Paul’s journey, part 3

A few of the brothers were able to escape the inner city and convinced Martha to move out of the projects into the suburbs.

Paul spent his grade school years in the suburbs of Chicago in low income housing. Martha was on welfare, but from what I heard she was always employed. Martha’s mother was employed on the production line of a candy factory. From what I heard, Martha got an office job at the candy factory. I’m not sure what type of office skills she had… Maybe she was eye candy? Wow, what an awful candy factory pun! My bad…

All of this information is iffy at best. But the point that I am trying to get across is that Martha was always willing to work and held steady employment.

While Martha worked, Paul went to a babysitter in a neighboring apartment. There were multiple kids. Once Paul came home with a full set of bite marks on his back. From what I heard, the low income housing was a hopelessly filthy miserable place to live.

Although she told Paul to be passive, Martha was a roaring lioness if anyone messed with her son. She was a good, nurturing, and attentive mother.

Paul said that he doesn’t remember a lot about the early years. He just remembers feeling afraid a lot. There were gangs. He got jumped on his way home from school by a bigger kid around his age. There was an incident in a park where he was bullied by some older kids. All around, it just wasn’t a safe place to live.

But soon all of that would change.

Paul’s journey, part 2

He spent his earliest formative years in the projects in the inner city of Chicago.

You might think that the story would’ve ended differently if Martha’s dad survived to see his grandchild arrive. Maybe he would have been a great father figure for this infant fatherless child.

Where we left off yesterday, Martha gave birth alone to a baby boy. I can imagine how frightened she must have been. Childbirth is a terrifying thought during pregnancy…rich or poor…young or old…married or alone. But possibly more so if you are poor, young, and alone.

During childbirth, Martha was in a delirious state and saw her father there watching over her. Martha cherished her father. But from what I heard, he wasn’t a very good man. He was said to be an abusive drunk.

I once heard a story of how Martha’s older brothers teamed up as teenagers and fought their father. I couldn’t tell you why. But I could tell you that it was probably justified.

I heard that he was a crooked cop. Maybe involved somehow with the mob. I also heard that he had a girlfriend and maybe even another family on the side.

I really didn’t hear anything about his character that would make me think that he would be a suitable father or father figure for anyone. If he hadn’t dropped dead of a heart attack when Martha was 12, I might not be telling the same story or this story at all.

For a short period of time, Paul had a ‘dad’.

Martha got married just long enough to change her name when Paul was 3. Martha said she left her new husband after a year because he was abusive to her son. The only thing that Paul remembers about his step-dad was that he had 2 large black dogs.

It has always been a debate in our house which is worse…not having a dad or having a terrible father. If his step-dad was truly a mean man, then perhaps he was better off without a dad. Thankfully his grandpa never was a part of his life either. He didn’t have a dad or grandpa, but some of his uncles were nice.

 

 

 

 

Paul’s journey, part 1

He was born on LSD.

Not really in the way you might think for the late 1960’s

He was actually born at the Cook County Hospital on Lake Shore Drive (LSD) in Chicago.

From what I remember hearing, his mother Martha faced childbirth alone. There might have been a stranger, a nun, at the momentous event. But all of this I could only surmise from snippets I’ve heard. I wasn’t even born yet. I didn’t meet him until he was 27. So forgive me if the memories of what I’ve heard are a little hazy.

All of the questions about that evening will remain unanswered forever. His mother is no longer with us.

I do remember her saying that she saw her daddy that evening. At the time, he was no longer with her.

Martha’s father passed away when she was 12. Her mother was always working to support the 6 children she was responsible to care for alone after her husband passed away. Martha was one of the youngest children and the only living daughter.

Martha lived in the inner city of Chicago. She already dropped out of high school before she got pregnant as a teenager. She wasn’t what anyone would call bright by any stretch of the term. But she was beautiful, very beautiful. I saw the grainy blurred photos.

Her child was born without a father. His name was legally omitted on the birth certificate although it did list that he was 21.

There were rumors about the father. He was said to have red hair and green eyes. He was part of a motorcycle gang. He had a very common name and wasn’t from Chicago. He wanted to steal the baby. He wanted nothing to do with the baby. He called on the phone but never said a word. He went off to Vietnam and never came back. He might have been Native American. He was a hillbilly.

Are any of those rumors even true? There is no one to ask anymore..

All he knew was that he didn’t have a dad.

After all, he was a 60’s love child born on LSD.

Pop the champagne

We sold our start up company today.

