The cabin in the woods

Things have been getting a little rough on here lately…so I’ll do what I always do after some rough posts…lighten things up a little.

One thing I am really thankful for is having some really good friends.

A couple months ago, Harv and Kate invited us over to talk about our trip to Thailand. But we never got to sit down and talk about it because they kidnapped us and took us to see a musical. They are adventurous and fun. Never mind that they are almost twice my age.

This time they invited us out to their rustic log cabin in the woods. Rustic as in no running water. No internet. No phone reception. We saw deer on the path on the long winding road in. It was a calm peaceful place that made me leave my worries behind.

IMG_0732

The first thing we did after getting the tour of their cabin was to take a ride out to their tree house for cheese and wine. It was very charming.

IMG_0747

Harv and Kate took the log cabin from another location and rebuilt it themselves. The cabin and shed looks like it came right off the set of Little House on the Prairie. I couldn’t believe how much work they put into it. It is unbelievably beautiful and I wish we could’ve stayed more than a few hours.

IMG_0752

They set up a charcoal grill on the porch to grill the venison from the deer that Kate shot from the tree house. The food they prepared for us was fantastic despite not having any modern conveniences.

IMG_0753

This is a sneak peak at the inside of the cabin.

IMG_0760

There is a little creek that runs nearby the cabin.

There is something very special about having old friends. They have been married longer than we have been alive and they have so much knowledge to share. They are eccentric, adventurous, and very happy to share their lives with each other. I hope that someday someone can say the same about Paul and I.

Luke’s visit, part 9

DSC_0030

We didn’t spend the whole time talking when Luke came to visit. Although I must say that I didn’t talk a lot. I spent a lot of time listening, transfixed by Luke’s words. It was the first time he spoke about our childhood with any meaning.

I think that through his struggles, he has gained new insight, wisdom, and purpose to his life.

Maybe our suffering wasn’t in vain after all.

Doesn’t a brilliant rainbow first need rain?

IMG_0843

We invited Luke and his family to our new house and out sailing for the first time. Luke’s youngest daughter wanted to jump off the balcony into the swimming pool. Not a good sign for the upcoming teenage years. She also wanted to buy a sailboat, but said that she didn’t have any money. She is so funny that I think the carefree comedian Luke is still living on.

Paul patiently taught the kids all about sailing. I think someday he would make a wonderful grandpa. My dad spent a lot of time ridiculing us for things we didn’t know and called us stupid when we came to him with questions. But as I watched Paul and Luke with the children, I was happy to know that they are both wonderful fathers without ever having had wonderful fathers.

Sometimes our struggles can become a blessing.

 

Luke’s visit, part 8

Over the past year, both Mark and Luke quit drinking. I was a little worried about Mark a couple summers back. One morning he started drinking at the cabin before most of the family woke up. Luke was always a drinker. He knew everything there was to know about beer. Luke was also the comedian. He’s not funny anymore. It’s strange that I felt some sadness at the loss of his role. He always made us laugh which made going through hard times easier.

Luke was upset that our parents did not seem to want to hear what he had to say to them. He told them that he needed to talk to them for him. It wasn’t about him being emotionally supportive for them anymore. He needed this for him to heal. He quit being the comedian not all that long ago. But making us laugh made us feel better, not him.

Luke stripped himself of all coping mechanisms and dove right into the truth. He is relying on God to get him through this. Me, I like to dip my feet in the water and keep my coping mechanisms nearby. Maybe I’m okay with the lies I tell myself until I am ready to face the truth. What is wrong with that?

Mark played the part of the invisible middle child. He had an important role too. He was the one who advocated for my dad when my mom packed up the car with her stuff and was ready to leave. He kept the family together.

I played the part of the caregiver/counselor. I was always the ultra responsible first born. This has been my role since I can remember. I think it is going to be hard for me once my kids all leave home. I cared for my autistic brother Matt since I was a little kid. I still was his caregiver after my children were born up until he started acting violent towards them. Then I had my own family to care for.

Luke asked my husband how I cope. Paul told him that running helps me cope and it does. I don’t drink to cope. I could never let anything control me. But is that really true? I like to work and keep busy at all times. Perhaps that controls me since I can’t ever seem to relax. But how can working be a bad thing? What if my coping mechanisms aren’t unhealthy? Who can I hurt by having a clean house, etc?

