9.Ten people that influenced me

Day 9: List 10 people who have influenced you and describe how.

1. My grandma (my dad’s mother)

My grandma was the biggest source of comfort in my life growing up. She took time to patiently listen to me and always made my favorite meals when I came over. She is the number one person that helped me through childhood without totally cracking. Although our personalities were nothing alike, we did share some hobbies such as singing, working puzzles, and reading thrillers.

2. My grandpa (my dad’s father)

My grandpa was stubborn and tough. The last 13 years of his life, his health drastically declined and he was wheelchair bound. Being sick changed him, but through it my grandparents showed me real commitment through sickness and health. My grandma was selfless in her devotion to his care.

3. My mom

My mom was very influential. She taught me to have faith in God even when He seems far away. She showed me commitment by staying in an unhappy marriage. She gave me my strong work ethic. She taught me to find fault in others, but not in myself. I learned to worry and be indecisive from her. But I also learned patience, devotion, peace keeping, generosity, and selflessness from her. Those rare qualities more than make up for any areas that need improvement. She was the best mom anyone could ask for and my biggest parenting role model.

4. My dad

I learned from my dad not to care what others think of me through his eccentricity. He also gave me a propensity towards depression and irritation. I get my lovely eye rolls and sighs from him. He also showed me the importance of caring for my elders.

5. My brother, Matt

My autistic brother Matt has been one of the most influential people in my life. He has given me the most stories to write about. Without Matt, I would not be the person that I am today. He has changed my life so much, I couldn’t even imagine a life without him.

6. My great-aunt Grace (my dad’s aunt)

Aunt Grace was like a grandma to me. She was structured, a domineering firstborn, intelligent, perfectionistic, eccentric, and always right. She told me that I could do anything a man could do. She was the one who pushed (forced) me to go to college. We were so much alike that sometimes we clashed.

7. My husband, Paul

Paul is one of the most intelligent people that I know. He is constantly pushing me to try new things. He encourages me to be anything that I could possibly want to be. Our skill set and personalities compliment each other which allows us to be stronger unified than alone. He is my biggest supporter. I couldn’t have run a marathon without him cheering me on. He encourages me to keep on writing…

8. My daughter, Angelique Hope

Angel has restored my faith that there is goodness and light left in this dark world. She has influenced me to learn how to be a better singer.

9. My son, Alex

Alex has provided me with countless hours of entertainment. He keeps me on my feet and tests my sanity. But underneath it all, he is caring and we understand each other.

10. My daughter, Arabella Joy

Arabella has stretched me by being totally different from me in almost every way. She is very intelligent, eccentric, and a strategic/abstract thinker. She thinks outside the box and pulls me out of my black and white detailed thinking to see things from a different angle.

For good or for bad, my family has been the most influential in my life. Although it seems kind of tacky, my children have been very influential in my life as well.

Back to the present

Today I struggled with what to write. I want to go back to my autism series that I started earlier this month but so much is happening in my life right now. How can I talk about the past when the present is exciting, here, and almost gone?? I will finish it though. With the marathon last weekend and my first child’s graduation this weekend, I have a thousand thoughts and emotions running through my head. And it all has to fit into one post per day that should contain an average of 500 words. Lol.

Last night, Paul and I decided to call our parents to try to convince them into going to Angel’s graduation. I called my dad and asked him directly if he was going. Now I typically call my dad twice a year, on his birthday and on Father’s Day. So it was a big deal that I was calling him. He seemed happy to hear from me. He told me that Angel was a nice and good girl. He said that he was planning on going to her graduation. I was floored. Then he even asked me how my marathon went. I was shocked that the whole conversation was very positive.

Then I walked out of my bedroom to find that things didn’t go quite as well with Paul and his mom. Martha was on the phone with Angel saying that she wasn’t feeling well and wouldn’t be able to make it. But this time she is really sick. So sick that she couldn’t make it in to her chemo appointment yesterday. I believe that she is really sick this time. But I liken it to the story of the boy that called wolf. Martha has been calling wolf so many times over the past several years that now my mind finds it had to believe that there is a wolf.