It wasn’t something that we were planning on doing. Not yet anyway.

We were approached by a huge private equity company and we turned them down…several times actually…until they gave us an offer that we couldn’t refuse.

We will be staying on for the next couple of years as employees. It will be a big change. Yet nothing will change at all. We will still go to work and do what we have always done.

Someday when we are able to walk away, I will tell you all about it. But not now. Although I think that you would find it rather interesting.

Today I feel like I won the lottery. Although luck had nothing to do with it. It seems surreal. I don’t think it really has sunk in yet.  How do we live this way?

The last several months have been a roller coaster ride of emotions. We weren’t expecting that. Surprisingly, a lot of the emotions were negative. We didn’t talk about it to anyone since we didn’t expect to receive much sympathy. Change is stressful, even if it is for the better.

There were arguments about money of all things.

There was fear…fear of failure. What if we fail now after we have succeeded? Will we be able to keep up our sales? Will we be able to impress our new employer? Will we mess it all up? Will we have to start at the bottom again scraping and scrapping to get by? Will we become spoiled and soft? Will we lose our grit from struggling for so long?

It has been a big shock.

Will our friends still like us if we have more money than they do? Will we attract new fake friends? Will we change? Regardless, it has now become a part of our journey. If we could do it, anyone can. All you have to do is take the first step…then run as hard and as fast as you can.

Today we are putting in an offer on our dream house.

We noticed lately how poor we have been living. A majority of our furniture is falling apart. Most of it came from long deceased relatives. We bought our kitchen table at a rummage sale and it looks like it. We never had a new table for our family to sit around. Most of our towels are torn around the edges.

We feel like the Beverly Hillbillies.

It is time to get rid of the old and start all over again.

We have worked so hard to get to where we are today. We earned it.

I never would have guessed all the sacrifices that we made would pay off.

It’s time to pop the champagne!

 

Switching gears

As we speak, my daughter is on her way back to college. This is the first time that she doesn’t want to go back. It is because we are cool and all that. Seriously though, it is amazing having a child that wants to hang out with you versus having one that finds you annoying. She is finally able to see us as we really are.

To tell you the truth, I think parenting is a sham. We try to act like someone else around our children. We want them to be better than us. Part of the way we do that is try to hide our weaknesses and mistakes from our children. We nag our teens about being responsible and cleaning their rooms when we were back talking brats that lived in a pig sty like they do. Then suddenly they become adults. For better or worse, the blinders come off. We realize that our child has become a friend because she is really just like us.

We don’t have to lie to her anymore. We don’t have to tell elaborate stories about the tooth fairy, Easter bunny, or Santa. We don’t have to show fake excitement for stupid children’s songs or TV shows. When Angel was little, she was really into Barney. I sure am glad that is over now. If I had to listen to another song about cooperation and sharing from a purple dinosaur while my kids sat in front of the TV and fought, I would probably lose it.

Now we can have fun together and have serious conversations.

There were a lot of last minute dinner dates and shopping to send Angel back off to college.

On Friday, Angel and I went out to eat with my mom for lunch. We went to a local restaurant that wasn’t too busy and what did they do?? They set us up at a table next to and facing a couple with their adult disabled son. The couple was trying hard to get their son to act appropriately. He got up several times and burped loudly. Can I never escape reminders of my own brother??

My mom said that she really wants me to write a book with her. I also feel the mission that I have a story to tell.

I actually have two stories to tell…

The first story is about my brother Matt…growing up with a violent autistic/schizophrenic sibling. I have just touched the tip of the iceberg. There is so much hidden underneath the surface that I haven’t even begun to delve into yet.

But I can only tell the story in small pieces. There is a sadness, melancholy, depression that is hard to explain after diving into the depths. If I spend too much time there, I will surely drown.

I am a broken person, despite my tough exterior. Only a few people truly realize that. You are one of the few people I let inside. Paul notices so many things that others overlook. He understands. We are both high functioning broken people. Silently we weep together. Together we succeed at fighting our demons.

It is hard to find someone on the same level who has survived difficult circumstances. I’m thankful that we found each other.

The second story I was meant to tell is about Paul. So I am going to switch gears a little bit here…but trust me if you can…it will be well worth the ride.

Emerging from the ashes

I am angry.

I am angry with my mother.

I am angry with Matt.

I am angry about my childhood.

I am angry.

There I said it.

