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.

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.

Being in a better place

I met with my therapist this week.

She asked me what I thought about living in my old house. I told her that my old house wasn’t anything special but it suited the purpose at the time.

She then asked me what it was like living in my dream house. Did it change me at all? Do I feel like I am a ‘softer’ person? Did I give up some of my determination?

I said that I don’t think I changed at all.

To this she responded, what if you were a healthier person inside? Do you really think that it is going to change you for the worse?

She trapped me in my own thinking.

Maybe I could have inner peace without giving up some of the grit that survival awarded me with.

I did what I had to do in order to survive. But now I am stuck because I know no other way. It suited its purpose at the time, but I no longer need to live there.

Why am I so fearful of being in a better place?

 

 

Write, right?

It’s been a busy week and I haven’t really felt like writing.

Most of the time I have no qualms about throwing it out there. But for some reason this week I’ve felt impersonal. I want to keep my distance and my thoughts to myself. I worry that I’ve already shared too much.

I feel frustrated. My thoughts are fluctuating about my writing. One day I have great confidence. My book will be a bestseller and I can’t wait to chronicle my descent into despair. The next day I want to walk away from it all and not open myself up to be vulnerable to the world.

I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that has been as personal as mine is going to be.

Word has gotten around that I am writing a book. I got a call from a publisher this week. She wants to meet for coffee to discuss my book. She said that memoirs are flying off the shelves right now. She wants me to send her a sample of my book. I am thinking about turning her down, but I am not sure if that is a smart idea. She is a small publisher that mainly publishes works of fiction.

I am not ready to deal with this yet. I want to take my time and write a great book before I worry about finding a publisher. Then I feel bad because I have some good friends who wrote great fiction books and haven’t been able to find a publisher.

The end of the summer, I will be public speaking about being a sibling with an autistic brother. My contact said that once I have my book written, she had someone interested in publishing. I would prefer to publish my book in the mental health memoir genre. Now I will need to reach out and contact them to see what my options are. It is all very confusing as a first time author.

All I want to do is write my book and not worry about anything else right now. The publisher said that if I finish writing a book, I will find myself in the 1% of the population who has. That is rather exciting, but I have no interest in being an author.

I just want to write my book. I’m not sure what I’m going to do after that. I can see myself doing public speaking and being an advocate for families, especially siblings, of the disabled. But I haven’t even done my first public speaking stint yet. Maybe I won’t like it. Maybe I won’t be good at it. The thought of public speaking about something this personal is starting to fill me with anxiety.

I’m not sure where this path is going to lead me and I am filled with doubt. But I think I need to keep writing.

Write, right?

Fortune Cookie Wisdom #19

You have many special gifts, go experiment with them!

I really like this fortune cookie.

But how do you know what your gifts are? I think the best way to find out is by trying  new things.

Last summer my mom retired at age 70. She was really quite miserable after retiring because she really loved her job. She even got an ulcer shortly after retirement. But then she started trying new things. She started a sewing project with her sister-in-law. Once a week, we work together doing genealogy research. She discovered that she really has a passion for history. She wants to start volunteering at the literacy council.

My husband’s step-dad Darryl also retired recently. He, like my mom, has a hard time sitting around doing nothing. He decided that he wanted to be a first responder and signed up to take EMT classes. He also joined his church choir which always practiced during the time he was working.

I wonder what other ‘gifts’ we will discover that we have.

I found out that I love to run when I was in my 30’s and started writing a book this year. I probably won’t be running marathons forever and as of right now I am thinking one and done as far as the book goes. We’ll see where this path takes me.

I am encouraged by the others around me that even in my 60’s and 70’s, I might still find new and exciting gifts.

 

 

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!

The ultra training starts

I just signed up for my first 50k.

There is no turning back now. Thankfully, I have until September to train. I will be running the ultra with my cousin.

It has been a cold spring here in Wisconsin. I have only been out to run a handful of times. Today’s high temps are in the mid-40’s and it is raining. Yuck! But at least it’s not snowing.

I was able to run with my new friend from the theater. I doubt we will ever run together again and I am okay with that. She is so much better than I am. What I didn’t know was that this new friend qualified for the Boston Marathon 6 times and ran it twice. She even ran something like 10 miles the day she gave birth. Talk about hard core!

She is a couple years younger than me as well which doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it is in the racing world. Maybe if I was 20 years younger than her, I would be able to keep up. That might even be pushing it.

Now that I am almost 45, I don’t have the stamina I used to.

I had a really bad run outside a couple weeks ago. I was several miles from home when I had to go to the bathroom really bad. I was in the suburbs and there was no where to go. I was so tempted to run up to a stranger’s house and ask if I could use their bathroom. How mortifying would that be! Every time I ran, the urge to go was stronger but walking prolonged the journey home. I called my husband to pick me up, but he didn’t answer. There were people everywhere. I finally made it home accident free.

Maybe I need to add Depends to my running supply list! That is the only thing I like about running on the treadmill at the gym. There is a bathroom close by if I need it. It is easier to stay hydrated as well. I finally broke down and bought a hydration belt with water bottles for the long runs outside.

Again, having to go to the bathroom is always an issue outside. Not to mention bugs, pop up thunderstorms, reckless drivers, adverse weather conditions, those horrible hills, chafing, injuries, dehydration, and animals. But that is what also makes for the best stories and adventures that won’t be forgotten. It’s the dirt and the grit. Determination. The testing of the limits. The long runs to think. Enjoying nature when it doesn’t call. The friendships, the camaraderie of strangers, the goodness of fellow travelers along the trail. I love it all!

I am hoping that the training goes a lot better once it warms up outside. Since I have a few marathons under my belt, what is a few more miles? Right?!??

 

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.