Extreme empty nest solutions

On Sunday I received a phone call from the foreign exchange student coordinator a couple hours after my daughter moved out.

Sunday was a bittersweet day.

On Sunday, my best friend became a grandma for the first time.

On Sunday, it’s been a year and a day since my close friend lost her daughter in a fiery car crash.

On Sunday, my daughter moved 4 hours away and is not planning on living at home again.

I was feeling down as you can probably imagine.

My oldest daughter moved out, my son is off pet sitting this week, and my youngest daughter is volunteering this week as a camp cook. I’m feeling the empty nest kick in. I realized that I may have a harder time with this whole empty nest thing than I thought.

I’ve been a caregiver since I can remember. I was my autistic brother’s “second mom”. I also helped with my other two younger brothers.

In college, I was a caregiver for an elderly woman with Alzheimer’s and a middle aged man with Paranoid Schizophrenia. I took care of my brother Matt up until after I had several kids of my own. I also took care of my Aunt Grace when she had dementia. I provided day care for several children when my kids were little.

I don’t know what it is like to not take care of someone and the thought is a little scary.

As I was crying and feeling sorry for myself, the phone rang. The foreign exchange program coordinator called and said she had an emergency situation. One of the host parents for a student from Germany ended up getting into a serious motorcycle accident and broke her back. This student was really into music and needed a home.

I was wondering what to do with my daughter’s empty room. So we filled it. Now we will be hosting two foreign exchange students starting next month, Estelle from France and Clara from Germany.

I feel like my life has meaning again. I suppose most people get another pet once they start emptying the nest. Not me, I guess you could say I am rather extreme.

Even though it might be stressful having 3 teenagers in the house again, I am going to enjoy this last year of chaos before I have an empty nest.

By the time next year rolls around, I might actually be okay with only taking care of me.

 

Luke’s visit, part 8

Over the past year, both Mark and Luke quit drinking. I was a little worried about Mark a couple summers back. One morning he started drinking at the cabin before most of the family woke up. Luke was always a drinker. He knew everything there was to know about beer. Luke was also the comedian. He’s not funny anymore. It’s strange that I felt some sadness at the loss of his role. He always made us laugh which made going through hard times easier.

Luke was upset that our parents did not seem to want to hear what he had to say to them. He told them that he needed to talk to them for him. It wasn’t about him being emotionally supportive for them anymore. He needed this for him to heal. He quit being the comedian not all that long ago. But making us laugh made us feel better, not him.

Luke stripped himself of all coping mechanisms and dove right into the truth. He is relying on God to get him through this. Me, I like to dip my feet in the water and keep my coping mechanisms nearby. Maybe I’m okay with the lies I tell myself until I am ready to face the truth. What is wrong with that?

Mark played the part of the invisible middle child. He had an important role too. He was the one who advocated for my dad when my mom packed up the car with her stuff and was ready to leave. He kept the family together.

I played the part of the caregiver/counselor. I was always the ultra responsible first born. This has been my role since I can remember. I think it is going to be hard for me once my kids all leave home. I cared for my autistic brother Matt since I was a little kid. I still was his caregiver after my children were born up until he started acting violent towards them. Then I had my own family to care for.

Luke asked my husband how I cope. Paul told him that running helps me cope and it does. I don’t drink to cope. I could never let anything control me. But is that really true? I like to work and keep busy at all times. Perhaps that controls me since I can’t ever seem to relax. But how can working be a bad thing? What if my coping mechanisms aren’t unhealthy? Who can I hurt by having a clean house, etc?

I like to write about my experiences. But on the days when I write about the most difficult times, I feel very depressed. Paul said that although writing seems good for me, maybe I need a counselor. But I stubbornly resist the notion of anyone helping me with anything. I don’t want help. I don’t think I need it right now. I want to work through this on my own.

I will be okay. I am healing. But it is not always a beautiful process.

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??

Narcissistic worry

Last week I read a wonderful post about narcissism. Then I got to worrying…Oh my, am I a narcissist??

Growing up my life revolved around my autistic brother Matt. It was all about Matt…Matt…MATT all of the time. I wanted it to be all about me. ME! ME! ME!
Aren’t I great??

I was on my own for a very short period of time. I graduated from college, got married 2 months later, and got pregnant 2 months after that. I have been a mother since my mid-20’s.

Right after I was out of my parents house (taking care of my brother)…I ended up having three children. Since then it has been pregnancy, having C-sections, breastfeeding, diapers, sick kids, lost teeth, sibling warfare, birthday parties, braces…to today where I have 3 teenagers. My life involves taxiing my kids around, dealing with difficult issues such as sex, drugs, and lets throw rock and roll in there too. Why not?? I have to deal with underage drinking, bad grades, messy rooms, rebellious attitudes…all the normal issues of dealing with teenagers…plus cooking, cleaning, and laundry.

