My son’s graduation

It happened on a rare perfect day in Wisconsin. The temperature 75 degrees with a light breeze under partly sunny skies. No rain, no muggy humidity.

I’m not sure why we felt so stressed out that morning as my husband and I snapped at each other. Maybe the perfect conditions was a sure sign to be cautious that something might go wrong.

Last minute Alex couldn’t find dress pants that fit and had to borrow a pair of Paul’s. I was worried that he would be late for school one last time.

We sat with family on the bleachers in the gym. I tried to keep an open mind, yet inwardly I judged.

Did the people in front of us manage to have some of the few empty seats because they purposely didn’t shower? I ended up sitting behind them because no one else could stand the smell.

Then there was the mother with the ripped jeans and crop top like she was attending her daughter’s graduation from pole dancing school. I was appalled. I am not big on fashion, but made sure to buy myself a new dress. There are some things that one must simply look respectable for.

There was the child that sat behind us with an incessant whine.

Well at least they were there showing their support which is more than my dad did. He decided not to attend.

I’m not going to lie to you. I was filled with anxiety.

I was worried all week that I would get that knock on my door with a certified letter stating that my son did not meet the requirements to graduate. I imagined myself full of shame as I explained why my son’s name wasn’t called at the graduation ceremony when people came bearing gifts at his graduation party. But I emptied that anxiety just to fill it with more.

I had irrational fear that my son would end up punching someone instead of shaking their hand as he received his diploma. I still thought that maybe he wouldn’t graduate as he received his diploma. There was a part of me that was very unsettled. I felt fear that there could be a school shooting during the graduation. Sadly, I no longer feel safe in large crowds of people.

I saw my son’s friends come in that attended another school. Included in the group was the boy we took into our home that stole from us. I felt uncomfortable.

My brother Luke asked my daughter’s boyfriend Dan if he was having flashbacks of his own graduation there. He said, “Yeah, more like PTSD”.

The graduation ceremony was boring. It was hard to see, the nearby projector didn’t work and the microphone kept cutting out if the speaker didn’t have their mouth right on the microphone.

The guest speaker was a doctor of neurophysics. She showed pictures of herself and spoke of all of her amazing accomplishments in a monotone voice. I thought to myself that I needed to get out of all graduation ceremonies I can in the future.

After the ceremony was done, I felt very happy and giddy. I was ready to go out and pop champagne in the school parking lot. Would that be against the law? Never mind, I didn’t have any champagne. I hugged boy B’s mom. We did it! We convinced our boys that hated school to graduate. I can’t quite explain the feeling. I felt like I almost got hit by a bus, but at the last second got away. That feeling of just escaping disaster. My son was also the happiest I’ve seen him in a long time.

Afterwards, we had family over at our house. It was so nice that we were able to play games outside and sit on the patio with a fire.

All in all, it was a wonderful day. We are happy that our son graduated. I can’t tell you how relieved I am.

 

 

In bloom

Good news! My son is graduating this weekend!

I really wasn’t sure he was going to pull it off. Although my son has a brilliant mind, he has been an underachiever.

Paul and I attended the high school awards ceremony this past week. I noticed that 90% of the awards went to 15% of the students. My son received one award for an extracurricular music trip that he participated in.

It was easy to go to the award ceremony when Angel graduated from high school because she was an overachiever. It was different this time around. I noticed the parents that were there and more notably, the parents who did not attend.

Sometimes we just want life to be fair. We want ‘good’ parents to raise ‘good’ kids. For most things, our results are a response to the amount of effort put into something. There is no guarantee with parenting.

We may light the path we want our child to take, they may take a different trail.

I noticed a good example of that a couple months ago.

Parents A have a son that won a lot of awards at the ceremony. He is a star athlete getting letters in a dozen sports. He is good looking, a high honor student, popular, and very involved in his high school experience.

Parents B have a son that is an underachiever, not very athletic, not all that attractive, and is a smoker.

Boy A and boy B are cousins. Boy A ratted boy B out for smoking. Boy A’s parents told boy B that he was a loser and would never amount to anything. Then boy A’s parents confronted boy B’s parents and told them that they were horrible parents. Boy A’s parents told them that if they were good parents then they would have a bright shining star like boy A. Ouch!

Mom B cried as she told me this story. I was appalled and angry. The parents of boy B are great parents. As the saying goes, you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink. Is it wrong to want boy A’s parents to come crashing off of their high horse?

Should you ever confront parents if they are doing everything they can and their kid strays off the path?

