Hoarders and clean freaks

This past weekend my mom came over to help me weed. I didn’t ask for help, she just saw the need.

It got me to thinking about something that I couldn’t place which was bothering me. There was an in-congruence in my thought patterns. My mom is one of the hardest workers I know. Yet she has one of the messiest houses I’ve ever seen. How conflicting the thought was in my mind. I always thought that hoarders were lazy. But are they?

My parents are the biggest hoarders of magazines and papers. They still have a phone book from the 1970’s from a different city that they lived in out of state. They have stacks and stacks of papers that litter the living room floor and all available counter spaces.

My parents kept almost all of their clothing since they got married. Their closets are full of old clothes and jackets. It comes in handy for me when I am going to a costume party.

My mom hoards food. Her cupboards are stocked full of canned goods. All of her refrigerators and freezers (they have several) are full. The refrigerators always smell like rotten food. It is very important to check the dates on items before you eat them. The freshest foods are in the grocery bags that line the dining room floor.

Thankfully for me, my mom kept every school and personal journal documenting Matt’s life in great detail. It has been very helpful for me in writing my book. I don’t think that I could be writing as powerful and moving of a story without her help.

Their hoarding always suffocated me. It was hard to clean the house. The counters were so full of stuff that there was no place to move anything in order to clean it. Then you just put the items back on the cleaned areas. I always felt like I was emptying the ocean a tablespoon at a time. It stirred within me feelings of hopelessness.

My brothers and I are not hoarders. It bothers me when things are cluttered. It fills me with despair. The strange thing is that my parents feel the opposite way. It causes my mother emotional pain to get rid of things. My mom threw out my brother’s baby blanket when he was in his 30’s. She cried and lamented about it for days even though my brother didn’t want it. She tries to get rid of things but it is very upsetting to her.

Sometimes my mom will clean out the cupboards and closets. Instead of throwing things away, she gives them to me. Recently she gave me a bag of my dad’s old worn out socks. It is a little easier for her to give things away then to throw them away even though she must know that is what I will be doing with it.

It is hard for me to understand how my mom’s feeling are tied up in useless things.

It must be very hard for my mom to see her house in the shape that it’s in. She is embarrassed to have anyone over. I wish I could understand. Yet I am glad I do not.

I feel guilty for my mom’s help around my house when she needs it more than I do. It’s overwhelming to try to help her. I would just come in and start throwing things away and she couldn’t handle that. I know, I’ve tried. I feel like my hands are tied. But I know that my brothers and I are going to end up throwing most of the stuff away or getting rid of it someday.

I need to be careful in my own life so I don’t end up on the opposite spectrum. I have a tendency to be a clean freak. Dirt and clutter stresses me out. I want everything to be clean, neat, and organized. But I try not to let it control me.

I also have relatives that are clean freaks. We once went camping with my Aunt Jan. It stormed out and we ended up huddling in my aunt’s garage freezing because we were too dirty to be allowed into her house. I also have an uncle that would host parties and follow his guests around with a vacuum cleaner. I’ve also witnessed him on his hands and knees scrubbing the bathroom floor while guests were over.

I don’t think people at either extreme seem happy. I tolerate uncleanliness when guests are over. But it’s also kind of funny that I picked this topic to write about as I am freaking out about cleaning my house and weeding everything this week to have a perfect house for my son’s graduation party.

But since I grew up in a house of clutter and hoarding, I realize if people really care about me then they are willing to overlook some slight imperfections.

Change is in the air

The winds of change swirl around me as I enter the fall season of my life pushing me towards something new and different.

Over the last few days I’ve had to prepare myself for a lot of change.

I am preparing for my son to graduate from high school and leave home within the next year.

Yesterday Angel told me that she is not planning on coming home from college next summer. Then when she graduates, she wants to go to graduate school in Boston. Her time at home has come to an end. I am happy that she knows what she wants to do with her life, but I am sad that she is leaving.

Then a couple of days ago, our youngest daughter Arabella told us that she wants to be a foreign exchange student. She wants to spend her whole junior year of high school in a foreign country.

By next year at this time, we might have an empty nest. I am excited, yet nervous of the change.

Something else changed too. My mom is starting to have health issues. She has to go to the hospital this week for tests. It is very likely that she is going to need surgery. She might need to move in with us for awhile if she has surgery. My dad is not in the greatest health, so he wouldn’t be able to take care of her since she takes care of him.

