup artist for a theater, so he created a nasty, bloody scab for my cheek and made me a prisoner who had escaped after an ordeal, apparently!  It was awesome!  We made the rounds in my neighborhood, and then went to the neighborhood where our French teacher lived – as we discovered when we ended up ringing her bell.  Great memories.

Mid-90s to Present:  All grown up and a parent now, the excitement of Halloween has shifted to decorating the house for the holiday, and picking out new costumes for the kids each year.  It is rare and only occasionally that we will attend a Halloween party, and have only once or twice attended the big Street Party down in Dallas – it’s just not our thing these days.  Halloween has definitely evolved since I was a kid, and the simple fun that it was for us seems far out of sight anymore.

Noah - Halloween 2001
Noah – Halloween 2001

Do kids have Halloween parties at school anymore?  With one out of school, and one in high school, I know that they sometimes have “Costume Day” at school, but no parties anymore.  And it has been so long since they were in elementary that I don’t remember.  Many places have “Fall Festival” or “Autumn Festival” parties or events.  Churches everywhere host Fall Harvest Festivals on Halloween, with rides, games, food, and tons of candy – while welcoming and encouraging costumes.  Malls have store-to-store indoor trick-or-treating.  Some cities host “Trunk-or-Treat” events, where parents go to a large parking lot, park, and open up their trunk that is stocked with candy so that kids can go from car to car and load up. When these kind of events first started becoming a thing, it was because of an ever-growing fear within communities regarding the safety of their youngsters.  Parents became convinced that Trick-or-Treating was no longer safe, and for a while, it virtually disappeared.  I bought into it along with most everyone else, and when my oldest was young, we were at our church’s Fall Harvest Festival every year, in costume.  My middle son was born in 2000, and his first few Halloweens were spent at one of those festivals, but by the time he was in elementary, we were back to Trick-or-Treating, no matter how few there were out roaming the neighborhoods with us.  Only now?  Kids don’t go out in packs like we did, unless they are older.  Flashlights accompany most groups now, either one in hand, or one shining from a cell phone.  On a typical street block, less than half of the porch lights will be on, because people are either out at a “safe” event or location, or because people just don’t want to participate.  Now that we have a little one in the house again, we take her around the streets near ours and then bring her back after a short trip out.

Nicholas - Halloween 1998, 99?
Nicholas – Halloween 1998, 99?

I typically don’t see homemade baked goods in the booty anymore – haven’t really since I was a kid.  Nor do I see popcorn balls or fruit.  But we typically see at least one toothbrush, sometimes a travel sized toothpaste – and to those people who give them out, I deem you a Halloween buzzkill.  Just keep your stupid porch light off.  We have also seen the occasional religious tract thrown in, or some other such odd non-candy item like pencils.  Come on people!  Were you not a kid…EVER??

Noah, Nicholas, & Krystal - Halloween 2009
Noah, Nicholas, & Krystal – Halloween 2010

Once we have finished making the rounds with our little girl – who will be one of the million Elsas this Halloween – we will come back to begin our duties as candy-giver-outers.  For the past two years, we have put lawn chairs in the yard, played Halloween music through my iPhone on a speaker, and sat outside to give candy out.  Once, I made pina coladas and we sat out front eating and drinking while we gave it out; the more we drank, the more generous we were!  Our neighborhood doesn’t get many Trick-or-Treaters anyway, so we can be generous regardless.  But sitting in the front lawn not only keeps the dog from losing her damn mind every time the doorbell gets pushed, it gives us a chance to see and visit with our neighbors and see their kids/grandkids costumes.  Costumes have also come a long way since I was a kid.  Rarely do you see a homemade one these days, and if you do, then you can almost guarantee that the mom has been on Pinterest.  A LOT.  And the prices of costumes at places like Party City or Spirit are crazy!  Maybe I’m just old.  But really….$50-$100 for a kid’s costume?  Who are you trying to impress here?  Oh, and don’t even get me STARTED on all of the sexy, hoochie, vampy little costumes that are out there for little girls and tweens!!  Disgusting.  (But someone is obviously buying them and dressing their kids in them, or they wouldn’t exist in mass quantities and various characters, right?)

Harrison - Halloween 2012
Harrison – Halloween 2012
Zoe - Halloween 2013
Zoe – Halloween 2013

So while Halloween has changed a lot over the years, the same, basic premise remains – and that is…CANDY.  And fun!  What is more fun that dressing up as something besides yourself, laughing, spending time with friends/family, getting spooked over a haunted house or scary movie, and eating junk that you normally don’t let yourself or your kids eat??  Calories be damned!  Just get back out there and have fun!

 

Fun facts to send back to our moms:

* Number of deaths on Halloween from razor blades mixed with candy:  0

** Number of deaths on Halloween from poison injected/sprinkled into candy:  0

*** Number of deaths on Halloween from candy tampering:  0

 

Just sayin’…

If I Have Gay Children: Four Promises From A Christian Pastor/Parent

TJ Domestic Dyke:

Reblog of this post by John Pavlovitz of North Carolina. This is the best and only way that I could think to thank him properly for his words and wisdom – and that is to share it with any and every human that I can.

Originally posted on john pavlovitz:

KidsFiltered


Sometimes I wonder if I’ll have gay children.

I’m not sure if other parents think about this, but I do; quite often.

Maybe it’s because I have many gay people in my family and circle of friends. It’s in my genes and in my tribe.
Maybe it’s because, as a pastor of students, I’ve seen and heard the horror stories of gay Christian kids, from both inside and outside of the closet, trying to be part of the Church.
Maybe it’s because, as a Christian, I interact with so many people who find homosexuality to be the most repulsive thing imaginable, and who make that abundantly clear at every conceivable opportunity.

For whatever reason, it’s something that I ponder frequently. As a pastor and a parent, I wanted to make some promises to you, and to my two kids right now…

1) If I have gay children, you’ll all know it.

My children won’t…

View original 949 more words

The Mourning

Sept. 22, 2014

I came to a harsh realization today.

I had Cancer.  shutterstock_92336032

Breast Cancer.

Aggressive, invasive, triple-negative non-hormone driven stage 3 breast cancer.