It was difficult to admit and hard to post yesterday about feelings of anger. I must have edited the post a million times as the minutes slipped away. I cut and hacked the angry words away. I almost scrapped the post altogether. I thought about deleting it after I posted it.

Anger…I was taught that it was wrong to feel that way.

You shouldn’t feel angry, it agitates Matt.

You shouldn’t feel angry, he can’t help it.

You shouldn’t feel angry, you are normal.

You shouldn’t feel ANGRY!

You shouldn’t feel angry…

You shouldn’t feel…

I didn’t feel…I stopped feeling. I was numb inside. I could no longer feel pain, but could no longer feel joy. I was empty inside. I became devoid of color. I lived in a cold, barren desert. No more tears, no more laughter. I could stare at the same spot on the wall for hours. I was sinking inside of myself.

My mom sent me to a therapist.

How do you feel, Alissa? I don’t feel.

Yes, you do. Take a look at the feelings chart. I don’t know.

Over time I started to feel again. But the feelings right away weren’t good. I felt everything that I wasn’t trying to feel before. It was a dark place. I was afraid that I wouldn’t make it through to the faint light in the distance. Sometimes the empty void called me back. You don’t want to feel if you have to feel like that.

It was a long journey to get to the place I am now.

I had to lock away the demons that tore at my soul. But I still kept the key.

Sometimes, in the dark of night, the flame from the fire that burns through the keyhole draws me in. I’m curious if I can stoke the fire without getting burned. I keep looking in. I pick at old wounds to see if they still hurt. The scars are starting to fade.

I’m holding the key. I feel strong enough now to slowly unlock the door…

I think the person that emerges from the ashes will make walking through the fire worthwhile.

 

 

On ffffffeeling angry

My mom called me first thing Monday morning. She told me that she wanted to work on her feelings of anger. She thought it would be a good idea if I did too. Maybe, she said, I should think about seeing a therapist.

She point blank asked me if I was angry with her. No, mom. She asked me if I would tell her if I was angry with her. Sure, mom.

My mom asked if I was angry that my autistic brother Matt hurt my daughter Angel. Mom, that happened over 15 years ago.

My mom asked if I was angry that she spent/spends more time with Matt than she did with me. Mom, Matt needs you more than I do.

Right now I spend my time angry about other things. Arabella is starting to get late assignments. Her straight A’s are starting to slip…Not to mention that she rolls out of bed 10 minutes before the bus comes and expects to have enough time to take a shower and get ready. And somehow that ends up being my fault.

I am angry that I got a letter from the police department regarding a fine my son received over break for doing donuts in a parking lot…a minor incident nonetheless, but we didn’t find out until we got a letter in the mail. We told him that he had to pay his own fine to find out later in the week that he pissed away most of his hard earned money from his summer job on fast food.

This is what boils my blood now.

But I don’t tell my mother that. I barely talk to her at all about anything personal anymore. I don’t tell her about the things that make me angry. I want to protect her from that. She has had a hard life. She shouldn’t have to deal with any more problems during her last years.

To tell you the truth, sometimes I am angry with my mom. I am angry that I gave up my childhood to take care of my brother. Then when I needed her the most, I felt like she wasn’t there.

My mom did the best that she could. So why should I feel angry?

So what if she babies and spends more time with my disabled brother?? He needs her more.

Why do I feel anger towards my mother sometimes for something she had little control over??

The more important question is why don’t I feel anger towards my dad?? He had an ideal childhood, but wasn’t a good parent. He was lazy. My mom worked long hours to be the main breadwinner. She supported the family. My dad worked part-time jobs here and there.

My dad stuck around but wasn’t there. He was more interested in TV than being an active father or supportive husband. When he was involved, he was reactive and abusive.

My mom did everything and needed help. So I stepped up to the plate to help my mom raise my 3 younger brothers.

That being said, why should I feel angry towards my mom?? Why not my dad? She did the best she could. He could’ve done so much better.

How come feelings don’t make any sense?? There really is no logic behind them. They are so complex that I barely understand my own feelings much less the feelings of others.

No, mother, I am not angry…says my mind…but on some days my heart tells me differently. Why??

A few bad eggs

I recently heard a story from a friend of mine regarding her son’s custody battle for his child. Although the mother was convicted of child neglect, she still was awarded primary custody of their child at this point. Let me tell you that their son is no saint either, but he wasn’t convicted of child neglect. The child’s grandparents are heartbroken. We all knew that the grandparents would step up as the main caregivers to provide this child with a stable home environment.

