If the dress fits…

As if the weekend shopping in Chicago wasn’t torture enough, the girls and I went shopping again a few days later.

We didn’t intend to go prom dress shopping that day. Back when Angel was a junior in high school, the going rate for a prom dress was $600. We decided to go to a bridal/prom store just to get some ideas. Thankfully (due to internet competition) the going rate for a prom dress is half as much as it was a few years back.

Estelle, our foreign exchange student from France, fell in love with a dress on the mannequin. It shimmered white like freshly fallen snow. Once she put it on, she didn’t want to take it off. It was the second dress for Clara, our foreign exchange student from Germany. However, my daughter Arabella tried on dress after dress until the sky grew dark and the cows came home in Wisconsin.

Last year right after Arabella’s 16th birthday she decided to go on a diet. She was over 250 lbs. Since then she lost around 45 lbs. Sadly none of the weight fell off her chest with a cup size halfway through the alphabet. None of the dresses fit her body shape. It’s been a problem since middle school. I was really concerned she might not find a prom dress in a dress store full of options.

Arabella found a dress she liked. The store took her measurements and said they may be able to special order it in her size. I was concerned that the dress, although pretty, would not fit her right even in her size. By this time the other girls had their dresses purchased and were in bags. The clerk looked up the dress she wanted to order and said it wouldn’t be delivered until April, the week of prom. Apparently shopping three months in advance is not enough.

At this time Arabella was close to tears. The clerk kept bringing out more and more dresses, big sizes that were 20+. I’m so sorry for you bigger girls out there. The dresses were hideous. Seriously, who wants to go to prom looking like a zoo animal?

Then Arabella found ‘the dress’. It looked like something Cinderella would wear to the ball. It was shimmery light blue, size 16. I was worried she would be crushed if the dress didn’t fit her. She was already close to tears. Thankfully it fit and she looked like a princess in it.

One last thing the prom store does is make sure that no other students from the same school wear the same dress. Before leaving I had to make sure the dress she loved was still available. The clerk said even if it wasn’t available, she could buy it. The clerk felt bad dress shopping was so difficult because of her body shape. The other girls had an easy time because they have an average body type. I never appreciated being average as much as I do now.

Later that evening Arabella begged me to allow her to get reduction surgery. She hates her body and how she looks. For this, I feel sad. Body image is hard enough for a teenage girl as it is. Reduction surgery is a major surgery and at this point I don’t think I want her to go ahead with it until she is an adult unless she is having serious back problems. Parenting can be hard when you don’t know what you are doing.

 

Let it snow

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It’s winter again in Wisconsin.

Since last winter, we had about 5 months of April. It rained, and rained, and rained until Lake Michigan was ready to overflow into Minnesota. We broke the record for wettest year ever. It was cold too. In July, summer finally arrived for about 6 weeks. Then we had a couple of weeks of fall. Now we are back to winter again.

The picture says it all. Actually it is rather deceiving. I took this photo in October. Since then it snowed 3 more times. We actually had wind chills below zero this past week. Can you believe it? Was it because I signed up to run 5 miles on Thanksgiving day?? Somebody is certainly giving me the bird!

Our foreign exchange student from France is beside herself freaking out in excitement about the snow. Her winter is like our October. I wonder if she will still be excited in April when the snow falls? I’ll let you know.

This year I broke down and started listening to Christmas music the day after Halloween when it started playing on the radio. In my mind, the holidays are very distinct. After Halloween you start celebrating thankfulness and Thanksgiving and all that stuff. Pumpkins are still okay. The day after Thanksgiving is when you start celebrating Christmas. Then it is acceptable to listen to Christmas music. Not before then.

It is so dark, dreary, cold, and snowy it feels like January. It’s like skipping the holiday season and going right into seasonal depression. I just cracked. Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow. Might as well accept it.

Today I ran on the treadmill. I know, I know. I was trying to run outside to get ready for the race, but the roads are so icy. I almost fell yesterday on my sidewalk. I will save breaking a leg for community theater.

My son’s buddy hit a deer and slid into the ditch already. But not to worry. My son always says if he sees that he is about to get into an accident, he will slide on his seat belt super quick. Why not just wear it?? Now it makes sense why car insurance costs more for teenage boys. I will be finding that out since my son got another car today. I also found out the DMV is a really popular place to hang out on a Friday afternoon if you are looking to find a new place to meet people.