Yeah sure, I know it was February of last year that I found the lump.  And I’m aware that the multiple biopsy results came on Noah’s 13th birthday in March of last year.  On April 10, 2013 my body was altered forever when a surgeon removed both of my breasts, all the way to the chest wall.  Chemo took my hair shortly thereafter, and by the end made it difficult to walk, even with a cane.  Radiation burned my skin, forever making that area slow to heal.  Scars were left, after several surgeries, from mid-sternum to underarm, on both sides.

Through all of that, I tried to stay positive.  I tried to keep smiling.  I tried to keep going and not think about anything but getting through the treatments and get it over with.  And I did it!  My PET scan was clear, showing no signs of cancer in November 2013.  Radiation ended February 19, 2014 – ending all treatments, and that was it.  I was done!  And every day since it ended, I woke up with an exquisite realization – I BEAT Cancer! breast_cancer_by_moydh-d4izagk

Time passed, strength returned, health returned.  I started working out again!  I started eating better again!  I started losing the 27 pounds that I gained during treatments!  Then, despite having said from the very beginning that I would have no part of reconstruction, I entertained the option for two reasons:  I did not like what I saw in the mirror, and some of my clothes were not fitting right.  Small implants should do the trick, I thought, to fill in the caved-in areas of my chest, fill my swimsuit, yet still omit the need for a bra. Sounded like a win-win to me!

I had my surgery on July 24th.  Within a week or two I felt great, and back to normal – despite the fact that you couldn’t even tell that I had gotten implants.  Five weeks after surgery, my skin split open on the radiated side, and turned into an infection that wouldn’t respond to antibiotics.  So last week, on September 18th, I was back in surgery to un-do all that had been done in July, remove the implant, and get rid of all of the infection.

Yesterday, I removed the bandages for the first time so that I could shower.  It was like someone had punched me in the gut.  It took my breath away.  The damage was worse now than way back after the double mastectomy last year.  I obviously was NOT prepared for what I saw, and I stood for what seemed like forever, mouth agape, staring at even worse caved-in scars than existed before.  There are no words, but the sense of loss overwhelmed me at that moment – and I believe that it was then that the mourning began.

The aftermath of multiple surgeries, implants, and infection
The aftermath of multiple surgeries, implants, and infection

Today, I can’t stop crying.  I have no way to explain it, except for an overwhelming sense of grief.  It isn’t about not being grateful that I beat cancer.  It isn’t about not being thankful that the staph infection didn’t get into my bloodstream and kill me.  I mean, truly, I hated my large breasts before cancer; but I never hated them enough to disfigure myself.  But it is a very odd place to be where I don’t look like a woman when topless; nor do I look like a guy when topless.  I feel like some androgynous person who gets called sir in the check-out line, and then called ma’am when they hear my voice.  I know that there is the option, after a while, to start over with something else that can be made from my own tissue, but that doesn’t take away from what I have to see today, and every day until maybe it can be repaired.  But truthfully, the more I see these scars, the less hope that I have for a repair that will look remotely like a breast.

I don’t know how to mourn.  I don’t know how to grieve a major loss and then let it go.  I know how to shove down feelings, sometimes to the point of omitting them from my memories.  I know how to stifle tears that start to choke me, for fear that if I let them go, they won’t stop and will overtake me.  When death has touched my family on rare occasions, I will usually cry at the intital news but then keep it together from that point forward.  I did fall apart after the loss of a baby and again when my oldest moved out, and that was enough for me.  To me, it doesn’t seem to be productive to fall apart, when I would much rather just face things, deal with it, and keep smiling and cracking jokes in order to cope.  So for whatever reason, now, all of these months and months and surgery scars later, my psyche has decided that THIS surgery was the one.  The straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back.  Floodgates are being pressed hard by weird, foreign, emotion-type things like the levees in New Orleans during hurricane season.

No matter how much I downplay it, no matter how much I laugh it off – body parts are gone forever.  No matter how many more procedures it takes to rebuild some semblance of a chest – they will never be the real thing or look like the real thing.  I know that my physical appearance doesn’t define me, and never has – so why in the holy f&*k is this driving me mad NOW???  I just don’t get it.  And this whole piece is NOT for advice on how to deal with things, or for great words of wisdom, or for anyone to tell me to “buck up, Buttercup” – because I’m telling myself that one plenty, thank you very much.  This piece was just how I know how to process things, and that is through writing.  I only share in hopes that if there is one person out there who goes through something remotely similar, that they will know that they are not alone, and that they can, should, and will go through a mourning of their own.

But, I came to a harsh realization today.

I had Cancer.

No, I DON’T Love All of My Children the Same!

IMG_0340

I remember, fourteen years or so ago, when I was pregnant with Noah. No matter what I said or how excited I was, there was no convincing Nicholas (who was eight-and-a-half when Noah was born) that it was going to be great, him having a baby brother. Nope. He didn’t want any part of it. And what did I tell him more than anything else? I told him that he was not being replaced, and that I would love him no less once the new baby arrived – that I would love both boys exactly the same. Even all of these years later, when Harrison came into our lives, I found myself saying the same thing – that I would love all three kids the same. Well, the more I think about it, the more I realize that it’s a crock of shit! There is no way that I could even remotely love these three wonderful and unique individuals the same! No, that doesn’t mean that I have a favorite, or that one is just not good enough to be loved the same – it just means that I love them differently, and especially just the way that I need to love them as an individual.
* * * * *

To my oldest and firstborn son, Nicholas:

The love I have for you is a love that I cannot give to your siblings, or even to your daughter (my grandbaby). This love is special, because you showed me how to love as a parent for the first time. You showed me that it didn’t matter that I was young, inexperienced,

Circa 2009ish - Best NoH8 pic EVER
Circa 2009ish – Best NoH8 pic EVER

uneducated, and broke – as long as you knew that your mommy was there no matter what. Because I was young, as you grew, so did I. For a long time it was just you and me, and despite how hard it was at times (which I hope you don’t remember),

Circa 2008ish - Creeper...snuck up on me
Circa 2008ish – Creeper…snuck up on me

there was always the assurance that you gave me the strength and drive to keep plugging away and take care of you. We joke now and you give me a hard time, telling me that we love Noah more than you, and that we love Harrison more than both of you – and we all know that even the thought is ridiculous. Yes, it was really hard for us when you were little; single mom, no money, moving from tiny apartment to living with relatives, struggling at times to pay bills or buy groceries. But somehow we did it, and before my very eyes you grew from a baby

September 2014...still my baby boy
September 2014…still my baby boy

to a boy to a teenager to a young man to a husband and now a father yourself. With every day, week, and year, and even when you got into trouble, my love for you would grow. And even at our lowest point, when my heart was breaking over a decision made, I knew that my devastation was out of fear that our bond was somehow over. For nine months you were out of my house, and for nine months I continued to love you, worry about you, miss you, and want you home. I missed our closeness, and even after all of the pain, I just wanted you to know and remember my love. You opened up my whole world as my first child, showing me what it is like to have a piece of my heart walking around outside of my body. For that, I thank you and love you to the moon and back.