I secretly fantasize about being an empty nester. I want it to be all about me. I don’t want to have to worry about anyone else…I don’t even want to have to take care of pets anymore. I am sick of having to get a pet sitter every time we want to leave. I hate it when the pets bring fleas into my house…or when the dog gets into the garbage…or puke on the carpet…the constant crying for food the minute I wake up in the morning or right when I get home from work…the poop on the floor right outside of the litter box.

Last month my brother Luke and his family lost their family dog. The were heartbroken at the death of a member of their family. Last week they got a new puppy. I feel guilty for not wanting any responsibilities. I will gladly take care of the pets I have until they are gone…but after that…I don’t even want a fish!

I am also a completely vain person. I envision myself always looking great in a bikini while I gaze at my reflection in the pool. I want to tell my classmates that I was carded this year. I am getting younger while my classmates are so old and weathered that I don’t recognize them anymore. I couldn’t possibly look as old as they do, right??

I also have Mary Poppins syndrome. I think that I am practically perfect in every way. I never admit to having any faults. I strive for perfection.

On a side note**I wouldn’t recommend making deviled eggs for Thanksgiving if you are a perfectionist! Grrrr..

As a child I was punished for making mistakes. One bad grade in elementary school and all of my dolls were taken away for a semester. I was so afraid of making mistakes and not being good enough.

Sometimes I think that harshest judges have been most harshly judged.

I’m working on it, okay?

Yesterday I just realized that my criticism and annoyance with others could be viewed as annoying..

As I sit here gazing in self reflection…I realize that I am probably not a narcissist. I just need a little responsibility free time to myself. I love my family and pets, but sometimes taking care of them all the time can be overwhelming. In a few years I probably won’t know what to do with all of the ‘me’ time.

I figure if I am so worried about being a narcissist, that I am probably not one. Narcissists don’t worry that they are narcissists…Do they?? No, just anxious people worry…Boy, do I feel better..

To think…for a few minutes I thought it was all about me!

The weight of my world

I am having nightmares again..two last week and one this week so far..

Last night I dreamed my sister-in-law Emily died. It was right around 2 AM. I stayed up a few minutes and went back to sleep into the same nightmare again. Then for the next 2 hours I continued the dream. Emily died and her little girls were without a mom. It was shocking, unexpected, and tragic. Not only did Emily die, but whatever killed her was contagious and other family members were exposed and might die. I woke up crying and here I am typing a rough draft at 4 AM wanting to sleep, but not really wanting to sleep.

This is a stressful time in my life. I thought I was going to fall into a deep depression after my daughter Angel went back to college. It didn’t happen. Honestly, I have been too busy to notice her absence. 

Work has been crazy busy, but yesterday we hired our new employee. There is relief in sight.

My mother-in-law, still dying and getting weaker with each visit. We have been going to see her as much as possible. It is a depressing and hopeless situation. I feel a lot of guilt because I have been neglecting my own parents. 

All of this brings up guilt from when I was a caregiver for my Aunt Grace. She needed so much care that it took all of my time. I didn’t spend as much time with my grandma whom I was closer to. I often drove by grandma’s house without stopping because Grace needed me more. 

Is this how my mother felt all these years taking care of my autistic brother Matt? I think I am finally getting it. I wanted to spend time with you, but he needed me soooo much more. 

Matt still needs her more, will always need her more. He had a meltdown over Christmas. He went home from work one winter day with his boots on and forgot his shoes at work. He was so worked up that he needed to be medicated. My mom told me about this on Christmas Eve because someday she said I will be getting the phone calls.

The weight of my world is so suffocating some times. 