Why was the neglectful mother awarded custody of this young child? According to the judge, it was because the mother grew up poor with bad parenting. She was expected to turn out bad as a natural product of her environment. The father grew up in an ideal environment and turned out ‘bad’. In a strange way, it does make sense to me. The mother started out at the bottom and didn’t move far from there. The dad started out at the top…ideal…and dropped to the bottom. Who fell the farthest? Obviously the one that started out in the top environment.

But is it the best for the child? Probably not. I think that the grandparents should bypass the crappy parents altogether and fight for custody. They are so hurt and torn up over this decision. But it will probably be the child that suffers the most.

That leads me to ask…Are children that are raised in an ideal environment expected to turn out better? Should they naturally be better parents since they were shown how? On the flip side, should it be acceptable for someone to be a bad parent after growing up in a substandard environment?

Should I be expected to be a bad parent from growing up under less than ideal circumstances?

Since my husband grew up poor without a dad, does he get a parenting pass?

Does society expect us to fail miserably at being parents?

But does that give us an excuse not to try?

Why would we want the same life for our children that we had?

How can someone parent a child in ideal conditions and yet have a child that turns out ‘bad’? Likewise, how can someone raise a child in substandard conditions and still have a child that turns out ‘good’? It’s a great mystery to me..

Neither Paul nor I grew up under ideal conditions. Yet we try to provide an ideal home for our children. Have we ever seen that? No. Do we know what the hell we are doing? No. I really hope that we are judged by where we started.

Sometimes the way we grew up hinders us as parents. It becomes another demon to outrun. We want our kids to grow up in a home environment we never had. Yet by doing so the pendulum swings too far to the other side and we end up spoiling our kids. Sometimes I resent the fact that they don’t appreciate how hard we strive to give them this sacrifice…building something out of nothing. There is a huge gap between what they have and what we did. There is no bridge between the gaps, no connection. The scale is so full on one end that they can’t view our emptiness.

I also have some really serious issues with conflict due to how I grew up. I understand that confrontation is sometimes a necessary evil of parenting, especially with teenagers. What I wasn’t expecting was it to trigger extreme anxiety within me from growing up in an abusive home. I admit I am not the most relaxed peaceful person…but I avoid conflict at all costs. I even avoid conflict at the cost of disciplining my children when they need it.

I attempt to stop my husband when he tries to discipline the children in a healthy way because it sets off panic within me. Sometimes I hide things from him. I try to paint things better than they are just because I cannot stand the feelings conflict triggers. So my kids can walk all over me. I have taken away all of my husband’s power and my own. My unhealthy desire for a lack of conflict ends up creating more conflict.

It is hard to be a good parent when you grew up in a less than ideal home environment. Where do you turn for sound advice? Imagine being a father when you never had one. Maybe our kids won’t turn out the way we want them to. Maybe the gap is too wide to cross. Maybe we will always struggle. I don’t know, but I can tell you this…we tried our best. I hope they realize that when they look back someday.

Taking the long way home

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Last night Angel and I got back home from the Lana Del Rey concert. We ended up taking the long way home…

We headed out to Minneapolis early Friday afternoon and got to our downtown Minneapolis hotel by late afternoon. It was still cold outside with wind chills below zero. Even though we were only a couple blocks away, I was concerned about walking outside on a cold frigid night.

The hotel had an indoor walkway that we could walk to the concert in, but it closed at 8 PM. Although we had a map, we got turned around several times in the walkway. There weren’t as many signs as we thought there would be. Someone stopped us and gave us the wrong directions. We met up with another couple that was just as lost as we were. The girl was wearing a mini skirt and a jean jacket. I told her that she would have to walk back outside on the way back.

Surprisingly, despite getting lost, we made it to the concert a little early which gave us time to go through security, find the bathroom, and get a drink before the show. I spent $15 on a 4 oz old-fashioned that tasted like utter crap. I watered it down with Angel’s soda but it was still undrinkable. Gross!

Angel’s friend was going to meet us there and sit by us, but she came down with the stomach flu. The show itself was phenomenal. It was the biggest concert I ever went to. Before that the biggest concert I was at was back in the early 90’s seeing Reo Speedwagon at the county fair. This was Lana’s first concert of her new tour, so being the first show and being an inexperienced concert goer, I really didn’t know what to expect.