Everything and everyone is changing all around me. Yet here I am taking it all in. Letting go of summer and preparing for the winter. My house full of teenagers might soon be a geriatric ward.

I don’t like change very much, but I don’t have much control over the seasons.

I always thought that autumn is beautiful though. Its crisp cool air hits me like the truth. A warm blanket, a hot flash of flame, a crackling fire takes away the chill. The trees shine in brilliant color the beginning of fall, full of experience and nutrients. It is a time to sort and prepare. The end of the beginning, the beginning of the end. No longer volatile and stormy. No longer sunny and bright. But comfortable.

A noticeable change of seasons is in the air. The leaves are starting to change color. But as of right now, none of the leaves have fallen totally from the branches of my tree.

 

On ffffffeeling angry

My mom called me first thing Monday morning. She told me that she wanted to work on her feelings of anger. She thought it would be a good idea if I did too. Maybe, she said, I should think about seeing a therapist.

She point blank asked me if I was angry with her. No, mom. She asked me if I would tell her if I was angry with her. Sure, mom.

My mom asked if I was angry that my autistic brother Matt hurt my daughter Angel. Mom, that happened over 15 years ago.

My mom asked if I was angry that she spent/spends more time with Matt than she did with me. Mom, Matt needs you more than I do.

Right now I spend my time angry about other things. Arabella is starting to get late assignments. Her straight A’s are starting to slip…Not to mention that she rolls out of bed 10 minutes before the bus comes and expects to have enough time to take a shower and get ready. And somehow that ends up being my fault.

I am angry that I got a letter from the police department regarding a fine my son received over break for doing donuts in a parking lot…a minor incident nonetheless, but we didn’t find out until we got a letter in the mail. We told him that he had to pay his own fine to find out later in the week that he pissed away most of his hard earned money from his summer job on fast food.

This is what boils my blood now.

But I don’t tell my mother that. I barely talk to her at all about anything personal anymore. I don’t tell her about the things that make me angry. I want to protect her from that. She has had a hard life. She shouldn’t have to deal with any more problems during her last years.

To tell you the truth, sometimes I am angry with my mom. I am angry that I gave up my childhood to take care of my brother. Then when I needed her the most, I felt like she wasn’t there.

My mom did the best that she could. So why should I feel angry?

So what if she babies and spends more time with my disabled brother?? He needs her more.

Why do I feel anger towards my mother sometimes for something she had little control over??

The more important question is why don’t I feel anger towards my dad?? He had an ideal childhood, but wasn’t a good parent. He was lazy. My mom worked long hours to be the main breadwinner. She supported the family. My dad worked part-time jobs here and there.

My dad stuck around but wasn’t there. He was more interested in TV than being an active father or supportive husband. When he was involved, he was reactive and abusive.

My mom did everything and needed help. So I stepped up to the plate to help my mom raise my 3 younger brothers.

That being said, why should I feel angry towards my mom?? Why not my dad? She did the best she could. He could’ve done so much better.

How come feelings don’t make any sense?? There really is no logic behind them. They are so complex that I barely understand my own feelings much less the feelings of others.

No, mother, I am not angry…says my mind…but on some days my heart tells me differently. Why??

Thanksgiving leftovers

The day before Thanksgiving, I spoke to my mom on the phone. She told me that my dad was going to drive 8 hours round trip to drop something off at my brother Mark’s house, but he wasn’t going to come over to my house for Thanksgiving.

I said, “Let me get this straight, dad is going to drive 4 hours to see Mark but he won’t drive 20 minutes to come over and eat a meal that he doesn’t have to prepare?”

My dad showed up for Thanksgiving. Then after the meal, he left without saying good-bye.

Later in the day, we were playing Loaded Questions and everyone had to guess my response to the question asking who I always wondered if they liked me or not. Some people said Aunt Grace or my sister-in-laws. No one guessed that I put my dad down as my answer. It’s sad that I feel unsure if my dad likes me.

It seems ironic that Paul never had a dad and I always wondered if my dad likes me while we were surrounded this Thanksgiving with men that had estranged relationships with their children.

Paul’s step-dad Darryl and my Uncle Rick were guests in our house this Thanksgiving. They weren’t invited anywhere else. Their stories are similar.