I have to tell you that the car is a God send, literally. I don’t have to drop off and pick up my son from work anymore. Hopefully I won’t even be called to pick him up in the middle of the night when his friend goes in the ditch either.

Seriously though, God send. This morning I went to the mechanic to get new snow tires for my car. I figured it was time since my 16 year old daughter called me freaking out about driving on bald tires through the snow already. I was hoping to wait until actual winter. But sometimes things don’t go as planned, like all of this unexpected snow. While I was at the mechanic, I asked if he had any cars for sale.

Sure enough, underneath the glistening snow was a rusty old Honda. It was perfect. The last time my son got a car it was an overpriced piece of crap we bought for sale in someone’s driveway. It looked sharp, but was garbage inside. I seriously don’t even think the salvage yard wanted it. The good news was that my son’s car was technically totaled the same day we bought it because it stopped running 6 weeks later.

I can’t even make this crap up. He was out the day he got his car squealing around town with his friends when some losers my age chased him down and smashed his car with a tire iron. The good news was that the money he got from the court case pretty much covered the cost of his new to him car. I probably won’t see my son until spring now. Whatever, just as long as his car isn’t totaled today. That shouldn’t be too much to ask.

I told my son God was providing for him. We tried to find another car but don’t trust private sellers. Our friend that sells used cars didn’t have anything under $6,000. We didn’t know where else to go. But we trust our mechanic. If it didn’t snow early, I wouldn’t have needed snow tires and would’ve missed out on the car.

That’s winter in Wisconsin! My husband is thinking about ice fishing this year instead of hunting. I have a feeling that it is going to be a long hard winter. Time to wax my skis. But that it all since I celebrate no shave November.

 

 

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.

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…

The boy with the face tattoo

The last several weeks have been very unsettling for Paul and I. We reached a fork in the road and we don’t know what way to turn.

We both feel that by being blessed with financial security, we have an obligation to help others living in poverty. We currently sponsor 4 children in third world countries and help supply for their most basic needs. We can send a check in the mail every month and pat ourselves on the back for the children we help but will never see. It seemed so easy until the boy with the face tattoo shattered our perception of what it means to really help others.

How can we help others far away yet turn away someone in need in our own front yard?

He ran away/got kicked out of his house mainly because of the poor decisions he was making. Do we really need another teen in the house with issues? Why do we feel like it is our responsibility to provide for his care? We discussed being foster parents to this boy, taking him in as a surrogate son. Yet, we have a problem with him being alone in our house all day while we are at work and the kids are in school.

He was living at our house off and on for a good month. He also has been staying at the houses of different friends.

Do we take him in or do we let him sink or swim?

He needs so much help, probably more than we can provide.

  1. He quit going to school and studies online. Someone needs to monitor that he is doing his work in order for him to graduate.
  2. Rehab at the very minimum counseling. I’ve seen him completely wasted several times. The last time we saw him like that, we thought that his path was going to lead him to addiciton or ODing. How can he afford drugs? Is he selling them? Do we want to invite all of that into our house? Can we demand sobriety? Is that even attainable for him without professional help?
  3. He needs to learn very basic life skills such as cooking and budgeting. He needs clothing.
  4. He needs basic doctor and dental care. What happens if he gets sick?
  5. He needs to learn how to drive in order to get a job and maintain independence once he becomes an adult.
  6. This is a big one. He needs to have his tattoo removed from his face. Tattoo removal costs a lot of money, but he will have a really hard time finding a job without it removed. Who on earth would agree to tattoo the face of a minor? It makes my blood boil to think about it.
  7. This boy tends to make bad decisions and gets into fights, although we’ve known him since he was little and he is basically a good kid. The odds are really against him for succeeding. He was raised by a single teen mom and also has a disabled sibling which really pulls at our heartstrings from our similar experiences. They have nothing which is really not much to run away from. He might rather live in our house. Do we allow that?

If we take him in are we enabling him not to work things out with his mother? Do we really want to accept that kind of responsibility? Do we have the energy to deal with this? Will he have a bad influence on our other children living in our house? Why do I feel like I need to fix him? Is that realistic or do I just want to feel like a heroine? Why do we need to take him in or cast him out? Why can’t he just stay once in awhile if he needs to?