IMG_6279
Spring 2014
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Spring/Summer 2013…forced selfie with his mama

To my middle child and second-born son, Noah:

The love that I have for you is born from hope and thankfulness for the child that I never thought that I would have. After having Nicholas, when the desire was there to have another child, I went through many attempts at pregnancy, including drugs, shots, and fertility treatments. I was finally told that I had secondary infertility, and that it was unlikely that it would ever happen. When I unexpectedly found out, many months down the road, I cannot ever explain to you the joy and love that filled me for you – even then, and from the moment I knew that you were there. You were a miracle, and I was going to do whatever I had to do to protect you. As a little, tiny fellow you made me see the world through your bright blue eyes, full of curiosity and into everything. And as you grew, and your energy was so very hard to contain, so did my fierce, protective mama-bear love; because outside the walls of our home were those who didn’t understand how loving and amazing you are. You desperately wanted to have a greater connection with your big brother, and I often tried to fill that void within you with the overflow that I already had. I so wanted for my love to shield you from any and all hurt and pain, and I imagine that I will always want that. You showed me how to love at full speed, no brakes, every day – because that is how you operate. I may not have always done it very well, in fact, I know that I have failed you on many occasions. But I have learned over the years that the love I have for you is so different and so familiar all at the same time, because I am very much like you. When you became a big brother, you showed me how a guy can, and should, love

August 2014 - Summer camp pickup
August 2014 – Summer camp pickup
Big Brother, Little Sister
Big Brother, Little Sister

a younger sibling, and my love for you only deepens when I see how much you have and that you give it freely. You will never know how much of a connection we really do have, and you will likely never know just how much I love you…and it will never change no matter what you may do. Thank you for always pushing me towards that unconditional love, whether you realize you are doing it or not.

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August 2014

To my youngest child and only daughter, Harrison:

I was not sure how I would be able to love you as much as the boys that I carried in my body, nurtured, and fed. When Mommy was pregnant with you, I often worried that you wouldn’t feel like “mine” because we don’t have a biological bond. But the moment that you arrived, in the middle of an operating room full of people, I was flooded with love at first sight.

Oct 24, 2011 - Best yawn EVER
Oct 24, 2011 – Best yawn EVER

A few minutes after you were cleaned up and wrapped up, you were placed in my arms and we were ushered into a room together to wait for the doctors to close up your Mommy and bring her in for recovery. We were alone for a short time, and I looked down at you, instantly falling in love with this baby girl that I never in a million years anticipated. And that love? That love is what filled every fiber of my being and told me that you are mine. Months later, after going through legal hoops, fingerprinting, and home visits from a social worker, we were finally standing in a courtroom in front of a judge, and that same first love came flooding back as you were legally declared what you had been since before birth: my daughter!

August 2012 - Adoption granted!
August 2012 – Adoption granted!

You have that same fireball spirit as Noah did (and still does), so the love that I developed for his non-stop energized personality has re-surfaced and brought some patience with it – for both of you. Your smile, your laugh, your singing, and your fascination for every thing around you can frustrate me, wear me the hell out, and love you to the point that it feels as if my heart might explode. When my baby girl says, “Mama? Pweeeeese?” it pretty much melts my heart and you end up getting whatever you want. Your arrival showed me that the special and amazing love between an adoptive parent and this amazing creature that was picked just for them by the universe is an awesome and wonderful gift. Thank you baby girl for letting me love you in this unique way…I will love you forever and always.
* * * * *

Oct 2011 - First photo of all 3 siblings
Oct 2011 – First photo of all 3 siblings

So, see? While yes, I most certainly love all of my children deeply and passionately with all of my heart, it is impossible to love them all the same. Each child, in any family, brings their own

Mother's Day 2013...I could not ask for more
Mother’s Day 2013…I could not ask for more

unique attributes that require their own unique love. Accept it. Embrace it. Spread it! What you will find out, like I did, is that there is more than enough to go around!

 

The Reconstruction

* I just realized that a previous blog post briefly covered some of this information, so my apologies for some repetition. I think I was in the hospital still when I wrote the last one – there were pain meds involved, and thus my recollection of it is a bit fuzzy *

So I guess it has been a while since I have updated in the post-cancer saga, huh? Well there wasn’t much to tell, thankfully, after treatment ended. I finished radiation in mid-February and then just went back to life as usual. My first 3-month checkup was in May, and all of my labs indicated that my tumor markers were normal. In September (well actually, next week) I am due to follow up with both my oncologist and my radiation oncologist – this will be six months out. In between, we finished the last school year, had a fantastic family vacation to Colorado, took an awesome anniversary trip to San Francisco and Napa, and then returned to get ready for Noah’s summer camp just before he started his freshman year of high school. I had been feeling great, working out, finally losing weight, and was getting better and better with each passing day. I knew that I needed another surgery to remove some skin and fat from each side of my scars, under my arms; plus I also needed to have my thyroid removed now that I have insurance. My surgeon had scanned my thyroid several years ago and discovered that there was an old, calcified nodule on it. Once I went in to discuss the thyroidectomy, she scanned it again just for kicks. Yup. Still there. I then started talking to her about possibly having small implants put in, only because I was caved in and my clothes were not fitting that great. She encouraged me to go and get a consultation from her friend and plastic surgeon before we scheduled the surgery – and so I did.