Darryl was previously married to a woman that he had two children with. When his children were little, his wife left and took the boys with her several states away. Ever since I’ve known Darryl, he has wanted a relationship with his sons that was not reciprocated. The only time that they called him regularly was when they were incarcerated. Darryl was the man that stood patiently by his wife’s side as she was dying of cancer. Darryl loves to spend time with his step-grandchildren, my kids. Darryl married my mother-in-law when Paul was in his upper 20’s, so he never thought of Darryl as a dad.

My Uncle Rick has a similar story. He is recently divorced not of his choosing. His adult children all decided to side with their mother instead of him. They also cut themselves off from all of his family. My Uncle Rick is one of those nice guys that women seem to walk over. He wears his heart on his sleeve but would give the shirt off of his back. He brought a ‘F off’ letter that his daughter wrote to him for us to read at our house.

 

Paul and I would’ve given anything to have a dad like Darryl or Rick, yet their kids want nothing to do with them. They are wonderful men. I’ve known them long enough to know that. I just don’t get it.

I find it heartbreaking when kids feel like they have to pick sides when their parents divorce. Why can’t they have both parents in their lives??

Maybe someday their kids will come around.

Until then, we are thankful for your broken, discarded, leftover dads.

 

Enlistment?

Last night my son told me that he was planning on enlisting in the military after high school.

He has been talking about it for the last couple of weeks ever since we started watching a Vietnam War series on public TV.

My dad was in the Vietnam War.

Times have changed a lot since the 1960’s.

But really have times changed that much?? After watching several episodes about the Vietnam War, it really hit me for the first time how hard the 60’s were. A president assassinated, political unrest throughout the country, violent war protests, young men drafted…

Times were tough for my family then…My dad went off to war while my mother went off to college..While her then boyfriend was at war, her mother died. She had to tell my dad in a letter…he missed the funeral. My mom’s college finals were cancelled because of bomb scares and there were violent war protests out in the streets. My dad saw his buddies die next to him. I can’t even imagine.

My grandparents had to send their only child off to war…My great-grandparents sent their only grandchild off to war…several decades before that all of their children were in the military for WWII.

Today was my grandpa’s birthday. He passed away the year my son was born. Even though they did not have the opportunity to get to know each other, they are a lot alike. My grandpa was full of piss and vinegar. Before I was born, he was a bit of a bad ass. He rode around on his Harley with a cigarette hanging from his mouth. Although he was a small man, people didn’t mess with him. He wasn’t afraid to stand up for what he believed in. My grandma was the only one that could tame him.

I see my grandpa in my son.

My grandparents were wonderful people. They are a big part of the reason why I am sitting here typing this today. They insulated me. I would be a huge mess of a person if they weren’t a big part of my life growing up.

I feel proud of my son. I think this is the right move for him. He would thrive with the structure and discipline the military would offer him. It’s just the mom in me that feels worried.

 

Some harmless, some hidden

Memories swirl around in my mind. Some harmless, some hidden..

…laughter of teenage girls…the lighter flicks…not to smoke…melting the tip of the eye liner so it glides on easier…

I put on eye liner for the show. It goes on easy. It almost smears, unlike the sharp pencil of my younger years…Does anyone use a lighter anymore to soften their eye liner pencils?

…I see a younger face in the mirror, then she is gone..

A harmless memory..

An interview for the show…

Were you ever involved in theater before you came to this theater?

…My dad dropped me off at the theater before work…I was the little girl with a small part in the show…I was dropped off early before everyone else…I walked the trails alone in the woods surrounding the theater, sometimes afraid…but it was only a deer…alone…fun on stage…the big kids…the costumes, the makeup…

…The only time alone with my dad…his boss taking him for lunch…maybe I can go too since I ride with him…laughter…why would I take you??

The next summer, I got a part in another play. I was a princess.

…Reading my lines out loud with the other princesses on the grass in a circle in the summer sun…gone…have to drop out…Matt is sick…my mom left for the summer to go to a hospital out of state with Matt…selfish…how could you still want to be in the show…your brother is sick…so lucky that you are not sick…so lucky…anger and tears…some things are more important…crying…no ride…alone…loneliness…missing my mom…fragments of memories reflect off the surface of the dark murkiness in my mind…

Were you ever involved in theater before you came to this theater?

Just one innocent question scratched the surface…I don’t answer…

It has happened before over the years…innocent questions avoided…the explanations too personal…too painful…they shouldn’t be, but are.

Over 20 years later, I walked through the doors of another theater…in another town…and left all those old hidden painful memories behind me..

Or did I?

