Friday, June 13, 2014

Talking About Grown Kids


Several months ago I asked my friends and family on Facebook what they thought I should talk about via my blog. My sister in law posted “grown kids!” A request made weeks before her youngest child, who had survived his older sister by twenty years, died of a heroin overdose. Yesterday, along with a picture of her son and daughters graves, she E mailed “This is what my life with kids is reduced to...tending grave sites. I can't stand it.” 
 
I’m going to write about grown kids, for my sister in law. Who will be tending the graves of her only children until her death. Who will face every mother’s day, every holiday, and her children’s birthdays with nothing but memories of them, and gravesites. I will write about grown kids because “there but for the grace of God go I”.   

Grown Kids 
 

People with little kids don’t know how those of us with grown kids are watching them. Watching them try so hard. Believing they have answers their own parents and their friends parents didn’t. Believing their kids won’t be drug addicted because mom is going to be home and not working, or working and not home. Because they are going to home school. Because they, unlike us, understand that you can’t spank or you have to spank or you need to let kids have a voice or kids need to be seen and not heard. Parents of children not yet grown are always going to do it better than we did.  

No they’re not.  
 
There are reasons why the person who is in and out of jail has a sibling who’s a healthy functioning adult. Because children are people to. They are individuals. They are affected by their peers, their teachers, strangers, neighbors, television, books, and most of all by their perceptions of the world around them.  

There is only so much a parent contributes to the life of a grown child.  

The parent of young children who is determined to not parent the way their parents did, has no idea how their children will respond to that. They decide to live in the same house in the same neighborhood for the duration of their child’s schooling because they moved around a lot growing up. Unbeknownst to them their child would have been better off in a different city in a different kind of school.  

I’m largely convinced that one of my daughters would have been better off had I not moved out of the low income school district we lived in when she was very young. She was at the top of the heap in that hood. With the nicest home, the nicest clothes, and parents who supervised her. It made her special. She needed to be special. We moved to a much “better” neighborhood when she was in fourth grade. One where less than 10% of the school received free lunch as opposed to the 80% at her prior school. In that neighborhood she felt “less than”. Everyone else’s houses were nicer, clothes were nicer, they’re mothers didn’t work, and they took trips to exotic places on school break. She spent the rest of her school years trying to live up to her peers and in her opinion, failing miserably. Go fucking figure.  

The things I thought I was doing right when my kids were little turned out to be either totally wrong or not that important to them in the long run. Neither of them followed my lead in regards to exercise, no cigarettes and healthy diets. Something I believed was incredibly important to their overall development and would carry them into adulthood. I might as well have just fed them hot dogs for dinner every night and chain smoked.

My husband and his ex-wife DID feed one of their son’s hot dogs with mac and cheese for dinner every night. It’s all the kid wanted and they allowed it, making a separate meal for the rest of the family. I’d have thought they were nuts and never ever allowed it. Today that kid is an uber fit sports competitor and healthy eater. Go fucking figure.  

There is only so much a parent contributes to the life of a grown child. 

I’m not absolving abusive or neglectful parents. I spent many career years trying to repair the damage parents can do. I’m not writing about those grown children. The ones whose parents were so bad they deeply scarred them in ways that other people can’t fathom. I’m writing about all the others.  

Over the years I’ve developed a theory. The theory: there are two types of parents. The really bad ones and all the rest. I have never known a parent, professionally or personally, that I would say is “the one”. The one that all parents should model themselves after. The reason I’ve never met them? It’s simple. The perfect parent for one child is not the perfect parent for another.  

I was the “put your oxygen mask on yourself first” mother.  Among many things it meant that when I realized my marriage was bad for “me” I left. One of my daughters barely noticed, other than how it affected things important to her. Like not being able to afford cable television. I can say with 95% confidence that her parents’ divorce did not affect her development in any direction. The other was absolutely devastated. For nearly a year after the divorce she carved broken hearts into walls and furniture. If she wasn’t carving she was tearing family pictures up. She didn’t smile for a long time.  

Had I known then what I know now, I probably wouldn’t have left. Would staying have made her adult life any easier or better? I don’t know. Now days she can’t even imagine her father and I together. Seeing us for the people we are instead of just her parents.  