Two of my babies visiting me after surgery
Two of my babies visiting me after surgery

I went for my consultation, and after some discussion we devised a fairly simple plan for some small implants. The first surgeon would go in first and remove the thyroid, and then the plastic surgeon would take over to remove the skin and fat that was under the arms, and add the small implants. We scheduled it for the end of July, the week after we returned from our amazing trip to California. Three nights in the hospital and we came home for what I thought would be a short recovery. WRONG. Nobody, and I mean NOBODY, prepared me for the recovery after reconstruction. The pain. Nobody, and I mean NOBODY, prepared me for the pain after reconstruction. It was way worse than the double mastectomy had been, most definitely. It took weeks to move without flinching, and I was restricted from lifting anything over five pounds for six weeks…including Harrison. When I woke up from surgery, the first thing that I asked about was not the implants, but about the areas under each arm that needed to be removed – and they were still there. Something about not being able to get to them while I was under. Needless to say, I was NOT happy about that. Follow-up appointments revealed that while he had not been able to get to the areas easily while in the operating room, he could easily access them in one of his procedure rooms at his office. I went in a few weeks post-surgery to have the procedure done in-office, where he numbed me up and snipped and sutured. It’s not as flat as I would like on one side, but it can always be touched up at another visit.

Having my in-office procedure...awake and with a camera phone!
Having my in-office procedure…awake and with a camera phone!

Another one of the disappointments upon getting home and healing a bit was to see that I could hardly even tell that an implant had been added. My chest was so caved in that it pretty much swallowed up the entirety of each of the implants, moreso on the right side. So now, I find myself with a small bump on my left breast area, and no bump at all on the right side. Dear Lord baby Jesus, was this even worth doing? Ugh. So I discussed it with my plastic surgeon, and he said that he cannot go back in to fix it until November. I’m not sure that I get the reasoning behind it, but that is what he said. He said at that time, he will take the current implants out and place larger ones in (and the right one will have to be bigger than the left to accomodate the bigger cave-in). I am really, really hoping that it will be the last one.

Sidebar on the Thyroidectomy: A few days after I got home from the hospital, my surgeon who removed my thyroid called me. She had the pathology report back from the nodule that they removed from the thyroid. Cancer. GREAT. So now what? She said that the good news for me is that it was totally encapsulated inside the calcified, rock-like shell. It was 8mm of cancer, and the other good news is that no further treatment is required unless it is 10mm or larger. Whew. I barely skated out of more treatment! So for now, she is monitoring my meds and my TSH levels, and every six months I have to go for tests to make sure there is no cancer in my parathyroid.  At least this scar, the one on my neck, is healing nicely and hasn’t given me any problems whatsoever.

So now here I am, six weeks or so out from surgery. I don’t know if I was moving around too much or if I didn’t wait long enough to pick up Harrison, but my sutures that looked almost completely healed have opened up. First in one spot, then in two, then in three, until I saw four open spots over the weekend. I went last Friday and the doc looked at them, said that there is no infection, and that it is just really slow healing because it is the side where radiation took place. Even though I did wait the amount of time that my radiation oncologist said to wait, and then some, it apprently wasn’t long enough. The plastic surgeon said that the radiated side would be slow to heal for any reason, for the rest of my life. GREAT.

I now, for the most part, really regret even going down this reconstruction road. But I’ve come this far, I pretty much have to see it through – unless I just say “Screw it!” and have the doc reverse it and take the implants out altogether. I’m not to that point yet, considering all of the pain and soreness that I have endured….but I am SO ready for all of it to just be over.

** Added segment 9/12/2014 **

Fast forward to today. Over the course of this week, the pain has been steadily increasing in my left implant, while the wounds are still draining (over a week now) and not looking any better. I went back in for the doc to look at it, with pain so intense that it hurt to breathe. As soon as he took a look at it, he said, “Oh damn. That doesn’t look good.” He examined it, touched all around it, got a Q-tip and dug around in it (not pleasant, by the way), and confirmed that it is infected – probably with staph. Wait, WHAT?? Staph?? Um, are you going to put me in the hospital right now and take it out, and stick an IV in my arm to pump antibiotics in?? He was very calm, telling me not to freak out or be afraid, because staph is just the type of infection that takes place in this area when it happens. He said that he wants to try to save it if possible until we are ready to swap it out in November for the larger ones. I am to spend today and the weekend taking lots of antibiotics orally, along with pain meds, and report back to them on Monday morning. If it is not significantly better, then he will put me in on Thursday and remove the implants. This basically will mean that all of this pain and limitation will all be for nothing, and IF I decide to start over, we will do so with expanders once the tissue is completely healed. Again. And all of that means that there will be surgery next week, then another to insert the expanders, then another to take the expanders out and add implants. Ugh. breast-reconstruction-jo-400x400

This makes me extremely grumpy.

Helicopter Parents – Why We Are the Way We Are

With the beginning of another new school year, I have been thinking a lot lately about this label that has been thrown around for several years now – “Helicopter Parents.”  Everybody knows those parents, if they are not those parents themselves.  I am most certainly guilty of fitting the description myself.  According to Wikipedia, “a helicopter parent is a parent who pays extremely close attention to a child’s or children’s experiences and problems, particularly at educational institutions. Helicopter parents are so named because, like helicopters, they hover overhead.”  Helicopter parentAnd it doesn’t typically just occur within our kid’s school, both with academics and activities; the helicopter syndrome extends to virtually every aspect of their lives, often from birth until college graduation; sometimes even beyond that in extreme cases.  As I look at my middle child who, just last week, began his first year of high school, I have been looking within and examining when and why I became that parent.  When did this phenomenom appear?  Why did we, my generation of suburban kids turned suburban moms and dads, become so overly protective of our children?

I think what made me really think about it started from a hysterical blog that I read about the difference in back-to-school in the 70s versus back-to-school in 2014.  So many of the author’s points rang true, and gave everyone a good laugh in the process.  This made me realize that there was also a huge difference in many other areas of life as we knew it then, and life as we know it now.  Let’s look at things then and things now.