But there is a wolf. Martha has terminal cancer, the big devouring wolf. A few weeks ago, Martha was going to go with me to see Angel perform her solo and ensemble pieces at state. Martha was supposed to be at my house by nine. I waited around until 11:00, Martha didn’t show up or call. By that time I had already missed half of Angel’s performances. At 11, Paul called his mom and she was still at home an hour away from our house. She wasn’t feeling good enough to go but didn’t bother to call. She was going to try to make it out to eat with us later that evening for Mother’s Day.

I knew that Martha was sick. But it still brought up all of those old feelings that I had towards her for standing up my kids. I was very angry and hurt. I drove fast to get to the remainder of Angel’s events. I was pissed that I wasn’t there to support Angel when I told her I would be there to watch her. Then I even started to feel a little guilty that I was angry with my mother-in-law who is dying. So I have become tolerant. I have repressed the years of resentment, hurt, and anger.

It is hard because now I think that Martha might want to go to Angel’s graduation. But it is too late now. She should have gone to more things when she was able to. She should have been the involved grandparent then. Now it is much too late.

 

Until we meet again

Grandma, I know you said it was your time to leave. I want you to come back. I long to hear your voice. We should be sitting in a small town restaurant celebrating your birthday today.

Remember the time that Matt poked me in the eye? I cried and cried. You rocked me in your arms and sang to me. I wanted to hurt Matt back. You held Matt tight in your embrace. You comforted him. You taught me to love when I wanted to hate.

Remember the night that baby Luke was born? I was 4. You put the straight section of the circular green Davenport, as you called it, against the wall for me to sleep on. I told you that I was going to sleep with gum in my mouth. You told me it was a bad idea, but you didn’t stop me. I woke up with sticky gum all over my face and in my hair. You were right. Then you slept on the other part of the couch. The street light shining in on us through the window. Grandpa loudly snoring upstairs. 

Remember the doll house you made for me? You painted the walls, made curtains out of old lace that you thumb tacked to the walls, and used buttons as light fixtures. You squeezed your big fingers in the little material to make my doll clothes. Remember my doll stroller? Remember the doll that had buttons, zippers, and ties that would help me learn how to dress myself? Or giving me your hand towels for blankets when my dolls got cold? 

Remember cooking for me? You would send me off with a jar of cookies. You would prepare a feast when I visited. Remember me asking if my stomach would explode after eating too much of my favorite soup? Then when my kids were little, you gave them a tea party with juice in little tea cups. You had little plates of cheese and grapes for them. They were so excited.

Where would I be without you? You brought peace, comfort, and stability into my chaotic life. 

I will think of you today and remember all that you have done for me. I will celebrate your life! The candles are lit without a cake. I look at your picture as I smell the sweet fragrance of your favorite perfume. It is my ritual every year. For a brief second, I pretend that you are still here. I will never forget you.  

Happy birthday, Grandma! Until we meet again…

Making a pact

This past weekend something happened that made me rather upset.

Last minute, Paul and I had our friends Cindy and Jack over. Jack wanted to make plans with Paul to go on a fly fishing trip over Easter break. The place that they want to fish is 5 hours away, very close to Cindy’s parents. Cindy and Jack were having a hard time finding a babysitter for their 5 year old son and we couldn’t help. That seemed like a no brainer fix to me. I suggested that they drop their son off with Cindy’s parents. Cindy said that her parents wouldn’t do that for them. They were still complaining about the time that they had to watch him for 2 hours. Really? That made me angry.

Then I told Cindy that my aunt wanted my daughter to sing in her only child’s wedding. She told me that my younger two children weren’t going to be invited to the wedding. It wouldn’t be that big of a deal except that the wedding is a couple of hours away. Being a part of the wedding would require a hotel room a couple of nights for the rehearsal and wedding. Another relative said that I should leave my other kids with some friends or my in-laws. My in-laws? They didn’t help out with the kids much before my mother-in-law was diagnosed with terminal cancer. How can people ask a favor and be so insensitive?? Paul offered to stay home with the youngest kids so I could take Angel to sing in the wedding. But it makes me angry!