It reminds me of how my mother was treated having a violent autistic child. People pointed fingers and blamed her for the way my brother was acting. What a refrigerator mom! It was painful to hear their comments. My mom needed support and help, not to be ostracized and condemned for something beyond her control.

It was great when my overachieving daughter received award after award. Guess what? It made me feel like I was a great parent. But it really was the fruition of her own efforts and good choices.

When do children stop being dependent and start making their own decisions? The line was so fine I didn’t even notice the transition.

I had dreams for my son too. He is a talented musician but earned no band awards because he is no longer in band. All of his previous work and past achievements were not applauded. He still was voted the best musician in the senior class by his classmates. In the fall, we even toured a college for music. He decided to go to tech school instead.

Sometimes our kids will date people we don’t like. They might choose a different career than what we chose for them. They may even decide not to follow our political or religious beliefs. But it is their choice.

Needless to say, boy A’s parents were happy parents at the award ceremony. Boy B received no awards. His parents were not in attendance.

I thought I had everything figured out with the whole parenting thing when my first two babies were happy and slept through the night right away. I was ready to write that parenting book. Well, not really, but you know what I mean. Then baby three came along and was colicky. She cried day and night and rarely slept through the night for over a year.

I realized then that I didn’t have all of the answers. There isn’t an instruction book. If there was I probably wouldn’t follow it anyway. Sometimes things just don’t go the way we want them to. It is heartbreaking as a parent.

Some kids bloom at different times. Honestly, I would hate my children to experience the best years of their lives in high school. There are so many better years beyond that to experience.

Boy B hasn’t bloomed yet. Sometimes he comes to my house along with a slew of other underachieving boys. Several of them are at my house right now. Some come from good homes, others I know are going to struggle. But they are great kids. They are respectful to me, funny, and kind. They just haven’t bloomed yet.

My son is graduating this weekend. I can’t wait to watch how his life unfolds as he starts to bloom, mature, and grow.

May

It is finally here, the month I have been dreading and waiting for.

My son will be graduating this month. Despite his procrastination and grades that are less than satisfactory, I think he is going to pull it off.

Alex has finally matured enough that I think he is going to be fine without us. He told me this week, that although he doesn’t say it often enough, he is going to really miss us and that he appreciates everything we’ve done for him. He also said that although he doesn’t spend a lot of time with us that he doesn’t want us to take it personally that he is leaving. He said that it is time for him to be an independent man now. I agreed. I told him that it was normal to want to leave home once you are an adult.

I am letting go and he is planning on leaving. He told me he isn’t planning on leaving the area anytime soon and will probably visit us a lot. That made me feel happy since my son is not the type to share these things.

Next month Alex is planning on moving out.

This month Angel will be coming home from college. But this summer she is not planning on staying with us like she previously did. She just put in an application for an apartment and is planning on staying here until she can move in. She will live 4 hours away.

Two out of three kids are planning on leaving home for good next month. I will be happy and sad to see them go. It is bittersweet.

We still have Arabella at home. She will be 16 this month.

We are also planning on filling the void by getting a foreign exchange student. Estelle from France will be moving in the beginning of August.

A new adventure awaits!

Goal 10: Make peace with the past

For a long time I’ve outrun my demons and wondered how they could still catch up to me.

Writing this blog has been a great first step in making peace with my past. If that wasn’t enough, I started writing a book. I’ve found the process to be very therapeutic.

In a few months, I will start the process of public speaking about my experiences.

In doing all of this, I realized that I missed a very important step. I need to be open and honest with the people that care about me even if I get hurt. It’s not like I didn’t get hurt in the past and move on with my life.

I spent my whole life pretending to the outside world that everything was alright in my life. Life is good now. But I want to be able to tell people I am close to that things are not alright if they aren’t. I want to be able to ask for help instead of pushing everyone away and dealing with things myself.

Right now I’m trying to look back without having blinders on. Hindsight is not always 20/20. Sometimes I tend to wear sunglasses when I look at the darkest days. I make excuses and cannot face things as they truly were.

I tell myself that what happened in my life was completely normal. It wasn’t that bad.

Sometimes I think I will just be able to throw all of my painful memories into a book, then close the book and walk away. I’m not sure if I will ever be able to do that. But I do think that my story could help others and that I will be able to make peace with my past.

Geez, sometimes I wish my goal was to lose 10 lbs. Revamping myself on the outside sure seems a lot easier then stoking the demons within. But I feel like this is what I was meant to do.

Goal 8: Try not to be too hard on myself

When I was a child, my parents were very hard on me. They expected perfection and I tried to deliver. The better behaved I was, the more I was loved.