1970s

In the summertime, our parents got up and went to work; my brother and I stayed home, by ourselves.  No sitter.  No daycare.  We were in late elementary and early middle school when both parents worked, and yes, we stayed home alone.  We got up, made our own breakfast, and watched cartoons.  Now, normally we had to stay inside during the day, not allowed to swim in our pool until an adult was home, unless we had permission to go to a specific friend’s house and mom knew which friend – not that she knew where their house was, or even what street; just somewhere in our neighborhood that we could get to on our bikes.  Sometimes we would get permission to ride our bikes to the bowling alley, which was several miles away, and we would have to cross busy Main Street in order to get there.  As long as we stayed together, we usually could go bowl as much as we wanted.  We rode our bikes everywhere.  We stayed outside pretty much all day when we had permission (it wasn’t a bazillion degrees outside like it is now), going in briefly for a snack, for lunch, or for a drink (when we wanted something besides water from the hose).  We played kickball at the playground with neighborhood kids – most were our friends, but some we didn’t know and still welcomed to play.  There were no cell phones, and we stayed out until dark, when the street lights came on.

During the school year, we either made our lunches and threw them in our metal lunchboxes with thermoses full of either drink or soup.  Sometimes we got a lunch ticket for a change of pace.  As early as first grade, I walked to school with my brother and our friends from the neighborhood.  I didn’t know of anybody’s allergies, if they had them.  I was allowed to take peanut butter sandwiches in my lunch, and swap with a friend if I didn’t like what I had that day.  My mom typically met my teacher at the beginning of the year Meet-the-Teacher night, and then wouldn’t see them again until an Open House, if then.  When I got home, my mom didn’t ask me if I had homework – I just did it.  I did homework, ate dinner, maybe watched TV for an hour or so, did dishes, and had a bedtime.  I studied spelling words by myself, or maybe had my brother drill me.  I brought home report cards, had it signed, and returned it, knowing that if I got a “C” that I would lose privileges; and if I had bad conduct marks (which I ALWAYS did, for talking too much, if you can believe THAT!) then I would lose privileges and/or get grounded.  We took standardized tests at school, but our entire academic curriculum didn’t center around them, as far as I can remember.

2000s

During the summertime now, parents line up sitters, nannies, daycares, and camps (all that have been background checked, of course) for their children to attend; and even young teens are typically NOT left home alone and to their own devices.  Most parents have enough activities lined up all summer long on either side of family vacations that there is little time left for their kids to get into mischief.  Sports camps, church camps, theater camps, music camps, you name it – they’re out there.  Rec centers have summer camps that involve weekly field trips and multiple trips to city pools and water parks.  When we were kids, my mom’s biggest summer expenses for us were shorts/tshirts/swimsuits, and groceries to keep us happy while she was at work.  Summertime now, for working parents, is expensive since there is not only the clothes and groceries aspect, but all of these damn camps, too, at usually $100+ each per week long session!  Our kids have cell phones, so they can always be in contact with US, along with their gaggles of friends who also have cell phones.  And we don’t just send them out the door to play, with a general idea of where they will be, and no idea of when they will be back.  No, no.  Our kids have arranged play dates, where the parents arrange the time and place, and sometimes they drop them off at a friend’s house but most of the time meet at an agreed-upon location so that they can drink coffee and visit while the kids play.  If the kids are older and want to “hang out” with a friend (they are now too cool to say “go play”), we want to know exactly where the kid lives (with an address and preferably phone number), what adults will be there (because no adults = no “hanging out”), and have a set time that they are to return.  They are sent out the door with a cell phone that is GPS-enabled, so in the event that they do not return at the specified time we can then track their location to a quarter of a mile.  Our kids have computers, or at the very least computer access to a shared device, and access to any and everything in the world online, so we set up Parental Safety filters and restrictions – because while we are cool parents, we know that they have something at their fingertips that we formerly did not possess:  the Internet.  We watch who they text, who they talk to, how they browse, websites they visit (or try to visit).

helicopter-mom

Now let’s talk about school.  Most parents now don’t just send their kids out the door in the mornings, off to school with a backpack, lunchbox, and a hug; not unless they live fairly close to their school and can be watched for a good portion of their walk.  I know that with my oldest, he started riding his bike to school in 2nd grade, but only due to the fact that the school was one street directly behind our house and it took him less than five minutes to get there.  My middle child walked to school for the first time in 4th grade, and I walked with him several times at the beginning of the year before turning him loose to walk less than two blocks to his school.  With both boys, I knew where the crossing guards were, I knew the folks who worked in the office at school, knew the principals of their schools, and kept in regular contact with their teachers throughout the year.  Unlike when I was a kid in the 70s, both of my boys were given planners at the beginning of each year; and it was in these that they would daily write in their homework assignments, and teachers could report any problems or conduct issues.  I, in turn, would check the planner after school, make sure that they sat down and did any homework before going to play or hang out with any friends, and then sign the planner before making sure that it was tucked back into the backpack for the next day.  After the planner stage of elementary school, they moved into a more digital age, and parents then have access to every class and every teacher online, where we can view homework assignments, test dates, and email teachers with questions or concerns.  Unlike when I was a kid and was just expected to do my homework (because NOT doing it and taking a zero was just not an option), today’s parents are now not only keeping up with their own stuff – home, work, bills, groceries, kid schedules, birthdays, anniversaries, family, holidays…the list goes on and on – we are now adding the role of school into the mix.  I remember, over the past three years of my son’s middle school time, repeatedly saying how much I hated middle school, yet here I was, feeling like I was doing it again!  It got very tiring to look up coursework every day, make sure that he did the work, make sure that he turned the work in, and then regularly check back for grades to make sure he was passing and get him extra help when he was not.  My oldest lived with his dad for a brief period during his junior year of high school, and was struggling in some subjects when he first moved there.  During this time, his dad sat down with him almost every night to make sure he did his work, and helped him prepare for tests and such.  In the course of the past three years while the middle son was in middle school and struggling at times, his dad would often ask me if I was sitting down with him every night to watch him and make sure he was doing his homework.  Now I know that I am a hoverer, but my answer most of the time was “no.”  I know that this is not a method that helps our kids prepare for life in college, so no, I will not sit with him and make sure that he is getting it done.  He is at the very beginning of high school, and he has many tools available to him to succeed:  a laptop that is required at his school, a website that his teachers all access and use to post notes, homework assignments, deadlines, grades, etc.  I can log on under his name and check these things at any time as well, so if he doesn’t turn something in and gets a zero, I will see it.  This is an opportunity for me to step back, land the helicopter for a bit, and let him step off the ledge himself.  He is already learning to take notes in class, and how to go and check for assignments for himself.  These four years are what will prepare him for college – because his mama will not be holding his hand and making sure he takes notes and turns in his term papers or studies for his midterms.