Those of us with grown kids spend a lot of time questioning our parenting then and now. I would suggest we stop that. It’s too late to change anything. Our “kids” are no longer kids. They are grownups. They have the same amount of responsibility for themselves that we do. They are not simply products of our parenting. They are products of a ginormous universe. A universe that includes DNA. A universe that with any luck, they will live in without us someday. They will make their way as best they can just like everyone else in the world does. Just like we do.  

Your adult child’s life will become what they make of it, not what you make of it. So give yourself a break.

 

 

 

 

Monday, June 9, 2014

Creating Your Life: Suburbs and Marriage


I hate the suburbs. At least the suburbs of Arizona. It’s difficult to find anywhere blander than a gated community in Gilbert/Mesa/Ahwatukee/Glendale Arizona. The houses are so close to identical it took me a year to find which street was mine without conscious effort.  If you’re a stalker trying to find my house let me tell you where I live. I live in a beige house in a beige neighborhood a couple miles from a strip mall. Good luck with that.
I like to walk, and you can walk in the suburbs. There are pathways and wide sidewalks. It’s safe. And like a lot of safe things it’s exceptionally dull. You can walk but where can you go? There’s nothing to see on the next block or the next mile that you aren’t seeing on the first one. That is not a symbolic statement. It’s literal.
I can walk to a Starbucks of course. I mean who can’t? If you live in China I’m pretty sure you can walk to a Starbucks. If you live in Seattle you can crawl to one. There is also a nail place, a Gymboree, a Jack in the Box, another nail place, a Panda Express and a Target.
Picture me rolling my eyes while making the universal “gag me” sign.
The worst thing about the suburbs is how lonely they are. I tell my family I’m starting a front porch revolution. I sit out on the front porch drinking coffee in the morning or drinking wine at night just hoping to see something. Anything. Over coffee I see people drive out of their garages and over wine I see them drive back in and shut the door. It confounds me to some degree. Isn’t anyone else bored or lonely? Doesn’t anyone else want to share stories on a porch and watch kids play in the street?
 
A couple of the neighbors have felt obligated (by sheer force of my will and smile) to come close to the porch and say hi. Later, as they come and go from their garages, they pointedly avoid eye contact.  Last week my husband and I stayed with a friend in Portland Oregon who lived in a real neighborhood. The neighbors talk to each other and have poker parties. She’s a new widow and just before we left one of her neighbors came over to say “hi”. They all check on her. The twin six year olds come tell her all about their day and she tutored their dad in math.
Sigh.
Is it me? Maybe I should brush my hair more often.
I’ve tried to create a neighborhood in our home. I invite people all the time. I encourage them to stay for days and even weeks. I’ve made one side of our home a virtual guest house, stocked with mini shampoos, magazines, and a separate TV for guests. I have stacks of towels sitting out by the pool and a full bar. If I can’t go to the neighborhood maybe it will come to me.
I’ve had a measure of success with my creation. Our home is the place for people to come. It’s full fairly often. A pale shade of what I really want. To live where there is color and vibrancy. To see some dreadlocks and/or purple hair at the independent coffee shop I walked to in my neighborhood. To never see an Applebee’s again.
In middle age I think a lot about the life I’ve created. How close is it to the one I want? Am I making too many compromises or not enough? Have I become lazy or apathetic? I’m not entirely sure what it says about me, that I live in the burbs, hate them, and do it anyway. Although in large part it says I’m married, and I want my husband to be happy to; and he loves the burbs. It’s his world. Everything all lined up in order, the HOA making sure no one builds metal sculptures in their yard or covers their house in seashells.  Nothing wrong with that. It’s his thing and we’re not the same person. I like metal sculptures and houses covered in seashells.
 
My husband isn’t forcing me to live in the burbs. If I made it a big enough deal he would live where I want to live. He’d do his best to ignore the homes where the weeds are prolific or the owners are “creative”. He’d tolerate my love for the murals he thinks are ghetto. He’d even suck up the extra hour to work it would take him. He wants me to be happy to. 
In creating the life I want I’m creating a life with another person. That means I don’t’ always get what I want. Which means defining where not getting what I want is okay and where it’s not okay.
I love my husband
I want us both to be happy
I hate the fucking suburbs
I love my marriage
Stay tuned

 

 

 