I like to write about my experiences. But on the days when I write about the most difficult times, I feel very depressed. Paul said that although writing seems good for me, maybe I need a counselor. But I stubbornly resist the notion of anyone helping me with anything. I don’t want help. I don’t think I need it right now. I want to work through this on my own.

I will be okay. I am healing. But it is not always a beautiful process.

Luke’s visit, part 7

Suppose that a little girl whom you were close to died.

In the first scenario, I want you to imagine that the girl died in a tragic accident and was killed unintentionally by one of her friends.

In the second scenario, I want you to imagine that the girl was brutally murdered.

How might you feel in either scenario? Would the loss of someone close be the same regardless of how she died? Could you blame someone if they didn’t intend to hurt another but did? Is it okay to be angry even if it was an accident?

It’s easy to be angry if that feeling was justified. But what if it is not?

Sometimes I feel angry at Matt. It is hard to justify feeling anger towards someone severely mentally ill. I don’t think that he intended to be violent towards us, his siblings. But the end result was the same, he ruined our childhood.

Luke said that when he was younger he told Matt to hit a wasp nest with a stick. Matt got stung.

We were told that feeling angry was bad. Yet we still felt that way.

Sometimes it was hard not to feel angry at our mother for favoring him so.

But isn’t it natural to want to soothe the baby that is always crying?

Luke said that he needed to have boundaries. He told our mom that he didn’t want to hear about Matt unless he asked how Matt was doing. Our lives don’t revolve around Matt anymore. It was hard to break away from that. But we needed to break away from that to heal.

It is okay sometimes to feel angry.

 

 

 

 

siphon

Last week my son was supposed to have his senior pictures taken. Supposed to is the key word…A couple of hours before the scheduled appointment, I noticed that my son had a black eye. Seriously??!? How did that happen? He said that he was boxing with his friend. That is just how things go with him. Some day I will look back in laughter, but today is not one of those days.

Last summer Alex had a full time job doing demo work for a flooring company. It was tough work and it paid well. This summer my son is unemployed. One of the main reasons for this was that he went on a school trip to Europe and was gone 3 weeks in the middle of summer break. That makes getting a summer seasonal job rather difficult.

My son also wants to hang out with his friends. He said this will be the last summer before they graduate from high school and go off into the real world. I get that, really I do. We have been very generous with our adult children. We pay for their cell phones, insurance, and gas for the cars we’ve given them to drive. I really don’t mind doing this as long as they are in school and are responsible.

But lately it has become too much. We feel taken advantage of. Paul said that we are no longer going to give Alex gas money just to run around with his friends. He is the only friend that has a car, so he is the taxi service to run around his friends on our dime. They never chip in for gas. They go to parties and have fun. They even went camping in Upper Michigan.

Maybe if he appreciated us or even kept his room clean, it probably wouldn’t be a huge deal. Yesterday he decided that he wanted to siphon gas from his car that wasn’t working to the car that was. I was totally against this idea.

We had another couple over at the time. They are newer friends, but have the potential to be really good friends since we have a lot in common. My friend asked about my hobbies and I mentioned that I like to write. She wants to write a book and also has a blog on WP. Most people reply ‘that’s nice’ when I say that I like to write, but she asked so many questions that I ended up telling her I have this blog. This is where things got a little awkward. Sorry, I only share very personal things about my life with total strangers and not friends.

She said that when I was ready, she would love to read my blog. I want to share my life with the people I care about, yet I don’t. It has been a real struggle over the years. The more followers I get, the harder it is to keep this hush hush and private. Maybe some day I will tell friends and family, but right now I’m too afraid. You see the things I write about! Why do I feel so guarded, so private about my life? It doesn’t feel safe to share these things. Sometimes I feel conflicted about sharing anything with anyone at all.

Anyway, they were over and my son’s friend comes over to help him siphon gas. I told him that I really had a problem with him doing that but still refused to give him money. I took time away from my friends to deal with the situation which immediately threw me into a bad mood. It ended with one of Alex’s friends saying that he could borrow some money for gas.