So from my childhood to now, when did this huge shift in parental involvement take place…and more importantly, why?  Of course, as technology has advanced, so have we who became parents during that time.  But, there are other things that happened when we were young that hopefully don’t happen as often now under the watchful eyes of all those helicopter parents.  You know.  Those things that nobody likes to talk about.  Kids were left alone a LOT back in the day.  Bad things happened.  Girls were molested by family friends, by family members; raped by classmates or trusted adults.  So were boys.  And as we grew up and dealt with things that happened to us or to our friends, we declared within our own minds that those things would NEVER happen to our children, come hell or high water.

We were a lot more grown up back then, or so we thought we were.  Kids would sneak around and steal their parents liquor and drink – I mean young kids, too.  I was probably in middle school when I first drank, while at a friend’s house and when her parents weren’t home.  I would sneak liquor into my Coke when babysitting.  I was twelve when I had my first cigarette, also while at a friend’s house, with smokes stolen from her parents.  I cannot, in my wildest imagination, picture my kids doing either of those things at the age of twelve!  I have always regretted that first cigarette, because it started a fifteen year habit that was very hard to kick; but I did it for the sake of my child.10629880_10152356893032309_3819170507177371515_n

Maybe it is just me, and maybe the helicopter parent wasn’t born from dysfunction.  Maybe, for some, it came from a childhood of neglect or very little parent involvement in their lives.  Who knows? I hope that my hyper-vigilance towards my children has hopefully paid off in more areas than done damage.  I feel confidant that neither of the boys grew up without being touched or molested by anyone, and our toddler girl should never know the psychological and physical damage from that either.  I know that the oldest toyed with smoking for a while, but am grateful that he put it down and walked away from it.  And I know that he did some teenage drinking, but I am forever thankful that he was at least smart enough to not drive and hurt himself or anyone else.  It is so scary to think about all of the things that our kids have access to out there, and it is so hard to NOT be a helicopter parent.  If we can get them through childhood and adolescence relatively unscathed, somewhat educated, responsible and respectful, and a decent human being…then we have done our jobs and can call it a success.  It’s hard to let go and let them fall, screw up, and figure things out on their own.

Two of my babies visiting me <3
Two of my babies visiting me <3

Now, if you will excuse me, I am off to go check for assignments online…

When the Laughter Dies Down

As many people around the globe, I am still reeling from the shocking news of actor Robin Williams’ death, apparently by his own hand. I hear of celebrities passing, and it rarely has the impact that this one has had on me. Perhaps it was my beloved memories of his films throughout my lifetime, starting with his first appearances of Mork from Ork on Happy Days when I was just in elementary school. Or maybe the spinoff show that Mork got from that role. Or the many, many hours I spent watching Aladdin in my 20s with my young son, Nicholas, who lovingly referred to the Genie (voiced by Williams) as “Genie Dave.” Countless films. Countless laughs. Countless hours of entertainment. I can’t say it of many actors, but of this man, I can:  I loved him. image(2)

So why does his death feel personal to me? Why do I keep tearing up at a new reference to an old role, or another new posting on Facebook of a memory, or a photo, or a quote? Maybe because it hits close to home, triggering memories of tragic loss, way too soon, by way of mental illness and suicide not once in my life, not twice, but three times, and with several other scares along the way.

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I remember when I was in middle school, just a little younger than my Noah is now, when my parents finally got divorced after some back and forth moving in and out on my dad’s part. After 21 years of marriage, my mother was devastated, and consequently sunk into a deep, throw-me-a-lifeline sadness and depression. I couldn’t understand it; I couldn’t fix it, even with all of my 12-13 year old wisdom or humor. My brother and I took care of ourselves – doing our own laundry, getting ourselves to school and church, driving our mother’s car illegally at 13 and 14 to the store with a signed check of hers to buy groceries, cooking our own meals (and making sure that she ate, too). THAT is what I remember of those years. My mother tried to take her own life at least twice that I had to deal with, and thankfully she was not successful. But it leaves an impression on a kid, the importance of a healthy mental outlook. I’m not sure why she didn’t get any more help than some kind counseling from various people from church, but that was all she would accept. No real counselors. No meds.

Years later, at the ripe old age of 22, the stunning news of a close friend from youth group’s suicide was a significant punch in the gut. This wasn’t just somebody that we knew casually – this was someone close, who had been in my circle. There was no explanation, and it was a long time before there was a release from the grip of grief that swallowed each and every one of us who had spent countless hours with this amazing spirit that was now gone. I remember being angry after being upset, calling his actions selfish and cowardly; but I was young and ignorant about the real repercussions of addictions and/or mental illness.

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Even more years later and a lifetime away, with different circles and different circumstances, I once again was brought to my knees when I got the call that my mother’s best friend had ended her life. My mom had been living with my family as she battled breast cancer, and her friend had taken over mom’s home, living there and making sure that all was kept in order. One day she came home and made a lone decision that would affect countless others in her life. There was no note. There was no explanation or reason that any of us could fathom as to why she would choose to take this desperate, and final, step. We searched for a note, or an email, or any clue as to why – and never found the answers we so hoped to find. For months afterward, I could not step foot inside of mom’s house. It sat empty for a while. The bathroom had to be remodeled, yet I still couldn’t go in. I couldn’t sleep and had horrible nightmares of guns going off; eventually my doctor put me on anti-anxiety meds and sleeping pills (not the best combo for extended use…but that’s another blog for another day). It took a long time for me to get past that one, as well as my children. But eventually it got easier, and the anger and grief subsided; and I started getting a clearer picture of what mental health issues can do when left unchecked.