Wings without roots

Last weekend Paul went ice fishing with Darryl. (Yes, it was still cold enough here despite the calendar saying something about spring).

Paul and Darryl talked about fatherhood. Usually when the guys go out on the ice, they talk about nothing even if they are gone for the whole weekend. There is never any interesting gossip to share. Unlike getting together with a group of women which usually includes emotions, crying, and gossip galore.

Darryl told Paul that he was working on his will. Darryl wants Paul to be the executor of his will. Paul told him that he didn’t have to worry about giving us anything. After all, he isn’t Darryl’s real son and his mother is gone now.

Darryl has two sons. He kept his landline for years just in case they called. After Martha passed, Darryl was in rough shape. He really wanted to contact his estranged sons but didn’t have a way. I was able to find one of the sons on Facebook and told him to give his dad a call. Both sons called, but didn’t attend the funeral or even send a card. That was really upsetting to Darryl.

I always thought that Darryl would’ve been a great father. His ex-wife left him and moved out of state with their two boys when they were little. She was bitter and poisoned their minds against their father. He had the boys every summer for a few weeks. They were always trouble. They would steal money that wasn’t hidden away. They got in trouble for shoplifting. Both boys spent half of their adult lives in prison.

Martha always had that over Darryl. Look at your sons in prison while my son got an MBA and started a business.

So it went on for many years…Darryl wanting his sons…a father without his sons…Paul wanting a father…a boy without a father..

Regret…

Too bad Darryl came along after Paul grew up.

Darryl told Paul that he was a wonderful father for never having a father

Then the conversation turned to the identity of his real father. Darryl thought that Paul’s brief step-dad in early childhood was his father..

How can you be married to someone over 20 years and not know the identity of their child’s father??

I found that shocking. Wouldn’t you??  I guess that secret has been buried with Martha.

I asked Paul if he ever wanted to find his bio dad. Now would be the day and age to do it..We only have snippets of info to go on..his name was legally omitted from the birth certificate…but we have an approximate age…69…last name Wilson…no first name, just initials…in a Chicago motorcycle gang…from somewhere else…Kentucky or Tennessee…red hair…green eyes…

He may have died in Vietnam…he may have tried to steal Paul…he wasn’t interested at all in being a dad…the same conflicting stories told over and over that never made any sense.

Is any of it real??

I admit to being a little curious over the years, but Paul never wanted to know.

Sometimes, I google variations of the name on Facebook or online. Is that your father?? Is that your dad?? Sometimes the temptation to open Pandora’s box is rather great for me…But I can see that the problem with opening that box is the risk of knowing what is inside..We can’t unknow things after they are known..but sometimes, just sometimes, I want to peak inside..

Maybe I am looking for the wrong things…

Am I blind to what is right in front of me??

I should focus on the here and now without looking back…appreciate the man with strong wings to fly alone…and not look for hidden roots…

Maybe some things are better left buried…hidden in the past…forgotten forever..

A lot of praying, without a prayer

Playing the waiting game is never the fun and games it sounds like.

Yesterday my mom and Paul’s mom had doctor appointments.

As expected, my mom had the best news. The doctor wasn’t sure if she has glaucoma. She will have to do more waiting. But she does have cataracts and needs surgery.

My mom has always been the best driver that I ever knew, up until recently that is. I noticed little changes, like pulling out in front of traffic when she really didn’t have enough time or showing greater than necessary hesitation.

She is starting to forget little things too. She forgot my sister-in-law’s birthday. She forgot about my daughter’s holiday concerts. I found myself so busy at work that I didn’t have time to remind her either. The gradual decline is troubling at times.

My mother-in-law Martha’s decline has been more of a steep descent lately. She wanted to die at home which is not going to happen. She slept during her oncology appointment yesterday. The doctor decided to stop all treatment and keep her at the nursing home. He used words like keeping her comfortable.

I did start writing about two sentences of a eulogy. Oh, I already wrote it. I wrote it in my head while I was driving, running, and trying to sleep but I can’t seem to write it down on paper.

I started going through the old pictures. I didn’t realize how poor quality they are. The smiling images are not centered, blurry, or dark more often than not. I have gotten used to taking 50 images of the same event and deleting the ones that are not perfect. It’s not like the good old days where we took one or two pictures in an effort not to waste film and having them all turn out bad. I can’t part with the less than perfect images because that is all I have left besides the fading memories.