I was punished for not being good enough. My parents had a hard enough time with my autistic sibling, they didn’t need any problems from me.

When I got a bad grade in elementary school, my dolls were taken away from me for a semester.

I am hard on myself to this very day. If I don’t accomplish enough in a day, I feel very anxious.

So it is no surprise that when I had kids, I tried to be the perfect parent. I thought that if I was the best parent I could be that my kids would turn out the way I wanted them to. If I was loving enough, they would get good grades and like school. If they were disciplined right, they wouldn’t try drugs, etc…(Insert problem here).

Let’s be totally honest, if kids do something wrong the first place society looks is at the parents. What did the parents do wrong to have a child like that? I am just as guilty. There is some truth to that statement, but some kids just make bad choices against their parents wishes.

My own mother faced a lot of blame for having a violent autistic child in the 1980’s.

I tried to be the best parent I could be and that has to be good enough whatever my children choose.

It was so easy when they were babies. I had full control. I decided where we would go. I picked out the little outfits that they were going to wear. They ate what I made.

I tried to share my values and beliefs with them. But I’ll admit, as honest as I am, I lied to my children all the time. I lied to them about who I was. I tried to hide my faults. I pretended to like cartoons and Barney when I really wanted to be head banging to hard rock and watching horror movies. I didn’t swear around them and said a lot of nice words like please and thank you.

Hey, get me a beer was replaced by may I please have some more milk. Gangsta rap music was replaced with catchy tunes like I love you, you love me..we’re a happy family..

I hated pretending to be perfect and being someone I wasn’t. I always just thought that was a part of being a good parent though.

Then my kids grew up. I no longer picked out their little outfits. We stopped reading books together and listening to baby music. I was slowly more free to be me.

Part of the process of letting go is learning to fully be me again. It is losing some of my identity as a mother. Part of that is also showing my kids who I really am. I will share my book with them when they are ready and someday my blog as well.

I also have to accept that the choices my children make might not be what I have in mind for them. I have to be less hard on myself and them when they screw up. I also have to be less hard on myself when I am not perfect.

Perfection should not be my goal. If it is, I will live a life of disappointment because it is unattainable. Plus it annoys the crap out of my family. It is difficult to unlearn something that is so ingrained in me. But it is worth a try.

Maybe I would be a better person if I was a little less perfect. Now doesn’t that sound like an oxymoron?

 

Goal 4: Worry less/let go/learn how to relax and handle stress better

I’m sure you’ve heard of the phrase ‘let go and let God’. It is something that is a lot easier said than done. I really wish there was a step by step manual on how to do it like an idiots guide or something.

Is it a process? Is it something that just happens? Will I be able to turn off my worry someday like a faucet? Or will it incessantly drip until it drives everyone, including myself, crazy?

How can I relax? How can I handle stress better than I already am?

How can I let go of these children that were once mine to hold onto? How do I let go of a business that I once helped build? How do I let go of past hurts? How do I trust God? Is there a dummies guide?

Maybe eventually I will figure it out. But until then I want to keep working on it. I don’t want worry to rob me of my joy in life.

Lost, but found

A miracle happened today.

The year of 2018 was probably the biggest year of change in my life. I’m going to spend the next couple of days talking about change, future goals, what have you with the introduction of the new year.

But as of today, a miracle happened.

One change that happened in 2018 was that my son’s best friend, the boy with the face tattoo, got kicked out of his house. In June we bought a bigger house and pretty much right after that, the boy moved in. We talked about having him live here full-time as a foster child. Paul and I were talking with him about getting his face tattoo removed, helping him finish high school and get a job, and working with him on getting his license. We were making him meals and doing his laundry.

There were signs that were unsettling, but we ignored them. After my ruby ring was stolen, we were convinced it wasn’t him. I bought a lock box for my valuables and within a week the boy was living with us again. We told Alex we trusted the boy. Alex’s relief over this was visible. He was Alex’s best friend since the early grade school years. We just didn’t believe he would steal from us since we have been doing everything we can to help him through a hard time.

This morning I found my lost ruby ring. It was a miracle since I never expected to see it again! But I found it in the pants pocket of the boy with the face tattoo when I was doing his laundry. I felt a great elation and sadness. My ring has been returned to me, but my son’s best friend stole the ring. He will never be allowed in our house again. I haven’t told my son yet and this is really going to be hard on him.

Why did we ignore the early warning signs?

This past year we also left our church which we have been members of for 10 years. There were signs over the last several months that it was no longer the right place for us. It took something big to finally get us to leave. Now we found a new church that is a better fit for us.