We need to make hard decision and have firm boundaries. Sometimes we have to confront. Why is this so unsettling? Maybe it would be for anyone not used to dealing with these issues?

We don’t have a problem with him staying at our house when we are home. But the other day he was at our house without our permission. We felt angry and violated that he snuck in. What is he doing by himself in our house?? What do we do?

Do we call the police? Do we drop him off on his mother’s doorstep? He is her responsibility, not ours. I feel angry that she is shirking him off on everyone else. Is it her fault or did he run away? I can’t blame her for not wanting to deal with it, but that doesn’t mean I want to either. Could she get in trouble with the law? Will her other children be taken away? Would our son ever talk to us again if we turn him away? Could we be in trouble if he stays? Does anybody really care anyway??

At this point, there are more questions than answers. This has really pushed us over the edge. Paul set up a first meeting with a counselor to help us deal with all this crap. We also have a lot of inadequacies as parents from growing up in unhealthy and difficult homes. We are very high functioning broken people. I wish we had all of the answers, but we keep striving to grow and improve which is all I can ask for.

It has been stressful, but little did I know more difficulties were on the way…

Parenthood watch

We saw the first snowfall at our new house when the parents of Alex’s friend arrived on the chilly autumn Saturday afternoon. It felt rather ominous of what was yet to come, but at the same time brilliant and beautiful.

The other parents were concerned about how much partying our sons were doing. We decided to get together as a group with another set of parents and just talk, a support group so to say for parents of wayward sons. These boys are all good kids really. They just took a detour down the wrong path. They are partying and failing classes. They aren’t picking fights, stealing, destroying property…

I am making an effort to stop lying to myself. Part of that means facing the fact that my son may never go to college. I thought up to a month ago that he was going to college after graduating. Back when he was in grade school, Alex wanted to be an accountant. I had to ask the teacher to give him more challenging math. Then in middle school and high school, he barely passed math. In fact, he is failing his math class as we speak.

I lied to myself. I’ve been lying to myself for a long time. I’ve been telling myself that he is still that boy in grade school that needs more challenging math. But he really is the party boy that doesn’t give a crap about school. If we come down on him too hard for partying, then we fear that he will leave home and not even finish high school. It is very heartbreaking to see him waste his brilliant mind. It is so much easier to lie to myself.

I don’t have any control over the path he decides to take when he leaves here. It has been causing us a lot of grief. I hope and pray that he matures and grows out of it. Until then, now we have a group of parents that are just as concerned as we are. We might not be able to keep them from taking the wrong path, but at least we don’t have to deal with this alone.

Last night we had our first parenthood watch meeting. We shared our stories about our sons which were remarkably similar…

We are going to have a parenthood watch meeting once a month and exchanged numbers. It’s time for us to work together and do what we can to make things better. It’s not a lot of fun to deal with this alone.

 

perspective

This morning I paced the floor. I felt anxious and stressed. Only 8 1/2 months to go. But who’s counting?

He overslept. Things were going so well the whole two days since school started, until today that is. He left at the time he should’ve been at school which is problematic since we moved further away. He had over a half an hour drive before picking up two friends on the way.

My son will be the death of me. If I disappear from the bloggosphere someday, you’ll know why.

Being late stresses me out. But since I am not one to be late, I am stressed out vicariously through my kids.

It put me in a really negative and anxious mood. I know I shouldn’t let my kid’s tardiness affect my day. But it is hard to just let it go sometimes.

Then I opened up Facebook this morning and saw a memory from a race I ran several years back with Lisa and her teen daughter that recently passed away in a car accident. We all placed in the small town race and were showing off our medals. Lisa’s daughter won’t be going to school today. She won’t be graduating, going to college, having a family…any of that. Maybe if she overslept she would still be alive, instead of falling asleep behind the wheel.

It really puts things into perspective.

Will my son’s tardiness be something that I will think about next year? It is incredibly frustrating today. Sometimes I need the little reminders to be thankful for the days we have together. I only have a few months left with him under my roof.

I’m trying to let go and not let his mistakes ruin my day.

 

The pharmacist

When he got expelled for selling drugs in middle school, his mother said that he had aspirations of becoming a pharmacist. 