4. Ten things to tell your 16 year old self

Day 4: List 10 things you would tell your 16 year old self, if you could

  1. Spend as much time as you can with your grandparents. I hate to tell you this, but friends come and go. Your best friends now won’t even be at your wedding. Soon something is going to happen that will push the friends you have now away. Enjoy the times with friends in the moment. Remember that your grandparents won’t be around forever. They are the greatest source of stability in your life, not your friends.You will never regret spending a lot of time with them.
  2. Your strong work ethic will get you very far in life. However, don’t put work or your long to-do list above your relationships. Take the night off of work to go to your brother’s high school graduation. The $30 you earned that night will never make up for the regret you will feel for the rest of your life for not being at your brother’s only graduation.
  3. I know that you are dealing with some pretty hard things to handle and you feel like you are all alone. These are the hardest years that you will ever face in your life. Hang in there, soon it will be smooth sailing.
  4. Don’t think that you have to be perfect, or even good, at something before you are willing to try it. You don’t have to be good at something to like it either. You don’t have to be perfect. Quit being so hard on yourself. It was a big lie when you were told you had to be perfect. Put yourself out on a limb. Try something new even if you are not good at it.Who cares if you fail?
  5. Leave home when you turn 18 and do WHATEVER it takes to not go back. In fact, move far away. Do not take responsibility for your parents problems. Do NOT agree to be your brother’s caregiver. You should not be giving your brother a shower on a Saturday night. You should be out living your life doing the things that young people do. For once in your life, be carefree. You will already regret not having a childhood, don’t regret not living while you’re young too. Soon enough you will be tied down by your own responsibilities.
  6. Don’t be a caregiver for your brother or anyone else for that matter. Be a little more selfish. Do the things you want to do. Allow yourself to be stupid and make mistakes that you can learn from. Hold out for the library job you will be offered instead of turning it down to be a caregiver. You did enough care giving as a child. This will not be good for you.
  7. Buy an expensive pair of running shoes and start running. Trust me. You need a healthy way to relieve your stress. It is a lot cheaper than therapy and all those bottles of pills that never helped you anyway. Soon you will enter adulthood with enough baggage to travel the whole world. Once you realize their weight, you will have a lifelong struggle with depression, anxiety, worry, and anger. Running will help you get through all the years of repressing your feelings that you couldn’t handle.
  8. Keep writing down everything you experience and don’t stop. It is worth making time for. Some day it will make for a helluva story.
  9. You have to forgive the people that have hurt you for your sake. Pity their weakness. Eventually you will no longer be able to outrun all of the things that you are hiding from. It is going to take a long time to face your demons. You will spend a lot of time reflecting. But eventually you will have to let go..forgive..and trust that God has a bigger plan or purpose for your life. Be a beacon of hope for those that struggle around you.
  10. Try not to worry so much. It annoys me and the others around me. I don’t like it. I want you to relax. Please start working on that now so we can get over this someday.

Pondering purpose and moving mountains

image

Do you know what your purpose is in life? How hard would it be to move mountains?

These are my deep thoughts as I sit on the hotel balcony enjoying the lovely view in California.

I started pondering my purpose on the plane ride over. I am an anxious flyer, but I knew I was safe because I was with Paul. Not that he necessarily makes me feel safe, but because I know that God has a greater plan for his life.

But why don’t I feel like that about myself?? That there isn’t a great plan for me? 

What if the purpose of my life is to bear a child that would bear a child that would make a huge positive impact on the world? What if that is my sole purpose? Would I be okay with that? 

What if I was meant to support someone else that would make a difference in the world but never have a huge positive impact myself?

Do all lives have meaning?? What about the quadriplegic? Someone who is declining into dementia?? What about someone with autism? There are some who would say that they are not a valuable member of society if they are not a productive member of society.

But I don’t think that that is true. Carrying for a disabled family member, although burdensome at times, has positively impacted my life. Let me repeat that. Someone deemed by society as not having purpose has changed my life. 

While I sit at the conference, I listen to the keynote speaker talk about leadership and being a positive change in the world. There are a few people here that I think will do it. Then I walk down the hotel corridor and a cleaning lady smiles at me. Maybe changing the world doesn’t always mean moving mountains. Maybe it’s just a smile or kind word when someone needs it. Helping others..

Even though I am middle aged, sometimes I still ponder the purpose of my life. Am I doing what I am supposed to do? Am I on the right path? Does my life line follow the right projectory for positive growth?

There are a few people, like Paul, that are capable of moving mountains…that seem to have a special purpose. Then there are others, like me, still trying to figure things out.

Do you know your purpose in life? Does it change over time? Or are you still trying to figure things out?

Autism’s sibling, journal 2, part 3

My mom said that Matt was a smart baby. He was speaking and knew the alphabet. Until he turned 2, that is. Then he quit talking altogether. Instead he screamed. He slept fitfully and had nightmares. For many early childhood years, Matt was nonverbal. Then something strange happened, he started talking.

Previous to the home bound years, my brothers and I attended the same grade school. I remember Matt being in the special ed room that was shared with the library. He spent a lot of time in the naughty box between the two rooms. He kicked and screamed in this box while the kids laughed when we went in for library. He also went out with us at recess. Some of the older girls mocked his bizarre movements and laughed at him. It made me very angry, but they were older and there was nothing I could do about it.

One day Matt told my mom that he didn’t like school. He said that the teacher was mean. He told us that she put him face down on the floor and sat on top of him. He said it was hard to breathe. The teacher also put him under her desk, then sat down squishing and trapping him inside. My mom asked me if this could possibly be true. By the time he could tell us what had happened, the teacher had already quit. The turnover was high and I am sure my brother didn’t help with that.