Then it took me back to a time in my life when I needed help but found myself alone. On Angel’s 4th birthday, Matt attacked her. It took my brother and husband to pull him off of her. This event caused a chain reaction of hurt that lasted years after the actual attack took place. I decided that I didn’t want my children victimized by my brother like I was. Things were different, when my brother hurt me he was a child. When he hurt Angel, he was a grown man and she was just a little girl. For years there was a time where there was very minimal contact between Matt and my children. Because of this, my mom lost her number one caregiver, me. We also lost our number one helper, my mom.

Less than a year after Matt attacked Angel, I gave birth to my third child. I scheduled the C-section for a Friday because I didn’t have anyone to help watch the kids during the week while Paul worked. My mom stayed over the night before, then dropped the kids off at the hospital the morning that I had my third child because Matt had a doctor’s appointment. Paul and I never had the celebratory meal together. After I got home from the hospital, my mother-in-law helped for one day then I was on my own less than a week after having major surgery with my three little kids.

In response to everything that happened, I decided to solve my problems by starting up a babysitting co-op. It worked great. We exchanged points for child care instead of money. We had monthly play groups. I developed close friends that for some reason or other found it hard to get the support that they needed as a parent.

I wish that there was a flow chart with parenting solutions sometimes. If your child does this, you do that. Every parenting class that I have ever attended was always filled with controversy. To spank or not to spank? Work or stay at home? Breast or bottle? Private, public, or home school? One child wins or everybody wins? Vaccinate or not to vaccinate? Yada, yada, yada… I am sure it wouldn’t take too long to find a blog where someone is fighting over these issues. Nobody seems to have the answers. 
Having your first child is such a major shock. I find it funny when women seem worried about childbirth. I was the same way. Seriously, you should be more worried about the next 18 years! Suddenly you are thrown into parenting without any idea what you are doing. Having a second child is also a shock. Yes, I was one of those people that thought it wouldn’t change my life at all. I also thought that my kids wouldn’t fight. That expectation got shattered pretty fast. I also thought that if I did the best job that I could possibly do that my kids wouldn’t rebel or make the wrong choices. Boy am I still learning! Having a third child was no adjustment at all. Wait, did I have a third child? I think so, except I did not document the first time she started to crawl, the first word she said, or the first time she spit up like I did with my first child.

Grandparents, why does our culture sometimes treat you like you are outdated and worthless? What a lie! You are a wealth of knowledge. You have the experience that some of us are learning through trial and error at the expense of our children. For all of the grandparents out there who are helping out their children some way or another, thank you. God bless you for making this world a better place. You are needed. You are appreciated. Parents, if you have parents that are wonderful grandparents, show them your gratitude. I know many parents that would do almost anything to have a little guidance.

This past weekend Paul suggested that we (Paul, Cindy, Jack, and I) make a pact to be good grandparents. The four of us promised that we would be there for our children when they have children of their own. We promised to be supportive, offer advice if asked, and to take our grandchildren for a few days to give their parents a break. We will take the wrongs and make them right.

This is our pact.

Grace uncommon, part 8

Aunt Grace was way ahead of her times. Aunt Grace was the Vice President of the local bank.

Aunt Grace earned what would be equivalent of an Associate Degree in Business in a time when most young ladies like my grandma only received an 8th grade education. She loved money and finance. She was most likely the richest woman in our small town. But she was never greedy. There once was a bank employee whose husband left her with several kids at home. One day an anonymous letter arrived at the bank with money in it for that woman. We all knew it was Aunt Grace because that was the kind of thing she would do. Another family had a tragedy where their house burned down. Aunt Grace took the children shopping to buy them new winter coats and clothes.