Then it happened again. More years later, and only four years ago. Not as close to me as the previous two, but close to my boys and their family that I care deeply about. The days that preceded this death were filled with warnings of a much deeper issue, but those who recognized it felt helpless, dealing with an adult who we all thought had to be willing to get the help themselves. Looking back, and having learned some more about mental health challenges, I know now that sometimes it takes a push from a loved one.

And then most recently. My son, Nicholas. He scared the ever-loving shit out of me. That’s really the only way to describe it. One afternoon, his wife brought the baby to the house for a visit, and was clearly distraught and crying. She said that he was at home, in the bed, and wouldn’t get up. He had quit his job, and was scaring her with the level of depression that he had slipped into. I knew that I had to do something, so I got up and headed over to their house. I called a therapist friend and got some advice, and was prepared to take him to an emergency room if I felt that he was going to harm himself. We talked, I asked a lot of questions, I made him get up and I took him back to my house with me. They spent the day with us and then we went to dinner, and I told him to hang on until we could get him an appointment with the therapist that I had called. A couple of weeks later, I received a text from his wife that he was struggling again, and she was scared. I started talking to him through text, and when he told me that he hated everyone and everything, and then that he didn’t want to live anymore, I knew that the time had come and that I HAD to do something. I would be damned if I was going to sit by and hope that he got help. He was reaching out, and if I had to force him to get help, then I was willing to do it.

I drove to his school in Dallas, picked him up, and drove him to his therapist (and my amazing friend). I left him with her for an hour, and upon my return, we discussed mental health facilities in the area and made a plan. I was more scared for his life than I had ever been in the 22 years that he had been on the planet. My fear of losing him was so great, that I decided that it was worth him hating me for taking him than not doing anything at all. And so I did. I drove him to a facility not too far from where we are, and made sure that he knew that I was going to be leaving him there. Once we got there, he filled out paperwork and we waited. I had to take his necklace, his cell phone, his hoodie that had a drawstring, and ask his wife to bring him slip on shoes with no laces. Soon they were taking him back to be evaluated by the staff, and then finding him a bed. They told me that I could come back and visit that evening, during the one hour visitation. When I returned, his wife had arrived and we took turns going back to see him. I went first so that she could have most of the hour with him.

I will tell you – it was one of the WORST feelings I have ever experienced in my life, driving away and leaving my firstborn there. I cried almost the entire hour drive home; but I knew that he was safe, and wouldn’t hurt himself. At least not today. He would get seen by a mental health physician, get some meds, and would have group counseling three times per day. For six days, he stayed in the hospital, getting what he needed to get through the crisis. For this, I am thankful. I am glad that on THAT particular day, I was the pushy mother who stuck my nose in. I don’t know what I would have done if he would have done something to himself and I had not even tried to do anything to help him. I learned through that experience with Nicholas that sometimes, when the darkness takes over and the demons try to take control, sometimes we just aren’t able to keep our heads above water on our own. And like my friend, Brandie, said today, “We are all here together and we actually ARE each other’s keepers.”

Nicholas also has some insight that I wanted to share:  “As soon as we passed the automatic doors, I knew that I was about to be far from my usual comfort zone. However, even if I was not able to do this for my own well-being, I knew that I needed to do it for my beautiful wife and daughter. As I filled out the paperwork for consideration of admittance, I was actually too afraid to look my mother in the eye. I am not sure whether it was due to me feeling ashamed of what things have come to, or just to avoid seeing her saddened face. I could not imagine what was going through her head as my mother, but I am quite sure that it was not entirely pleasant.

Once I was in the hospital, I had enough good fortune on my side that I was placed on the detox side of the hospital, rather than in the psych ward. That was a great thing too, because the individuals who were placed on the psych side of the hospital were not really as stable as the people I had the pleasure of staying with on my side. For most of my time in there, I mainly kept to myself and used the time for a lot of self-reflection. I was still not happy that it had come to admitting myself to a mental facility, yet I knew I had done the right thing,

Attending my group therapy sessions did some good as well, however, not in the sense that most people would think. Most of what was said in the group therapy sessions seemed to be quite “cookie cutter” phrases and what have you, but hearing them being spoken out loud still provides a decent comfort. Not to mention the crowd that you are a part of at a hospital of this nature is enough in and of itself to make you feel better about whatever hard circumstances you may be facing. Like I was saying, though, my help did not really come from my group therapy sessions, but rather hearing what other patients had to say to each other outside of these meetings.

You meet all kinds of interesting people in a mental hospital, from many different walks of life. Hearing these people explain their hardships and watch as tears roll out of their face sort of makes you connect with them on such a level that reminds you of how human you really are. Many people worry that society judges you for wanting to seek help in some sense that it appears as a weakness. I am here to say that in no way is getting help a sign of weakness. Think about all the people that really care about you.  I know that that is not exactly the easiest thing to do when depression has set in, but it is important to express what is on your mind to someone as soon as possible before you find yourself in a situation that you could later regret. A good friend of mine recently told me some very simple words that I feel is very powerful in the sense of self-awareness. She simply said, ‘You are enough.’  So if you know anyone out there who is struggling with self-abuse, depression, or suicidal thoughts, leave them with those three words. It is a wonderful and powerful thing to say, and would be a great thing to say when you are not sure what else to say.” (Nicholas Dodd, 8/11/2014)

Clowning around like we do...
Clowning around like we do…

 

So…while many people feel like the thing to say to those who are struggling with depression and/or addiction is “I’ll pray for you,” it is important to know that while praying is all fine and good – it isn’t going to help your loved one. Action is what they need, especially when they can’t produce the necessary actions themselves. Take the risk. Make them mad. Maybe even hate you for a season. Would you rather hate yourself if they were gone? And chances are, they won’t hate you at all. We MUST keep a dialogue going about mental health. We need to love each other without judgment, so that those who are struggling aren’t afraid to ask for a lifeline. IMG_0279

So Rest in Peace, Robin Williams. Thank you for the years and years of laughter and happiness. Thank you for the selfless work you gave gave to the USO and to St. Jude’s kids. I hope that your demons are quiet now. You are not stupid, selfish, or a coward; we must understand that you had grown weary of trying to navigate dark and stormy waters.  Thank you to my beautiful son, Nicholas, for staying.  I need you here.  Your family needs you here, all of us.  Your wife and baby girl need you here.  I say to you, and every other person who may be fighting for their very lives inside of their head:

You are enough. Period.