I think that most people know when something is over. I think we knew, but we didn’t do anything. We tolerated instead of taking action. Why does it take something big to move us from something we know?

For me personally, there has been so much change in the last year that I have been trying to avoid change. I have been clinging to everything that I have known and watching as it slips away. But sometimes change is for the better. I have to trust that God has a better plan for my life. I have to learn how to let go. I need to know when it is time to let go (before something valuable is stolen). There is also a price for not accepting change. I didn’t really realize that until now.

To be honest, I feel a tremendous amount of relief. I have the tendency to be overly responsible and want to fix things. Having the boy here was a big burden for me. I wanted to save him. I wanted to take the bird with the broken wing into my nest. I wanted to do something even his own mother was unwilling to do. Now it is over.

I got my ring back and that truly is a miracle!

 

 

Hell week

Last week I lost my job.

Last week Sunday hell week started with a nine hour practice at the theater.

We sold our business earlier this year and up to this point everything has stayed relatively the same. I wasn’t expecting this at all. I didn’t have time to prepare for this in any way. I didn’t have plans to quit working anytime soon.

Then last week happened. Paul and I found out a couple of days before corporate flew in. We met them out for coffee on a brisk chilly sunny morning. I didn’t want to meet them. I didn’t want the small talk about the weather. I wanted the day to never happen or be over before it began. I faced the day with dread. I had nightmares about it when I could actually sleep.

It was the hardest day I ever faced at work. I had to go to the office that morning and watch my staff get fired right before Christmas. They didn’t do anything wrong which made it harder. I felt like I betrayed them. They had to immediately pack up their belongings and leave. I didn’t have time to prepare for the pain of firing long time employees, people that I saw day in and day out for years. Employees that I talked to more than some of my family.

I understand why it happened logically. Corporate wanted to consolidate all of operations into one centralized office. It makes a lot of business sense, but it did not stop my tears from falling.

I have been doing this for over ten years now. I feel really lost like I am losing a part of who I am. Who am I? My job will be gone and my kids will be out of the house soon too.

I thought about my time here, building a business alongside my husband. I thought about the friends I’ve made throughout the years. I thought about the clients that I will miss. I thought of the conferences I attended, the files I stockpiled, the work relationships I built during the 15,000 hours I dedicated my life to this. I feel a great sense of grief, of loss. Maybe if I saw it coming months before it would’ve been easier to adjust?

I feel unsettled, anxious, and depressed. Paul and our sales staff will stay on. My department is closing. I am the only employee staying on to make the transition of our operations to the central office. By the end of the month, our office here will close and I will be out of a job.

I wish I could say that the transition has been seamless, but it hasn’t. The central office has a different way of running things than we do. It is neither right nor wrong, just different. This has upset some of our clients which has been upsetting to me. I don’t have any control over this. I wasn’t prepared, I wasn’t ready. I am trying to let it go and not let it bother me, but it is easier said than done.

I feel like I am getting a divorce. Paul and I spent half of our married life working together. But it isn’t over, Paul and I have plans in the future to start another business together. This all had to come to an end sometime, I just wasn’t ready for it to end now.

That night Paul and I went to hell week rehearsal like nothing happened. Paul has the lead part in the show. Could he do it? Could I go on stage and smile when I spent half of the day crying? Acting like everything was okay was one of the toughest performances we had to give. We couldn’t tell the cast before we were able to tell close friends and family.

Somehow we were able to pull it off, but last week certainly gave a new meaning for hell week.

Is it normal?

I imagined the way it would be in my mind. Thick heavy intricate snowflakes dropped with a plop on the cold empty ground. There were horses with jingling bells pulling a sleigh behind it. Hot chocolate stirred with a candy cane. It’s a picture of us trying to find that perfect tree. Even the boy with the face tattoo is there. He is the one taking the family picture of us finding that perfect tree. A ray of radiant light shines through the snow on the right one. We are all smiling and happy.

It wasn’t that way at all. It was raining and the kids had other plans. Paul ran out to the closest tree lot by himself and picked out the tree. But it was that way once. The problem is that I still expect it to be that way now. I spent some time that afternoon crying curled up in my bed playing lullabies that I once played for my babies. Is that normal?? I am off my rocker, literally and figuratively this time.

Is any of this normal?? Paul and I have been struggling lately with this very concept. This will be the last Christmas break that our whole family will be together. Angel is not planning on coming home after college this year. Alex will be graduating (hopefully) this spring and moving on. Arabella is still seriously interested in becoming a foreign exchange student.