Our friends were joking around about the situation, which was fine. They said that if he tries to siphon gas and then smokes, part of his face would be blown off. I never thought of that! My anxiety went through the roof! A black eye and part of his face blown off really wouldn’t look good for the senior pictures.

Some day this better be good for a few laughs…But as of right now, I’m going crazy!

Luke’s visit, part 6

I don’t like it when people touch me, neither does Mark.

Luke has always been an affectionate guy.

Maybe it just boils down to personal preference. We had the same upbringing.

We remember the bite marks on our arms, the scratches, head butts, eye pokes, kicks, punches…that we received from our autistic brother Matt.

My dad seemed afraid to hit or hug me. He would tickle my brothers and I which was miserable because he just wouldn’t stop when we told him to.

Touch was not usually a good thing, but I did like my grandma’s hugs.

My dad was not gentle in any way. He would squeeze my mother in hugs too tight until she would cry out…stop you are hurting me. Her cries would draw in my little brothers. They would jump on my dad and try to get him to let go while he swung at them like pesky mosquitoes. It was all a game.

Now Luke was a mama’s boy, which really seemed to bother my dad. If anyone tattled on Luke, he would get it. Mark and I never got spankings, but Luke always seemed to get in trouble. He hated my dad and did a lot of things to bother him like cutting the cords on his electronics. Mark and I never really did the things that would fuel my dad’s anger.

There are some things I feel bad about. Sometimes my dad would fly off the handle with Luke about minor things that I tattled about. There was also a period of time that Luke looked to me to be a second mother. He clung to me and I pushed him away.

There were times when my dad was a little rough with Luke and Matt. But most of the scars came from Matt. He would out of the blue attack someone. It would bother me that no one told him what he was doing was wrong. In fact, if we tried to defend ourselves or retaliate, we were punished. He couldn’t help it, but we could.

It was always hard to see Matt hurt someone, stranger or friend. Sometimes we could see the signs beforehand that he was was agitated. I always felt guilty that I couldn’t stop it from happening. Sometimes I felt responsible for it. Maybe if I noticed sooner, I could’ve stopped it. Why should I feel responsible for my brother’s actions?

His actions had a direct effect on my life. It was the reason that friends weren’t allowed to come to our house. It was the reason I lost friends. It was the reason for my isolation. Matt was so violent that he wasn’t allowed in school for 3 years. A teacher came to our house for Matt. My mom pulled us all out of school. I spent one year of middle school and two years of high school at home. I only saw my friends a couple times a month.

My cats became my friends. Sometimes Matt would hurt them. If they tried to come in the house, my dad would pick them up by the tail and throw them out. But I always let them sneak in my bedroom window.

There was nothing normal about my childhood. Yet here I am trying to live a normal life.

 

Luke’s visit, part 5

I don’t understand why he did the things he did. I don’t like to think about it, much less write about it. It makes me feel incredibly sad to tell you all of these things.

We didn’t travel much as kids. The only place we ever went to was the family cabin up north. I can’t even remember one family meal at a restaurant. Matt’s violent and disruptive behaviors made it nearly impossible to be welcomed anywhere.

I didn’t like the weeds in the water at the lake. Oftentimes, we would walk to our neighbor’s cabin nearby to swim. They raked by their dock giving them a sandy beach. They knew my parents and were okay with it, although I never remembered asking and they always glared at us.

There was that one time that my brothers and I thought it would be a great idea to throw the neighbor’s decorative rocks off the end of their dock. They were so angry. We were too little to get them out of the water at the end of the dock, the water was over our heads. My mom didn’t swim.

After that unfortunate incident when my brother almost drowned, we were always watched more closely in the water. It was my dad’s idea for my mom to put me in charge as a 6 year old of my 3 younger brothers in the water. They thought I would holler if something went wrong, but instead I froze when Luke went under.

After that, my mom would sit on the neighbor’s dock in her lawn chair to watch us swim. Sometimes if my mom wasn’t able to be there, she would send my dad. He was never really happy about that.

We didn’t have fun playing in the water with dad. He would grab our ankles while we swam under water and yank us back making us choke, sputter, and gasp water. It was all a game, like tag, you see. He seemed to think it was fun.