When it was our birthday, she would give us $50 in an envelope marked love always, Aunt Grace. At Halloween, she didn’t give out candy. She gave out rolls of nickels and dimes. At Christmas, we all received $10 worth of McDonald’s gift cards. If she ever gave someone a gift, she would wrap it in the comics section of the newspaper. Grace herself was a miser, it was sad to see how destitute she lived when she could afford to take better care of herself. Her washer didn’t wring out her clothes and her dryer took 2 hours to dry a load of clothes. Her clothes were old and worn. I didn’t find out how cheap she lived until I stayed with her at the end.

Grace worked as a bookkeeper for the family business. She also worked at the local bank. When I was a young girl, she was the VP of the bank. She would give me suckers and take me into her private office. She was so excited, she wanted to be President of the bank but women just didn’t do that in her day. Everybody knew her and respected her.

She always told me that I could do anything that a man could do. She went to a conference and brought a duffle bag back for me that read never underestimate the power of a woman. She was very upset that I didn’t go to college for business.

There were some things though that she thought that women shouldn’t do. She frowned upon me hanging out in the garage with the men. I didn’t hear the end of it if I went in there with shorts on. I loved the smell of rubber from the tires that were on sale there and even the scent of gasoline brought me comfort. But I never even learned basic things about cars.

One day while I was in college, I had car trouble. It happened on the day of a snow storm. I flooded my car. Today things are so easy, I step on the brake and push a button to start my car. Back then, I had to push the gas pedal to the floor once. Then while I had the key in the ignition I had to pump the gas to get the car to start. The day of the storm, I flooded my car. I knew that there was a way to pop open my hood and pull up on something to ease this problem, but I didn’t know how. I ran back inside to find a pay phone to call my grandpa who spent his whole life as a mechanic. It was all a fool’s errand because all I needed to do was pop the hood and about 10 guys offered assistance. I miss calling Grace or my grandparents for guidance. Now somehow I am supposed to be an adult with all of the answers. 

Last night all of these memories came back to me like a flood. Stupid things. Silly things. I felt overwhelmed by nostalgia, a longing for my loved ones long gone. I asked myself why I seem to be so plagued by these memories. Then I reminded myself that I opened the door by thinking and writing of these things. I feel very compelled to write everything that happened down so someday it won’t be forgotten. While I was studying genealogy, I searched to understand, to really know, the people that came before me. All I found were names and dates scratched on a piece of paper. It really meant nothing. Aunt Grace kept our family geneaology. The funny thing was that after she was gone I continued it for her. But with the internet and all of modern technology, I did not get any further than she did.

My childhood has been gone for a long time now. Now the childhood years of my children are coming to an end. It has been a difficult transition for me. I struggle with accepting change, even if it is for the better.

I have to keep writing.

 

Grace uncommon, part 4

After the war, Aunt Grace and her brothers all returned home to help run the family business. Uncle Harold finished high school. My grandpa and Uncle Kenny got married. Aunt Grace and Uncle Harold moved back home with their parents where they lived for the rest of their lives. Grandpa and Uncle Kenny lived down the road. My grandparents had their only child, my dad.

Uncle Kenny and his wife were unable to have children. During the war, Uncle Kenny watched the bombing of Hiroshima along with other service men aboard a Navy ship. The exposure rendered him sterile. He passed  away from skin cancer a few years before I was born.

Out of the four siblings, my dad was the only child. I would like to say that after the war there was a time of peace and serenity. Perhaps there was for a period of time. My great-grandma was a very forceful woman. Before my great grandparents started a successful automotive company, my great-grandma was a school teacher. I suspect that she very easily put the fear of God into disobedient children. She put the fear of God into her own children. Aunt Grace and her siblings (my grandpa especially) spent a lot of time being disciplined out it the wood shed. My great-grandma was the family matriarch. When she passed away, she passed the baton to Aunt Grace.