I feel depressed. Tomorrow is the anniversary of my grandma’s death, next week is the anniversary of the death of Aunt Grace. The despair of death and dying is surrounding me. It makes me feel nostalgic and melancholy on these bleak days of midwinter. This is the month that I lost the most loved ones and another will soon be added to the list.

We last visited Martha at the nursing home on Sunday. How I hate it there. I wondered how the young employees could work there day in and out without pondering their future fate. It seems like a nice place. I haven’t seen anyone mistreated.

What I hate is the joy that is robbed from having no hope. There is no hope that she is going to get better. There is no hope that her life will ever be the same. The despair of not having any hope left is emotionally draining. There is nothing we can do about it. Every time we see her, she is getting worse.

I have always clung to hope in the darkest times, but there isn’t a prayer although there is a lot of praying.

It was hard seeing Martha on Sunday. When we got there, she was laying in an uncomfortable position. We worked together to move her body. I lifted her shoulder while supporting her head. Her words came out in a mumbled whisper. She pointed and we guessed what was being said. She kept saying that her mouth was dry but she didn’t want to drink. She rummaged through her purse for aspirin although she just got pain medicine. She faded in and out of sleep.

Before we leave, we always take her for a walk to see the birds. The nurse carried her into a wheelchair and hooked her up to her portable oxygen tank. Paul pushed the wheelchair as I walked alongside with the IV. You would think that it would be easy to push the IV along but it rolled along like a shopping cart with a messed up wheel. I swerved around as I tried to avoid obstacles trying not rip or twist up her cords that were everywhere.

The birds flitted about in a relaxed manner. The residents spoke of the birds. They spoke of a man that comes around to clip the birds nails and clean out the cages. They spoke of this with great importance. They weren’t in a hurry, they were content to sit and watch the birds like it was the most important thing in the world.

It seemed like a mystery to me. The residents didn’t seem worried or to live in the hustle bustle world of deadlines and time constraints like most of us do, yet they have less time..

Tonight Paul and I will visit Martha. Darryl said that her condition has deteriorated considerably since our visit two days ago. We sense the urgency and are nervous when we hear the phone ring.

It could be any time now..

 

 

 

The weight of my world

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The weight of my world is so suffocating some times. 

Saying good bye?

I have often wondered why we say the words good bye. What is ever good about parting with someone that you care about?

This morning I said good bye to Angel as she left to go back to college. I won’t be seeing her again until March.

Last night Angel said good bye to her grandma, probably for the last time.

It was a rough week. Darryl called earlier this week very distraught. The doctor told him that Martha was never going to go back home again. She was going to be transferred from the hospital into a nursing home. They thought that she was going to beat this terminal stage 4 cancer thing. It is hard to blame them for feeling that way as they don’t have the internet at home and we are all new to this stage 4 cancer thing.

Living with her day to day, I’m sure that Darryl didn’t see how the cancer eroded her body like we did. Losing 100 lbs isn’t as noticeable if you lose it 1 lb a day. It broke Paul’s heart to see his step-dad break down and start talking about final wishes and funeral arrangements. We knew we had to arrange one last visit with Angel and her grandma before she left.

The night that Darryl called, Paul cried. Before all of this, in the 20+ years I’ve known Paul, he has only cried a handful of times. Mainly when his grandma, who helped raise him, died. Dealing with his mother dying has brought out a whole new range of emotions, some of them not very good. I want to fix things, but I can’t.

Sometimes I worry about Paul. He takes on too much responsibility. He is a great leader and everyone wants his help on this board, committee, or that. I find that most people care more about what he can do for them instead of him.

Besides Paul and my friend Cindy (who keeps calling and asking how I am doing), I have been pushing everyone in my life away. When things get difficult I shut everyone out. No personal Facebook statuses for me. I don’t want anyone to know. It surprises me that I even talk to you. Sorry, no offense, I’m sure you are a great person.

Instead of dealing with my emotions, I put more things on my plate. No, not food, if I’m really stressed I barely eat. Working long hours…yes…trying out for a part in the play…yes…signing up for an 18 mile trail run…yes…another marathon…yes, yes, yes….a half iron…yes, yes, oh yes!

Keeping very busy has always been a tactic of mine.

I’m not sure I can keep going at this pace. But I am afraid. If I stop juggling all of these busyness balls, I will surely drown.

I will keep going. I am determined to persevere. And I am going to keep writing (take you along on this journey with me)! Lucky you! XOXXO