Matt was very hard to handle. He was so violent in the school setting that he had to be homeschooled for several years right around the time of puberty. We stayed at home 3 years, then Matt went back to school with me. My mom sent my youngest two brothers to two different schools. Some of the teachers at school gave my family a hard time for my autistic brother. They looked down upon us. Some of the kids weren’t much better. Like we wanted this? Or caused this?

When I came back to school my junior year, I was the first person in the school district to return to high school after homeschooling. They did not know what to do with me. They would not accept my transcripts from the accredited correspondence school. Some kids teased me by asking if I took off from school to have a baby.

After awhile Luke ended up going to high school with Matt. They graduated together. Mark graduated from a different school entirely. Matt took the short bus to school everyday. There was always a boy that would terrorize Matt on the bus. Sometimes he would get off of the bus with Matt and threaten to kill him. Mom was a little worried last summer that he would make good on his threat once he made parole for his violent criminal offenses.

After I graduated from high school, I came back to be Matt’s teacher’s aide. My best friend Shelly was his aide at school until she pressed criminal charges against Matt for assault when he pulled her hair. Matt was escorted out of the school in handcuffs. That was the end of Shelly’s employment and our friendship. The charges against Matt were dropped after his competency eval.

Then I was employed as Matt’s teacher’s aide for a short period of time. In the classroom, Matt had his own separate cubicle. Every time that I would try to get him to read or write he would grind his teeth and hit his head. Or sometimes he would hit me. He never did learn to read, write, or do basic math.

 

Grace uncommon, part 15

We did everything that we could, but there came a time when we could no longer care for Aunt Grace.

For several months, we were able to provide around the clock care for Aunt Grace. Then one weekend we couldn’t find a caregiver. My dad and I weren’t able to take care of Grace that weekend. It might have been a wedding in the family, I don’t remember. It was another obligation that required a weekend away. The other two caregivers were not available either. My parents had no choice but to have Grace stay the weekend in a nursing home for respite care.

It was a Monday morning when my dad and I waited outside of her house for her return. The van driver got lost on Grace’s return ride home. He couldn’t find her home address on the map for anything. One of the difficulties of living in a very small town before good navigation.

We weren’t quite prepared for the condition that she was returning in. We almost told the driver to take her back when he left. They returned her in a wheelchair unable to walk. She could no longer hold her head up. Her head was tilted to one side. She could no longer speak right. Her words came out in a slurred moan. She couldn’t chew food. She choked on water. 

My parents took Grace back to the doctor. He said that she was starting to have small strokes. We could no longer provide the care that she needed at home. We did the best that we could.

 

Grace uncommon, part 13

It was the scariest night I spent at Aunt Grace’s.

Aunt Grace lived in the same big farmhouse her whole life. However, the family business replaced the farm that should have been next door. My great-grandparents built the house in the early 1900’s. At one time, the unincorporated town that she lived in was bustling and alive with businesses, families, and even a train that ran through the town.

The town grew old right around the time Aunt Grace did. A lot of the major businesses pulled out of town leaving behind vacant buildings. Big old houses, the old grocery store, the dance hall in the bar, and even the old bank that Grace worked at were turned into cheap apartments. Weeds grew along the creek that trickled through town instead of flowers and freshly mowed grass like before. The family business shut down and the windows were boarded.

Aunt Grace’s house was always cold and drafty in the winter. Her house was even cool in the summer. She didn’t have A/C. She didn’t really need it. I remember it being a hot summer night that eventful evening. We slept with all the windows open. The kids and I stayed with Grace during the week without Paul because he had to work the next day. Even though my dad didn’t seem to mind staying up all night with Grace during the week, he sometimes needed a break.

That night after I put the kids and Grace to bed, I settled myself in on the couch outside of Grace’s bedroom. I awoke to shouting in the middle of the night. I looked out the window to see four men violently fighting outside under the street light. Punches were thrown. Men were dancing around in a bloody ballet. Does someone have a knife? What am I going to do? Will I witness a murder tonight? I have to call the police. But how am I going to dial Grace’s old rotary phone in the dark?

I am very afraid. If they hurt each other, what could they do to us? What if Grace wakes up screaming like she usually does? What if the children wake up crying? I feel vulnerable. I can’t protect anyone. I can’t get to the phone. I’m afraid to draw attention to the house. Don’t turn on the lights. All the windows are open with only a screen keeping them out. I am afraid they will see me watching in horror. I am afraid they will hear my ragged breaths.

I watched for those minutes that seemed like hours. The men stagger away into the darkness no longer under the street light. Do they linger in the backyard? Do they mean any harm? The adrenaline pumps through my veins preventing sleep. I can’t believe what I just saw.

Aunt Grace slept most of the night.