Expectation reflections

It hasn’t been too much of an adjustment having 4 teenagers in the house.

Our foreign exchange students have been very quiet and friendly. When we told others of our plan to have 2 foreign exchange students, they cringed. Most shared horror stories of wild teen exchange students that made every effort to sneak out and party. So far there haven’t been any problems.

It’s probably because they are not comfortable being family yet. There aren’t any fights or talking back. We are all on our best behavior, no belching or farting. My husband has been giving them special treatment. He is buying the foods they like, taking them to places they are interested in going, asking if they are too hot or too cold. It’s hard not to treat them like visitors.

This is going to sound insane, but I felt a twinge of jealousy. It triggered something inside of me that reminded me of my mom’s special treatment of my autistic brother Matt.  Everything in our house revolved around Matt and what he wanted. I honestly wasn’t expecting to feel that way.

Of course, the students paid a lot of money to have a great experience here. I want things to be wonderful for them. Things are going really well. The girls don’t seem to be too homesick. If anything, at times they seem a little bored. But I’m sure that will change once school starts and they make friends.

It’s fun because they get excited about all of the little things, like going to the grocery store. They eat differently than we do. They use their knife and fork to cut things more. They cut up grilled cheese sandwiches instead of just picking them up and plunking them in their soup like I did.

Today Clara made homemade German potato salad for our friend’s Octoberfest party tomorrow. Real German food!

I also didn’t realize how much Hitler and the nazi’s were the butt of American jokes in TV and movie comedies. Awkward! But none of us were alive when any of that happened. If anything, countries that were once at war can be friendly towards each other again.

Hopefully in the next couple weeks the girls will come out of their shell a little. As for right now, I’m really happy that things are going better than I expected.

A new family

Last night our foreign exchange students arrived, Clara from Germany and Estelle from France.

I felt anxious all day. I couldn’t believe it was really happening.

I worried. Would our new “children” like us? What will this next year be like?

My oldest two children are not as excited about it as I am. I think they think I’m replacing them. But maybe in a way I am. They are adults and don’t need me being a mother hen to them anymore. They are off living their own lives like they should be.

I am excited about this new adventure, but as with anything new a little frightened too.

I wonder what it would be like to see everything for the first time through their eyes. Maybe even for us, the old will become new again.

I hope it is a wonderful experience for all of us.

 

Being weeded

The end of the week was just as strange as the beginning of the week. I don’t think I want anymore signs.

I’ve been struggling this week searching for purpose and meaning. I’ve been depressed and clinging dearly to life by a small cobweb string. There have been fights and arguments. There was one where I pried off my wedding ring just to chuck it at my husband. Maybe we should separate. Maybe we should divorce.

Most of our friends have already been divorced. Some live with another and never remarry. Some are on their second or third marriages. They seem so happy. Sometimes it seems so much easier to throw everything you have away and start all over again.

This week we will be married 22 years and lately it has been more difficult than it has been before. We let our children become the center of our lives and have to learn to live with each other again. We don’t know what we are doing. We had a newborn on our first anniversary.

This week our baby got her driver’s license, first try. I honestly didn’t think she would pass. While she was taking the test, I was already thinking about when she could retake it.

My husband got his hours cut at the business we sold. He is only going to be paid for 12 hours a week. That has been very stressful. We should be okay with the money we saved up. Tomorrow morning, however, Paul is planning on signing papers to become a franchise owner of a new business. He wants us to work together again. Most of the arguments were about me not working. Although I am almost done with my book, I had to set it down for awhile because I promised myself if I got really depressed that I would set it aside.

We decided to keep working on our marriage and to go after our dreams. If it doesn’t work out we could always do something else. We have to trust that things will fall into place.

Paul and I had a good day together yesterday, but things gradually fell apart. Arabella had a friend over, went to drive her home, and had the windows fog up but didn’t know how to defrost the windshield. I kept my ringer on just in case she needed more help. Most nights I turn my ringer off before I go to bed. I’m a light sleeper and figure my adult children can take care of themselves.

I was tired, but left my phone on and stayed up late. I received a call from Alex saying that his car broke down and needed towing. We just had it at the garage the day before, but they said what he needed fixing is very expensive. The body of the car dropped to the ground and he can’t drive it unless it is fixed. He was distraught that he now has two cars that don’t run.