* * * * *

If you, or someone that you care about needs help navigating through their own rough waters, please contact one of the following resources.  Don’t fight alone.

* It Gets Better Project (www.itgetsbetter.org) – for LGBT youth going through difficult situations

* The Trevor Project (www.trevorspace.org)  Trevor Lifeline:  1-866-488-7386 - Providing life-saving and life-affirming services for LGBT youth

* National Suicide Prevention Hotline (www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org)  800.273.TALK (8255)  

The Final (hopefully) Cancer Frontier

July 26, 2014

It’s been a minute since I have blogged about the whole breast cancer journey, mainly because I finished treatments back in February and haven’t really done much else. A few weeks ago, I had my first three-month labwork and appointment with my oncologist. I was nervous before going in, knowing that they would be checking my tumor markers to make sure that they were not elevated (which would mean recurrence). Thankfully everything turned out wonderfully normal!

So a few weeks ago, I went back to the surgeon – Dr. Carolyn Garner, extraordinaire – who performed my bilateral total mastectomies last year, as well as my port placement and repair for chemo. A year or so before I even got diagnosed with cancer, my family knew and loved Dr. Garner’s work as a surgeon. She had removed the thyroids from our friend Holly, Holly’s mom, Erikka (right after Harrison was born), and my mother. Dr. Queen of the Thyroidectomy! One of the times that I had gone in with

My girls came to visit - and borrowed my bed!
My girls came to visit – and borrowed my bed!

Erikka before she had her thyroid removed, the doc did an ultrasound on my throat, just for kicks, since I had so many symptoms related to a problem thyroid. I didn’t have insurance at the time, but I did have an obvious nodule that was likely making my thyroid absolutely useless. Flash forward to 2014, when I finally obtained wonderful medical insurance. I had to wait until I was completely done with treatment, or at least that what was recommended, before finally addressing my throid or anything else that would require surgery. I went in, she wanded my throat again, and just confirmed that the nodule was still there, and appeared to be very calcified. We also discussed removing my chemo port, which she had previously sewn to my chest wall. Yes. Good times and great comfort, particularly all of the times that Harrison hit it with her head or body-slammed me. And then, as an afterthought, change of heart, whatever, I started asking about possible small reconstruction. She had removed my breasts and had gone as close to the chest wall as she could, and this left me flatter than a boy – I was actually caved in. Some shirts and swimsuits just don’t fit right anymore, and I had become very self-conscious about it (and I just KNEW that I wouldn’t care about that kind of thing). Well, apparently, I was wrong.

Two of my babies visiting me <3
Two of my babies visiting me <3

Next thing I knew, Dr. G had my shirt off and was snapping pics of my chest with her iPhone, and then texting the pics to her friend the plastic surgeon, Dr. Sanderson. She said he was a fantastic plastic surgeon, and that I should consider a consultation with him before we scheduled surgery; and yes, all of the procedures could be done on the same day. When I left her office that day, I called and got an appointment with Sanderson for the consult, and a few days later was meeting him and discussing options. I ultimately decided that I would go with just a small, A-cup implant, and had just enough skin to do it and not have to get expanders. Within a few days, surgery was scheduled, insurance was verified, and I felt really good about my decision. Our anniversary trip was already planned and booked, so surgery would be the week after we returned, with plenty of time to heal and be up and about in time for the new school year that begins at the end of August.

Thursday, July 24th we checked in at the hospital at 8:30 AM for my 11:30 AM scheduled surgery. IV put in, visits from doctors and anesthesiologists, and soon I was in la-la land and off to the operating room. Dr. Garner took out my thyroid and chemo port, and when I asked her about the nodule, she said it was bigger than we anticipated (the size of a marble), and solid like a rock. She said that the lab will have to soak it in a solution that will soften it enough to cut it open and do the pathology on it. It could be cancerous, and if so, that will mean more treatment, but nothing near what I have already done. If it is, that means three days in quarantine taking radioactive treatments – and that is it! So I’m not overly freaked out about whether it is or isn’t, because while it may be an inconvenience, I can certainly handle three days of treatment and then it be over!

When Dr. G was done with her part, Dr. Sanderson took over for the reconstruction portion of the program. I think he was at it for a couple of hours, opening up my previous incisions, placing the implants, and building barriers on each side of them to keep them in place (since I had no expanders or pockets placed previously). I don’t think that I woke up at all in recovery, and was up in my room before I did. At first I didn’t think the pain was too bad – until the first time I had to get up to use the restroom. Whoa! When gravity hit, even in little boob gravity world, THAT was ROUGH. I had not been given the handy dandy little morphine button, and nobody knew why; but I made it very clear that I wanted and needed it! When Dr. S stopped by to check on me, I was in a lot of pain and he didn’t understand why I didn’t have the button either, so he was ON IT. Got me hooked up within a half hour, and I was much better – well at least every six minutes I was a lot better…hahaha. I soon discovered that the pain in my chest from the reconstruction was WAY worse than the double mastectomy, and I’m not sure that I understand why. But I went home after one night in the hospital for that one; this time I have been here going on three nights, and hoping to go home tomorrow. My chest is still wrapped really tightly in dressing and ace bandage, so I have yet to see the results. I know that it isn’t going to be much bigger than before the implants were placed, but I expect not to be caved in anymore, with just enough curve (hopefully) to fill my swimsuits.

Mama Burt stopped by to see me!  Love her!
Mama Burt stopped by to see me! Love her!

Soon enough, I will heal again, and start looking for tattoo artists that have experience in post-mastectomy tattoos. If I find someone good that will take me on as a client, then I will start with 3D areola/nipple tats. After that, I want to put the Biohazard symbol where my port scar is, and then later figure out some cool, non-floral designs over other portions of the surgery scars. I never, ever planned on doing any kind of reconstruction, but am glad that I reconsidered and left it as a possibility after all. We shall see!

Beautiful flowers from Mom & Dad, and a new Willowtree figurine from my awesome wife <3
Beautiful flowers from Mom & Dad, and a new Willowtree figurine from my awesome wife <3