My Aunt Grace and great-grandma were such a strong overbearing force not to be reckoned with. Grace not only had a strong personality, but she was physically taller than her brothers as well. She was about 5’9″ and her brothers were all barely 5 ft tall. There was a bit of fighting over my dad. Aunt Grace and her mother wanted to raise my dad. So one day my dad stayed overnight by his grandma’s and didn’t come back home. Days at grandma’s turned into weeks which turned into months which turned into a year. The only fault I could find in my grandma was that she was too submissive. She never stood up for herself. But after a year, she told my grandpa that he needed to bring their son back home where he belonged. This created a rift between my grandma and Aunt Grace.

Time trickled by like it tends to do. My mom and Aunt Grace became best friends. My mom viewed Aunt Grace as a mother since her own mother passed away while she was a teenager. My mom’s family was very large and lived far away. So Aunt Grace and Uncle Harold became “grandma” and “grandpa” to us.  They helped raise us. Aunt Grace favored my brothers Luke and Matt. My grandparents favored Mark and I. As a group, they helped my parents through some very difficult times. 

Handing over the Christmas baton

After decades of Christmas perfection, little tremors needled away at our  family tree structure creating (gulp) change. The Thanksgiving after Paul and I got married, Uncle Harold passed away. A few years after that my grandpa passed away. My brothers grew up and moved away, with the exception of my autistic brother Matt. I started to have children of my own. Grandma struggled more and more as she aged with doing all of the cooking, cleaning, and decorating involved in having a family Christmas party. We tried to help her as much as we could. Then one year it all ended. My grandma had open heart surgery the summer that I had my third child. It was at this time that my grandma handed the Thanksgiving and Christmas baton to me.

At the time, we were having my in-laws over every Christmas Eve. Year after year it was pretty much the same. My in-laws would show up 2 to 3 hours late. The table would be set. The food would be cold. The kids would eat supper at bedtime. The kids were tired and hungry which made them very crabby. They would cry and have meltdowns. This upset my mother-in-law which resulted in an argument between her and my husband over her being late. At this point, Paul’s stepdad and I would look at each other across the table with a knowing look that said “here we go again”. One of two things either happened. Paul’s mother would disown him and take off for awhile. Or Paul’s mom would scream at my husband and he would kick her out of the house. Eventually she would come back in both scenarios, the gifts were opened, and the kids would go to bed.

After receiving the Christmas baton, Paul and I did what most reasonable people do. We combined our families to make one big happy family Christmas. Insert thoughts of the National Lampoon’s Christmas here. It did go pretty good for quite awhile. Whoever showed up, showed up. We ate at 1:00 PM. If you were late, there were leftovers. Things went pretty well, although after awhile it seemed that my mom and mother-in-law started an unspoken “best grandma” competition. My mom won that one hands down because she could afford nicer gifts and spent more time with the kids. Then my in-laws started to find excuses not to come for Christmas. Either someone was sick, or my personal favorite was that Paul’s stepdad scheduled a colonoscopy the day after Christmas. Priceless.

Oh family, you bring laughter and tears but we love you anyway.

Then a couple of years ago, Luke and his family bought a house that was bigger than mine. I handed him the Christmas baton. All problems solved.

Childhood Christmases in a (chest)nut shell

Childhood Christmases in my mind were perfect. Except for that one Christmas that we aren’t going to talk about today. It was as if everyone knew how difficult the rest of the year was so they did everything possible to make two days of the year perfect for my brothers and I, our birthdays and Christmas.

My grandparents had a small Thomas Kincade like house. It was warm and cozy on the inside while cold winter storms raged outside. Icicles hung from the porch and garage roofs dripping droplets of shattered ice onto the walkways, one last obstacle against the warmth that beckoned from within. Upon entrance, steam whisked away into the frigid air from the kettle of boiling potatoes next to the open door. The aroma from the ham cooling on the stove top next to the potatoes was intoxicating. Grandma had a counter full of food, homemade pies and cookies too. Every year grandma had a chest cold. She coughed and coughed though she didn’t seem to mind. Soon Aunt Grace showed up with her brother Harold. Aunt Grace always brought cranberry sauce and the fruitcake that my brothers and I didn’t like to eat.