I put a lot of time into this whole motherhood thing, and now my kids don’t need me anymore. Who am I now? I am excited to have time to myself to do the things I always wanted to do. But I never thought that the letting go process would be so painful.

Our son is really struggling right now. Although he is 18, we still have boundaries and rules because he is living in our house. We have been asking ourselves if his behavior is within the realm of normal. It was hard to let go of our firstborn, but she was heading off to college and we knew that she would be okay. We feel unsure about the future of our son.

There are really only two scenarios. Our son is completely normal. Then the problem is with us. We need to let him go even if he has to fall on his face a few times. He has to figure things out for himself. We need to let him go even if his future isn’t what we planned on it being.

The second scenario is a bit more troubling. What if he has mental health issues? Then I think it is our job as his parents to make sure that he gets the help he needs. But he is an adult. Is it our job to try to fix him?

Would you try to save someone from drowning if you knew that they knew how to swim??

I think that our son is normal. But what is normal? People have been asking us if he is depressed. I don’t think so. But I’m not sure. I want answers. I want to be guaranteed that he will be okay.

Letting go of a kid to go to college is normal. It is painful, but you are also happy that they somehow became fully functional adults with you as their parents.

But what happens if you think they are not ready yet?

This has been my struggle lately. I probably won’t get all the answers I’m searching for. Plus it doesn’t help that I have unrealistic expectations in my head of how I expect things to be…the way they once were, but no longer are.

Is any of this normal?

Learning (to let go) the hard way

I don’t know where to start. I don’t even know when it all started, the specific moment when things started falling apart. All I know is that now we are in crisis mode and I’m afraid that we can’t put it all back together in one piece.

Maybe you noticed, maybe you didn’t, but I took a week off of writing last week. It wasn’t intentional. The previous week my son brought home a paper to sign up for honors band several hours away out of state. I hastily made arrangements. I cancelled plans and found someone to work for me so I could take him. I thought that maybe this was all he needed to get back into wanting to go to college for music. But I was wrong.

You may remember back in September that we toured a college for music and then a week later Alex dropped out of band. After talking to the teacher, he decided not to drop out of band. Now he got kicked out of band, but I am getting ahead of myself in the story.

I thought this would be a good mother-son road trip, a time of bonding. Two days before leaving, Alex said he didn’t want to go because he would be missing a party a friend was hosting because a couple more friends turned 18. I was unsure whether or not we would actually go, but we went.

I dropped him off the next morning full of hope. I picked him up a couple of hours later full of dread. He didn’t like it so he just walked out. His teacher called me angry. I literally felt sick to my stomach because I was so stressed out. What was I going to do? I just wanted to go home. But Paul was so angry that he would’ve kicked Alex out. Plus I spent a lot of money to rent a cabin and it was a really long drive home.

Instead I decided to stay. I spent the weekend talking to Alex. He opened up to me and for awhile I felt like everything was going to be okay.

On Monday morning, I talked to Paul. I told him that we needed to have more fun and let go. Life is just not fun anymore. To be honest, I’ve been feeling so depressed that I didn’t want to do anything that helps me deal with my stress. I didn’t want to blog, I didn’t want to run. Putting one step in front of the other seemed like it would consume too much energy.

Later on Monday, we got a call from the school. Tuesday we met with the principal and dean of students. Alex is getting kicked out of band. He is also failing 2 other classes and may not graduate. He was suspended several days for being tardy, but at least he is still going to school.

We have just been beside ourselves for the last week trying to cope. We are going to be meeting with the school counselor and even set up an appointment with a regular counselor to help our son. The good news is that our son is talking to both of us. Paul and I have been taking turns talking to him. For awhile we think he will be okay and then we are filled with anger and despair.

Alex now has a dream to go into business. We are trying to keep that dream alive to motivate him. But it has been hard. Paul’s blood pressure has been sky high. I’m afraid to stress him out any more than he already is. I have been having stomachaches. Plus I have been struggling with depression. All the things that help me cope healthily I want to push away.

I feel very anxious and panic when I hear the phone ring. I have become paranoid that something bad is going to happen to him. I am not at peace in my life right now. I think people view us as crappy parents. But we are trying everything in our power to help our son succeed. We are trusting that God has a plan for him.

I am trying to take care of myself so I can help him. He is 18. Isn’t my job over? Is this why letting go of children into adulthood is so hard? Why do I feel like I am sending a two year old out to play in traffic? Is any of this normal?? He wants to leave, but he is just not ready. It’s so hard to let go when the future is uncertain. I will be able to do that a little easier once he graduates, if he graduates. Right now I want to fix and control.

I have to learn to let go even if things don’t go the way I want them to.