He asked what the meaning of life was if it only brought suffering and pain to himself and the people he cares about. I told him he has a purpose and his job in life is to find that purpose. Don’t listen to the thoughts in your head that tell you that you are worthless. Don’t be discouraged, yet at times I am.

Now we are waiting to see if the car is worth fixing or if it is beyond repair. We got home late last night, around 1 AM. We were ready for bed when my phone rang again. My daughter Angel was calling. Her friends took her out for her 21st birthday. She was rather intoxicated and called to tell me she loved me. I talked to her for awhile, but she wasn’t making much sense. At the end of the call, her boyfriend Dan came on the phone and assured me not to worry that he would get my daughter back home safe.

I knew she was going out. I did worry especially since I wasn’t sure if Dan was going because he had a funeral to attend on the other side of the state earlier in the day. His uncle died in a freak accident trying to clean up after the storm that hit.

As I was ready to finally go to bed around 1:30, my mom texted and said she got safely to her vacation destination out of the country. She wanted me to call my dad because he doesn’t text and it was expensive to call. I called my dad today. At the end of the conversation, he told me he loved me for the second time in my entire life.

I went in the house to eat lunch with Paul and a song was on I never heard that said you’re being weeded.

Although I’ve been having a faith crisis, I’ve been still going to church because I am able to find some serenity there. Last week there was a sermon about how the weeds are planted alongside the good seeds. But if you pluck the weeds too soon, the plant will also be uprooted and die. But at the right time, the weeds will be pulled out and the plant can flourish and grow like never before.

I think I’m being weeded.

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.

 

My life with a teen driver

I wonder if Arabella will ever get her license. She is 16 now, but I am hesitant to set up her driving test appointment because I don’t think she will pass.

My life is in danger. Just yesterday, she blew through a stop sign. She almost ran a red light. I had to yell at her to stop. Generally a relatively patient person, I screamed an obscenity as I watched my life pass before me as she changed lanes into another car’s path on a roundabout. The other driver pulled over as if my daughter was driving an emergency vehicle with sirens blaring. I simply screamed as I saw myself going towards the other driver as if in a nightmarish bumper car ride.

But that wasn’t all! Yesterday she cut off a driver on the highway almost causing an accident. The elderly man drove past her wagging his finger at her violently. He must’ve been a nice man. Most drivers lay down on the horn screaming what I can only imagine are obscenities while shaking their middle finger at her.

Maybe if she goes one week without someone flipping her off, then I will schedule her appointment. Even if she passes her test, I will worry about her driving. It doesn’t help that a close friend’s daughter died in a car accident last year when she was 16. Having a new driver is one of the most horrifying steps of independence for a parent.

To make matters worse, Arabella has zero sense of direction. I have to give her directions to places that she has been to a million times.

She also knows everything about driving and doesn’t want to listen to my 30 years of experience. Even though I never got any tickets or was ever in an accident. I didn’t even hit a deer which is unheard of around here. I did run into a septic tank cap up north a couple weeks back that I didn’t see which caused some front end damage to my car. But we won’t talk about that today.

I wish I could help Arabella be a better driver. It’s really no wonder I feel anxious. Maybe things will get better…

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.

Pound away

My daughter wants to lose 100 lbs.

She blames me for her weight gain, and for part of it I blame myself. She was pretty settled into her life when everything changed. I told myself that she would be able to adapt since she is the one that likes change. Plus it was a positive change. Change for the better should be easier, right? To think I thought that the pets would have a harder time adjusting than the humans.

She always lived in the same small house up to that point. She went to the same school where she knew everyone since 4k. She had a group of friends that she fit in with. Plus we weren’t moving far away so she could still see them if she wanted to.

When we moved, everything changed. Arabella started her sophomore year at a new high school. I told myself that it is a nicer school and it is. Some of the kids from her old school decided to go to that school out of district. It’s a bigger, better, and richer school with more resources.

When I drop Arabella off at school, I would say that half of the cars in the student parking lot are nicer than mine. Of course, that probably doesn’t make it easier to fit in.

She doesn’t have as many friends as I hoped she would. She only had two friends over for an hour or two and only went to one friend’s house since school started. She hasn’t been invited to any sleepovers or birthday parties. Meanwhile, her old friends are having sleepovers that she wasn’t invited to.