I was always first to ask if we could open our presents right away. Grandma always said “no”, but we could look inside our stockings that were hung over the fireplace. My brothers and I each had a stocking that contained our favorite candy. There was a tiny stocking for grandpa hanging in the corner that held one peanut. What drew our attention the most though were the boxes of wrapped gifts under the tree. We were always peeking in hopes of finding a big box with our name on it. My grandparents cut their own Christmas tree from their tree farm. It stood on top of a large round end table in front of a big picture window. The tree was always lopsided in some way or another, but we never noticed. Grandma always covered the trees with tinsel and old fashioned ornaments.

After lunch, we all sat in our places that we sat in every year to open gifts. Uncle Harold sat in the rocking chair near the fireplace. He always laughed a lot on Christmas day. We didn’t see him a lot the rest of the year because he was always working. I sat on the love seat near the tree. In my memory, there was always 3 feet of snow on the ground with an inch of playful snow that swirled around in the wind. After we were done opening gifts, we would have a fire in the fireplace. Christmas day was the only day of the year that my grandparents used the fireplace.

We always stayed at my grandparents until it got dark. We played with our new toys. The men slept in their chairs. Aunt Grace always made sure that the dishes were done. Grandma put away the extra food and took down the fancy table with the red tablecloth. It was Christmas perfection in a nutshell. Even if Matt had a meltdown on Christmas day, I never remembered that. I couldn’t remember that. To me it was always perfect and magical.

Cool, warmth

It has been a warm October. The jack ‘o lanterns that the kids carved at the harvest party earlier this month turned to squash. They rotted and melted like a witch getting doused in water. I am not complaining. It has allowed me to continue with my summer isn’t over delusion a little bit longer. My grandpa would have had his birthday earlier this month. Usually right around my grandpa’s birthday, my grandma would write flurries on her calendar when the first trace of snow swirled. Her calendar was completely empty except for the word flurries. Sometimes it’s the little things that I miss the most.

I haven’t had to change my running schedule at all due to the weather. I haven’t dusted off the treadmill yet either. Running this time of year does have its challenges though. Earlier this week I ran by a farmer harvesting his corn field. He spooked out a huge rabbit and it ran straight towards me. Difficult decisions ensued for that rabbit once he noticed me. There was nowhere for him to run.

Today I had my monthly 18 mile run. The last few miles were painful and hard to endure. Every muscle was screaming at me to stop. I made it though. It took me 2 months to recover from my knee pain from the marathon. I have been running the last 2 weeks relatively pain free. This gives me hope that next spring I can sign up for another marathon and beat the crap out of myself again. Whoo hoo!

Waiting….for bad news

Waiting…I sit here waiting. Worried. Waiting for bad news. I know it is going to be bad. I think of all the times that we didn’t get along. The guilt of feeling annoyed by you most of the time. You aren’t a bad person. You just talk before you think. My daughter called you rude the last time we saw each other. You commented that my hair looked terrible. Did I mean for it to look so bad? Did my finger get stuck into a light socket? I told you that I wasn’t offended, that your comments about my hair didn’t bother me. It didn’t bother me. What did bother me is all of the empty promises you made to my kids your only grandchildren, the times you said that you would show up and didn’t. 

Now I am thinking that you might not be here to see your granddaughter graduate next year. I feel terribly saddened by this. When I saw you last weekend, you did not look good. You were out of breath, wheezing, and coughing. The cough that lasted over a year. You have been continually sick for months at a time with head and chest colds. Your doctor thought that it might have been some of your medications, that once he took you off of the offending pill that you would get better. But you got worse. Now you are in the hospital, waiting. We worry and wait, wanting the distraction of work but have difficulty focusing. What do we tell the children? That the doctors think that you have lung cancer. So we sit here waiting, waiting for the bad news.