I was thinking about bringing ear plugs, but Angel said that would make me look way too old. I was already instructed not to look like a mother. Some of the young girls barely wore any clothes which concerned the mother within me a whole lot on such a cold night. There were a few other middle aged concert goers. Most were in their early twenties. The whole row behind us seemed to be in their early 20’s and were all smoking pot. The young couple next to me was making out the whole time. Seriously, I could have used a better drink.

Afterwards, I was satisfied that my ears did not ring. The acoustics were great. Lana played a lot of songs that we knew and she had a great performance. We walked back to the hotel in the cold. I had a hard time pulling up the hotel on my phone’s map. I was a little afraid that we would walk around the city in circles until we froze to death. Although my daughter is an adult, I felt responsible for her safety. We were very cold, but we were able to find our way back before we froze to death.

The next day we had lunch plans with an old college friend that lives near the city. She hadn’t seen my daughter since she was a toddler. It has been over 8 years since we last saw each other. We had a really nice visit, but had a long drive home.

I fell asleep on the way home which hardly ever happens. In my defense, I can’t remember the last time I slept through the night and felt rested. I was the only one that knew how to get home and since I was sleeping, we missed the exit. I woke up to different scenery. We drove a few more miles before I had the nagging suspicion that something wasn’t right. Sure enough, my little siesta cost us an extra hour of driving.

What good is knowing the way if I couldn’t show the way to go?? Seems like another whole philosophical blog topic, but I am much too tired to form a thought. I would like to think that we circumvented a crash on the interstate. But the truth is that I am getting old and tired..I fell asleep and wasn’t paying attention.

However,the long way home was a more scenic route with its rolling hills, cranberry bogs, marshes, reeds, and woods. I wanted to stop several times to take pictures, but I also wanted to get home and felt bad for making our trip a lot longer than necessary. So I snapped a few pictures when we stopped for a stop sign.

Angel and I did a lot of talking on our long trip home. It was nice having some uninterrupted time to visit. Next weekend she will be leaving to go back to college. It will probably be a couple more months until we see each other again. Despite taking the long way home, we had a lot of fun together..

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In the cold dark light of the full moon

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It only takes a little light to reflect the cold barren emptiness of a winter tree on the snow.

It has been cold in Wisconsin. The wind chills haven’t been above zero since who knows when..probably a couple of weeks. We haven’t noticed that much. We have been busy with the holidays.

We know the drill. It happens every year. It doesn’t snow when it is bitterly cold. The cars make strange noises when attempting to start. You don’t want to get a car wash or your car doors will freeze shut. Everything creaks, crackles, and moans under the heavy weight of the bitter cold. People die.

People die! I knew it would happen on New Year’s Eve especially. The reports of the deaths. I live in the drunkest state next to one of the drunkest cities in the United States. I predicted that if the Packers were having a better year, the death toll would be higher. The bitter cold usually starts this time of year, but this year it hit us a little early. It started over Christmas…the home Packer game…Christmas weekend and New Year’s Eve…the drunkest time of the year near the drunkest city in the drunkest state. The roads are hazardous not just for the cold, ice, and snow ya know.

Drinking is our culture. It just is. I am a big proponent of designated drivers, but sometimes you can’t trust that will even work. People get carried away. Blame it on the cold harsh climate.

I worried the weekend of New Year’s Eve. My daughter Angel drove to Madison to go to a party with friends. My son was who knows where. Every day I would be in touch asking where he was and what he was doing. Every day my son stopped home and my heart rejoiced that he was alive. It’s not always them I worry about…it is the others on the road. How do I keep them safe? It is surprising that I am letting go at all.

I worry about the drunks on the road. I worry about car trouble in the bitter cold remote areas with no cell reception. Or what if I am sleeping and don’t hear the phone? I worry about car accidents on slippery heavily wooded winding roads.

My deepest fear is that my children will die if I am not in control. If I don’t pay attention, they will be gone. If I don’t notice a problem, they will slip through my fingers forever. It is really rather horrifying since I am not in control. I never was in control even when they were babies. I couldn’t control if they got sick. I couldn’t even control if they decided to sleep through the night. As they got older, the feeling of being out of control grew and festered in my soul.

I try to let go and let God, but then grab the reigns back again chaffing my hands not able to get a grip. This worry, this anxiety, has been a constant thorn in my side. I feel if I let go of my little iota of control, then my children will die and I am responsible. It is completely illogical and irrational as most fears are.

Do all mothers of teenagers feel this way? Or do I just take it to the extreme since I am anxious to begin with? Or maybe having 3 teenagers is enough to set the sanest person over the edge?