Sunday, May 18, 2014

When All Else Fails: Whine


It began in luxurious beautiful sleep. Sleeping when I was tired. Laying my head down at night and falling asleep. The kind of indulgent sleep that had eluded me most of my adult life. Then a day of luxury. Doing nothing but laying on the couch reading a good book.
At some point, book in hand, I thought “my mother would be so proud”. Year after year she would say to me “slow down Kelly. Take some time to relax Kelly. Why do you always have to go go go?” I thought “finally, at close to 50 years old I’m relaxing”. I’d smile to myself throughout the day, giddy with the extravagance of doing absolutely nothing. I thought “I deserve this, I’ve been busy, I’m learning to just be.”
Slowly the luxury turned into a type of need and seemed odd. Even though I was sleeping like a log, I was so very tired. I’d wake up tired. I’d get my coffee tired. I’d start doing dishes and five minutes later think “I just need a little break then I’ll finish the dishes”.  Thirty minutes later I’d look at the dishes and think “I’ll feel better in a while and do them then”. It might take half a day to feel well enough to do dishes. I’d read, watch television, skim facebook or throw in a load of laundry.
I never felt better.
A day of luxury and relaxation turned into a life changing year. I quit working out the way I always have and began just walking or swimming. I quit grad school, never rode my motorcycle, and planned my days around not being far from somewhere I could “rest”. I started to hate the word “rest”.
The one millionth time I looked for an answer online, I watched a video of a man with MS describe his fatigue. “MS fatigue is different. To call it fatigue doesn’t fit. If you called what most people think of as fatigue a firecracker and MS fatigue Hiroshima that would about describe it”. I thought “that’s me”. Telling people I was “tired” or “fatigued” simply wasn’t the truth. It was something else. Something deeply organic and all consuming.
Then one day, after tons of lab work, two MRI’s, and three different doctors it just... went away. December 24th 2014. I was baking cookies around two in the afternoon and realized I wasn’t tired. Then realized I’d felt normal for about twenty four hours. I blogged about that earlier this year. Thinking doctors had missed a simple infection by not doing the most basic of tests, a urine sample. 
That was five months ago. I thought it was gone. It’s not.
A different doctor, a Mayo Clinic doctor, has a possible line on the etiology. I don’t care. I just want my energy. I don’t want to “rest” EVER. I want to do what I want to do when I want to do it. “This is what it must feel like to be truly old” I think often. Wanting your energy and health back because your mind hasn’t given up on things your body has.
This post feels a bit morbid because I’m feeling a bit morbid. Whatever is wrong with me I can’t make go away using the tools I’ve spent a lifetime developing. I can do everything right and it still won’t go.the.fuck.away.
 I’ve beat debilitating anxiety using exercise, healthy food, and a positive mental attitude. I’ve had a difficult surgery and quickly got back in tip top shape using exercise, healthy food and a positive mental attitude. I’ve gone through divorce and loss and heart ache using exercise and blah blah blah you get the point.
My tool box feels inadequate and instead I’m whining in a blog. If exercise, healthy food, and a positive mental attitude doesn’t do it maybe whining will.
Yep, I feel better already.  

Monday, April 28, 2014

Gravy Days

I wrote an article called "Gravy Days" not long after my nephew died. Found by his parents on the floor of a room in their home. It consumed me and everyone else near them for a couple of weeks. It still consumes them. The rest of us are living different lives. I can barely wrap my mind around that fact. They are living every minute with unimaginable pain while the rest of us begin to go about our days. It divides us.

For now.

Gravy Days is acknowledgement that while today our lives may be consumed with the mundane: irritation at our spouse or children, grocery shopping, working in a cubicle, or feeling bored. The mundane and the every day is temporary. It's an acknowledgement to my loved ones that while I cannot change your pain, as a human being I share in it.

I love you.

Gravy Days is published by an online zin called Fifty is the New Fifty. You can read it at the link below.

 http://www.fiftyisthenewfifty.com/gravy-days/


Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Do You Really Want a Nice Guy?


