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.

 

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.

 

More than a shot

I took a pregnancy test today.

I had to take the test before I got the MMR vaccination which contains a live virus. Back in the 1990’s, when I was pregnant, my titer showed I was not immune despite receiving the shots in the 70’s.

I decided to get a booster shot because of the recent outbreak and my love for international travel. I might want to go on a mission trip in the next couple of years which will also take me off the beaten tourist trap path.

I started to think a bit more about vaccinations, more specifically the MMR vaccination. With the measles outbreak, I saw a lot of hateful comments made towards the anti-vaccination folks. I saw babies that wore shirts in photos saying, “I’m vaccinated because my parents aren’t morons”. I found this to be offensive because I’m sure most parents that don’t vaccinate are not morons.

Perhaps my opinion is not popular, but stick with me for a moment.

I had my first baby in 1998. In 1998, an article was published in a medical journal linking the MMR shot to autism. It caused a huge scare that I believe hasn’t been fully eradicated to this day. At that time, I was more fearful that my children would be severely autistic like my brother than to get measles, a disease that I’ve never seen anyone contract in my lifetime.

Later, after the article was published, we were told that the link was a sham. Being a very logical person, I wondered what kind of medical journal would publish crap research findings. Can anybody publish any research article that they want in a supposedly reputable medical journal?

I also thought about conspiracy theories. Here you have huge pharmaceutical companies making big money off of vaccinations pitted against a small probably under funded research doctor. Of course there wouldn’t be a link. Follow the money. What were concerned parents supposed to believe? You can’t just erase something you already saw. Shame on the journal for publishing the article in the first place if there were so many issues with the study’s validity. It caused so much unnecessary fear.

It was horrifying and I struggled with making the decision to have my children get the required vaccinations. I am happy to say that my children are fully vaccinated. I thought the best way around it was to vaccinate my children with the MMR shot after they safely passed the age when most cases of autism are diagnosed.

I feel angry with people who quickly judge others for not vaccinating. They are usually not morons, they might just be fearful like I was. My babies were born at the height of the autism linked to vaccinations scare.

I think that most people who choose not to vaccinate have their reasons not to. It is not lazy parenting. Believe me, it is a lot more work to choose not to vaccinate. I did receive some criticism for doing things on my timetable. But even if there was a small iota of a chance that vaccinations caused autism, I needed to be careful. Where those people that shamed me going to come in my house and take care of my child if he/she became autistic?

I honestly don’t know if I would have the strength to live through it again this time as a parent.

I have a lot of respect for people that grew up with a special needs sibling that end up becoming a special needs parent. I don’t think I have the courage to fight that battle twice.

I get angry about talk of forced vaccinations. Shouldn’t parents have the right to make that choice for their child?

I think pro-vaccine people would be more successful listening and being empathetic to the concerns of parents who don’t want to vaccinate. Don’t treat them like they are a bunch of morons because that won’t get you anywhere. Morons blindly follow. But educated people question and try to make the best decisions they can.

I am pro-vaccination, but I strongly believe that the parents should make the decision and be treated respectfully whatever they decide.

 

 

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…

Amongst the weeds

I wouldn’t say that I am the overly jealous type, not about material things anyway. The biggest thing that causes me jealousy is relationships.

I felt jealous when your parents moved up from a southern state just to be closer to you. I should have been happy for you, but sadly that was not the feeling it triggered.

The last time I saw my parents together, they were fighting. My dad went almost a year without showering when my mother said she couldn’t take it anymore. Now she said that he must shower once a week or there will be consequences. On that day, my mom and I went somewhere. When we got back, my mom asked my dad if he showered yet like he was a small child. He did not and she yelled that he better hurry or he would be in trouble. I would never ask them for marriage advice.

My dad did not attend Alex’s graduation. He did go up north with the rest of the family (not including us). He sat around all weekend in his underwear. This bothered my SIL Carla greatly and she complained about him. Carla and my brother Mark helped clean out my parents shed. Carla said now that it is cleaned out a little, they can fill it with more crap. Or maybe they can buy another car. Carla said she would love to buy a hearse for my dad. It was funny, yet it was not.

I felt jealous when your brother told me he was going to move closer to home to help you and your husband raise your first child. I know your family will be there for you anytime you needed them. I could probably count on one hand how many times we were able to get away when our kids were little because we didn’t have anyone to help us.

I had to schedule my 3rd C-section to be in the hospital over the weekend so my husband could watch our other kids. He just started his business and had to work on the day our last child was born. After he came back from working a few hours, my mom dropped off our other two children at the hospital because my brother Matt had an appointment. Matt always came first, even on the day I gave birth.

I found someone else with demons. We hold each other’s hands as we walk through our own hell fires. Paul is the only person I can count on and I trust he will be there until he can’t be. We’ve had to rely on each other.

Paul never had a dad. His mom had a brief marriage when Paul was little, but she left her husband because she said he was abusive. Martha did remarry after Paul grew up and left home.

Paul did not have one single person from his family to invite to our son’s graduation, unless you count his step-dad. His step-dad Darryl attended but brought a new girlfriend that we met for the first time that day. Darryl has moved on with his life. Paul shared his grief over the thought that his mother will no longer be remembered. He is an orphan. His whole family is gone.

Paul grew up with a great void. I grew up in an environment of dysfunction and abuse. We had to rely on ourselves to survive. It gave us grit and strength beyond belief. But there was no one to turn to when we needed help or advice.

It’s tremendously hard to create a healthy family without having a firm foundation to build our house upon. You may envy our fierce drive and independence, but behind it lies brokenness, emptiness, and pain. Maybe you envy our financial success, our big house, and attractiveness. But I’ll tell you what. We both would give everything we have in exchange for a healthy family of origin.

It’s amazing that we survived and thrived as beautiful flowers among the weeds in which we were planted.

 

 

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!

Outrunning my demons

Arabella skipped school today. She was very upset and was crying this morning because she did not get cast in the next community theater show.

For some reason, it brought back memories for me of the time I tried out for a community theater show when I was a couple of years younger than her. Maybe it’s just because I am almost to this point in my book.

I remember sitting outside in the sunshine with other children that summer working on my lines. I got the part of a princess. I was a pretty little girl with the sun hitting my long golden hair. I was happy and excited about my part. It made me feel like I really was a princess.

But something went wrong. My brother Matt had to spend the summer in the hospital. I had to drop out of the show because my brother was really sick. (It took me 20 years to audition for another show).

After that, my whole life changed. My brother became home bound after getting out of the hospital. I saw the paperwork for that yesterday. The original paperwork gave him a period of 2 months to be educated at home. But he was home bound for over 3 years. My mom quit her job and pulled my other brothers and I out of school as well. It was the time of the great isolation. Few people were allowed to come in and we rarely went out.

I am making excellent progress on my book. I try to work on it several hours every day. There are usually one or two days a week when I cannot. Right now I am over 30,000 words and am nearing the halfway point in my story.

I’ve decided to title my book ‘Outrunning my Demons’ with the subtitle of ‘What Life is Really Like with a Mentally Ill Sibling’.

I know my daughter is very disappointed right now that she didn’t get a part in the show. I feel bad for her. But in a few days she will be on to something else. She probably won’t even give it another thought a couple months from now. But I will always remember the summer, over 30 years ago, that I could no longer be a princess.