I saw his mother this past weekend. I don’t know if she noticed me. Maybe she pretended she did not, like I did with her. In all honesty, I feel disgust towards her mixed with a strong dose of pity.

Looking back, maybe I shouldn’t have allowed my kids to have sleepovers. But I still fondly remember childhood sleepovers…popcorn and movies…staying up all night…laughter and friendship. Why would I take that from my kids for no good reason?

Did she know back then that her son was the pharmacist??

He seemed so smooth, so friendly. Almost too nice, too charming. He always used terms like Mr. and Mrs., please and thank you. Is being too polite now a warning sign?

Who would’ve guessed? For the record, Paul always had a bad feeling about the boy. But he was so young then, only 12, when he dragged the neighborhood boys off the straight and narrow down a deep dark path.

He left them somewhere along the way and kept going…deeper, narrower, darker…DMT, heroin…pills, needles, pipes…I heard he is in juvie now.

Sometimes, when it first begins, it’s hard to see the sole’s first tread off the path.

I didn’t know why he left school at the beginning of the school year. He went on ‘vacation’ for a couple of weeks after leaving. Something about going to visit a relative out of state, but his mother stayed home. Then he started homeschooling because his mother did not like the school anymore. Then there were the Saturday morning community service projects. The warning bells rang like sirens in my head.

I felt angry with his mother for not telling us what was really going on. But is it her fault her son is the way he is? Did she know what was happening in her own house?? Was it already too late when she found out?

Eventually, the neighborhood moms found out what was happening. Their boys were banned from seeing the pharmacist early in the path. But what happened while we were at work?? He only lived a couple houses down. It was a hard time. Teenagers sometimes need as much supervision as toddlers.

Could it have been prevented? We already made sure we had conversations with the parents before allowing our children over for sleepovers.

Keep vigilant when things seem off.

Don’t tell yourself that the empty Benadryl wrappers you found were from your child treating allergies when you don’t carry those pills in the house. You will second guess yourself at first especially when you are not ready to face the truth. Don’t tell yourself, he is only 13.

Then start hoping and praying that your child did not enter a path that they have a hard time finding their way back from.

The internet is a double edged sword. It’s sickening how much info is out there for kids who want to experiment. But on the flip side it can also be a great resource to parents, like me, who have no clue.

Keep talking, eventually the truth comes out. When the truth comes out, don’t expect it to be pretty. Whatever you do, don’t act out of anger towards your teen if they tell the truth no matter how hard it is to hear.

And don’t expect an apology from the mother. Expect to hear that her son has aspirations of becoming a pharmacist.

 

New endings

I was planning on writing something inspirational today. But, hey, it’s a stormy Monday and I’m just not feeling it. I feel sad and tired today.

This past weekend Angel left to start her junior year in college. She really doesn’t need us anymore. Her boyfriend helped move her in. I guess I always feel sad this time of year. But with each passing year, it does get easier when she leaves. It is also hard to think of summer ending when we know the harshness that lies ahead.

Angel left on a good note. Even her brother Alex and her are getting along.

We’ve been struggling with Alex. We have a college tour scheduled in a couple of weeks and he just said that he is no longer interested in going to college. The only thing he wants to do with his life is music, which will be a difficult path even if he does go to college. Now that he is an adult, he is ready to move out. We have been talking to him and giving him advice, but he has no interest in listening.

We are out of touch and don’t know anything. Wait! I thought that was my parents, not me!!

I suppose it is the natural way of life. You have so much wisdom and experience to share with your adult children, but they just want to do it their own way. No one ever told me it would be so hard to see them making the wrong decisions. It’s laughable actually. I thought that when my kids became adults I would be done with this. But it is actually one of the hardest parenting times ever. For the first time ever, you have to learn to walk away.

My youngest daughter Arabella will be starting a new school next week as a sophomore. She decided that she wanted to get up early this week and prepare herself for having to get up early for school. She stays out of trouble, gets good grades, and has a job. She is very responsible. But will that all come to a crashing halt in the next couple of years?? I am afraid of that, but this time I am totally prepared for it.

I feel disappointment and sorrow. Maybe I need to change my focus from all that is going wrong to all that is going right. I have to let go and move on with my own life. I did everything that I could do.