He thought it was terribly humorous that I was afraid of weeds. He grabbed my little body and planted my feet far away from the sand into the weeds. The few minutes he forced me to stand there seemed like hours. I was so terrified feeling the slimy weeds and what I imagined slithered underneath. Even to this day, I rarely like my feet to be uncovered.

I cried in terror and when he finally let go, I ran as fast as I could through the weeds to shore. All the while, he called me names and threw mucky weeds, a dead fish, and sticks at me. Then he swam back to our cabin through the weeds. He said that I was such a baby for being afraid.

But I still loved the water. I wanted to learn how to swim really good. My mom gave us basic swim lessons so we didn’t drown but said I couldn’t take the advanced class because they had doctor bills to pay for Matt.

Last summer I swam across the lake up north. I swam right through the weeds even though I was scared. I even competed in a Half Ironman. But I always remained a beginner swimmer.

My brother Luke’s daughters are really good swimmers and are on the swim team. My oldest niece, who is just 10, competed in her first triathlon this year. Luke set up a mock triathlon course for his girls up north. At least I am glad that he is the father that our dad never was. They have been given so many opportunities. They don’t have to grow up being afraid.

 

Luke’s visit, part 4

When we were young, my dad was a very cruel man. He is not like that anymore.

Luke said what terrified him the most was the train. It was one of his earliest memories. He remembers dad inching closer and closer to the tracks while the train was passing. He hid crying in the back window of the car as my dad and brother Mark laughed. He said I wasn’t there.

I don’t remember this being an isolated incident. I was there. I almost forgot about this. The train did not terrify me. I liked to wave at the man in the caboose when mom took us on walks. As kids, we lived near the railroad tracks. I found the sound of the train’s whistle to be rather soothing at night. We even saw a train derail in our lifetime, but not on those tracks.

I remember my dad doing other things like crossing the tracks right before the train passed. But I think he found much more satisfaction in waiting for the train to pass. He inched closer and closer until the front of the car seemed to kiss the side of the train car.

If you get really close to a train, it is squeaky and loud. The cars teeter and rock back and forth making an awful grating noise. Sparks fly. It seems like it could come off the tracks at any moment and destroy the car in a big ball of fire. My dad took the opportunity to scare Luke or any of us whenever he had the chance. I remember this happening several times with the train. I was there, but Luke does not remember that.

We couldn’t comfort our terrified sibling otherwise it would probably be our turn next. Compassion and empathy were not rewarded. In fact, they were more of a weakness. Laughter was probably the safest response. If you laughed or acted like it didn’t scare you, he wouldn’t do that to you. I often responded with no response. But Luke was terrified and I think he was too little to hide it.

My dad did other things to scare us in the car. He drove fast and laughed at us if we tried to put on our seat belts. He drove fast over hills. He would taunt us by saying that he had no idea what could be waiting on the other side of the hill. I was big enough to see out of the window, maybe they weren’t. There could be a family walking on the other side of the hill….a dog…another car and he wouldn’t be able to stop from hitting whatever could be on the other side. Sometimes he would drive up hills on the wrong side of the road.

I’ve had nightmares about him driving fast or going up steep hills not knowing what could be on the other side. I think it was also the root of my struggles with a fear of driving, especially hills. I was afraid of hurting someone. I was afraid of not having control over that. I couldn’t see what was ahead of me.

Today I am obsessed with conquering my fears. If the fear wins, so does my dad.

I built a big wall around myself. I have a thick shell. But maybe somewhere inside is that little girl who is kind and caring.

I don’t think that my mom even knew about the things our dad did when she wasn’t around.

 

Luke’s visit, part 3

Today is my mom’s 70th birthday. She also decided that she was ready to retire from her career. It was almost getting to the point where I thought that I would be retiring before she did. My siblings and I threw her a party at the cabin up north this past weekend. We invited relatives, co-workers, and some friends that my mom hasn’t seen for years.

My dad thanked me several times for throwing my mom the party. She seemed so happy. I don’t think he ever thanked me before for anything. I didn’t see him get off of the couch. His feet were swollen and propped up. Paul said that I needed to start working through my issues and talk to my dad before it was too late. I haven’t felt the need to do that like my brother Luke did. Am I making a mistake?