Arabella eats when she is lonely and bored. She gained about 40 lbs since we moved less than a year ago.

She is right around my height and needs to lose 100 lbs to be right around my weight. I never knew what to do about it. I never had those kind of struggles. We don’t have a lot in common. Sometimes we don’t get along. It seems like we either get along great or don’t get along at all.

It’s really not fair, I have so much in common with my older two children. They never struggle with their weight. In fact, I think my oldest two children are too thin. I haven’t had to deal with this issue before.

It is frustrating because I just want to tell my daughter to stop binge eating junk food. But I know it won’t be that simple. It would be like her telling me not to worry when I am having a panic attack.

I just can’t relate. I’m the type that doesn’t eat much when stressed out. The last thing I want to do is give her a complex by saying the wrong thing. She is loved no matter what, I just want her to know that even if nothing changes.

Last night Arabella and I met with a coach for a weight loss program. What a racket that is! Since she is a minor, we have to get the doctor’s approval first. She wants to start with the most restrictive diet for her weight loss plan. It would involve cutting out dairy and fruits. I am all for it if she has the stamina for such a rigorous routine.

I really hope this works for her. But I think it will be a lifelong struggle. Right now she wants to go to school for culinary arts after high school. I just want her to be at a healthy weight. Right now she is not healthy. She is starting to have back pain. The heavier she gets, the harder it is for her to be active. As a runner and someone who places a high value on health, it is hard for me to watch her struggle.

I am happy that she has decided to take a step in the right direction and will do anything I can to help her achieve this goal. I have no doubt this is going to cost a lot. But it could cost even more not to do anything at this point.

 

 

On coming home

This morning my husband asked me what I wanted to do today. The first thought that came to mind was that I wanted to take the kids to the zoo. What a ridiculous thought. As if my kids were were little enough to laugh at the monkeys shenanigans or needed their hands held as they crossed the street. When did we last go to the zoo?

I can’t remember the last time we decorated Easter eggs. Maybe there is insulation from the pain of not knowing that you’re doing something for the last time. Remember the last book you ever read to them? Remember the last time you helped tie their shoe? Remember the last time they crawled before they walked? Remember the last time you had to reach up in the tall cupboard because they were too small? Now they are all taller than me.

I am now that annoying older parent that tells the young parents to enjoy it while it lasts as their kid is throwing a temper tantrum in the grocery store.

My kids will not be here for Easter this year. Angel is sick with the flu and won’t be able to make the long drive home from college. Alex said he would join us for Easter service at our new church which he hasn’t attended yet. A few day ago, he asked if it was Easter this Sunday, then nonchalantly said he was scheduled to work. Arabella is scheduled to work on Easter too. My brothers won’t be making the trip back home either.

It hurts. I feel so down about it. It’s hard because I was excited by the expectation that they would all be home for the holiday. Paul suggested that I have more lights on in the house to make me feel better. In his mind, darkness causes dark moods and he wants to fix that in me. But it only causes me to feel annoyed with him.

I told him that maybe I would feel better if the kids were going to be around for Easter. Maybe I would feel better if they still needed me. Maybe I would be happy if they wanted to spent time with me if they didn’t need something, like money or new shoes. I remember when I meant the world to them.

I feel bad, but I am enjoying spending my time doing the things I want to do like running or writing my book. Maybe someday the kids will all be home again.

Another weekend, another party!

Another weekend, another party!

I wonder why my son always hangs out with his friends?

Friday night, game night. Shuffling the cards we have been dealt.

Saturday, a murder mystery party. Strangers in even stranger clothes.

Will the weekend adventures never end?

My son came home late last night. Who is in the house tonight? Strangers that he’s never met. Dressed up in some garish garb. Food prepared, glasses clink. Questioning who the killer is.

We talk and laugh the night away. I wonder if he thinks it’s strange?

Then an unusual thought occurred to me. I had more friends over this weekend than my parents did my whole childhood. Maybe that is what he would find strange. He doesn’t know the me from back then. The person I spent half my life being is just another stranger.

I wonder why my son always hangs out with his friends?

Another weekend, another party!

Until next weekend…