Our friends Lisa and Tom came to the party with their daughter. Lisa did an internship for my mom a couple years back. Once Tom and Lisa arrived, we pretty much ditched everyone at the party and talked to them only. It was the first time that we were able to speak to them alone since their oldest daughter died.

Lisa said that they believe their daughter died in the car crash from falling asleep. The night before, her daughter had a sleepover with a friend. Lisa went to bed at 10. She told the girls to go to bed by 11 since they needed to leave early the next morning for work. They didn’t listen. The girls were giddy and giggly that night. They were on social media with friends until 3:30 AM the next morning. They might have had only 3 hours of sleep before leaving for work. It is assumed that both girls fell asleep when they ran off the road and hit the tree bursting the car into flames.

Lisa’s daughter told my daughter that her last words to her sister were ‘I hate you, go to bed’. The whole situation is very tragic. Everyone is having a hard time with it. Lisa told me that she doesn’t want to live anymore without her daughter. It was heart wrenching. I told her that she needed to do everything she could to stay strong for her other children.

That night after everyone left, the extended family talked. I felt rather alone because I was the only one in my immediate family that stayed overnight at the cabin. With the whole family there, sleeping space was rather limited.

They asked about Alex and his new car. I told the story of how he pissed off the wrong people the day he got his car and how they damaged his vehicle with a metal pipe. Since then, he hit a deer with the car and smashed the front end. Plus the car is leaking oil everywhere. I also spoke of miscellaneous fines.

I felt like almost everyone blamed and criticized me for being a crappy parent. That is what my family does, blame and criticize versus support and encourage. I am guilty of this too. The one who gave me the hardest time was my sister-in-law that doesn’t even have kids. I felt frustration with my family and with my son. Raising teenagers is excruciatingly painful and stressful. We feel like we are making the best decisions that we can in regards to our children.

I was starting to feel miserable about all of it. But then I thought in the scope of things, does it really matter?? Yeah, my son trashed a car within a month after getting it. Most of it wasn’t his fault, but some of it was. Yes, I am feeling really frustrated as a parent right now. But, he is still alive. I can still hug him and tell him that I love him even if he decides to make a mess of his life. That is an opportunity that not all of my friends have.

The next morning Luke apologized to me for being negative and critical. He said that he was sure that Alex would turn out just fine. He said that he was trying to turn his life around. He wants to be more supportive and less judgmental.

I told Luke that I was under the misconception that if I provided the right kind of home for my children that they would make the right decisions. It is very painful as parents to see our children make wrong choices, especially when I feel like my family is blaming me for the wrong choices my children make.

My life has been changing so fast lately. So have the lives of everyone around me that I am close to. I feel like everything is moving too fast. I want to be able to slow down and just catch my breath for a couple minutes.

Luke’s visit, part 2

I suppose since you have a big house now that you will be hosting Christmas this year.

It wasn’t the first time I heard this comment…

I told Luke that I didn’t really like an aunt and uncle of ours.

Why?

Because of the time that they came over for supper when we were kids.

What about it?

They had the house with the piano. They wanted us to come live with them if mom and dad left us forever. That evening while we were eating, Matt hurt our aunt. It wasn’t unusual for Matt to hurt someone.  It was our aunt who was acting strange. She locked herself in the car crying hysterically. She could not be comforted. I’ve never seen her so upset before or since.

Suppose that our aunt was attacked and Matt triggered her memory of it.

Aunt left and didn’t come back. They said that they didn’t want us to come live with them in their house with the piano anymore.

Who told you that?

Mom. She cried and said that no one cared. She said things would be different if her mom was still living.

How old were you?

I don’t know, maybe 8 or 9.

You were too young, why would she tell you that you were unwanted?

Something strange happened in the course of our conversation. For the first time I was able to see the event through adult eyes.

I was able to let go of the rejection of 30+ years. My aunt has always been kind to me, but I didn’t trust her since that night. Other family members cared. They were busy living their own lives. Some were only a few years older than me. They saw what was happening but didn’t know what to do about it. Some lived far away. The ones that were near did help.

My mom just needed more help than anyone could reasonably provide.

So I became the helper. I became the adult.

I have forgiven my family.

Someday I will forgive my mother too for my lost childhood and for giving me this heavy weight to carry. I think it is time to start unpacking my baggage.