What do you want? I have a theory that in fact, regardless of how happy or unhappy you are, you have exactly what you want.
 It’s a highly developed scientific theory. Like most of my highly developed theories it was born of laying on the beach with a friend discussing human behavior. Ours, our friends, co-workers, children, boyfriends of the moment, and total strangers. Back when we believed whole heartedly that given the chance and resources we could fix all the world’s problems.
And maybe we could have.
 If we’d really wanted to.
I remember the beginning of this theory like it was yesterday. Probably because I’ve thought about it a lot in the twenty plus years since.  After all, people talk every day about what they want.  
“I want to quit smoking” “I want a happier marriage” “I want to be healthier” “I want to live where it’s warm” “I want to make more money” “I hate my job” “I want to get out of debt” “I want to feel better about myself” “I want to date nice guys”
“Why do I not have what I want?”
Twenty-ish years ago my beach friend was nearing forty. She had one tween and some teen children of her own. The man she loved was a little older with no children. He talked often about how much he wanted kids. He would get sad around the holidays because everyone he knew had children to share them with and he did not. His pain around being childless affected his behavior and it affected her.
So she went to a doctor to discuss getting her tubes untied. Mostly to make him happy. Partly to help her decide if she wanted it to. She didn’t. Her love was very disappointed and it was a big problem.
Then, in a moment of sun baked clarity, my friend asked “if he wants kids so bad why does he keep dating women who either don’t want them (or more of them) or can’t have them? He could be dating younger women or women who really want children. Why me? Why put all this time and energy into a woman whose tubes are tied!? If it were me I’d have said early on….I like you, but I plan on having kids so this isn’t going to work for me”.  
LIGHTBULB!
Her love didn’t want children as much as he thought he did. Or he’d have been doing exactly what she said. He knew early in the relationship that she had her tubes tied. For the obvious reason that she didn’t want more kids. Yet he pursued her intensely. Why? Because he wanted something else more than he wanted children. Something I can’t define and he might not be able to define either.
When I hear women tell me they never meet nice men. I think to myself “I meet them all the time. And so do you. You just don’t want anything to do with them”. You want something else. There are a lot of nice men in the world. I’ve got a highly developed scientific theory about what women want who don’t date nice men, but that’s another two pages.
People put their energy into what they want. So they get it. If you want to smoke cigarettes, you’re time, energy and money go into smoking. Money you could spend on that laptop you think you want, but what you want more is a cigarette. Time you could spend on anything else you think you want, but you actually want that cigarette.
Yes that’s somewhat dumbed down. Cigarettes are an easy target. And people’s true desires can be deeply hidden, even when it comes to something as simple as smoking. Maybe your true desire is to connect with people and all the people in your life connect while smoking cigarettes. Your desire for connection is more powerful than your desire to not smoke. The deeper desire is difficult to see and difficult to find a replacement for.
Someone is in a miserable marriage. They’ve complained about it for years. They ask themselves every day “why don’t I change this?” Maybe it’s as simple as the fear of having to change an entire life; financially and otherwise. But maybe their desire to see their spouse punished for an affair they had ten years ago is stronger than their desire for a happy life. Whatever it is, they don’t want what they think they want.
What do you really want? Don’t look at what you don’t have when asking that question. Look at what you do have. Look at what you spend your time doing. Because it’s the answer. You want whatever it is you put your energy into.
You’re actions speak louder than your words. You’re reality is what you have made it. When the day comes that you actually want something, more than what you have, you will be actively working at making it happen.
I don’t let myself off the hook. I asked myself this question recently. I won’t tell you the answer yet because I’m somewhat ashamed of it. But someday.

 

Friday, March 14, 2014

Green Grass Part 3: DREAM

The e mail from my daughter contained a link to a job posting for a "content writer" at an online magazine called fiftyisthenewfifty.com. She said "you should do this mom". They asked for a resume and writing sample. I figured they wouldn't be impressed with my ten years as a probation officer, my stint as a child protective services investigator or the years I contracted with family court as an investigator in contested child custody battles.

 Dilemma.

My first thought was to delete it. Instead I said "what the hell"? I sent a semi goofy e mail, links to this blog and the facebook page associated with it. The publisher responded with interest, we e mailed, we discussed and ultimately we agreed I would write an article for her magazine based on an upcoming trip I was taking to the U.K by myself.

Cray Cray! My dreamer daughter who always believes you can make the life you want was dreaming for me.

Below is the link to my first PAID writing job. It's also my first experience with being "edited". A tad annoying but something I can live with. It's not going to pay enough for me to make a living and I may not ever get paid again. But what it did was tip me over the edge of "what now" into "anything is possible. Do some dreaming".

Do some dreaming.

fiftyisthenewfifty.com is the website and the publisher is also a woman in her fifties looking to live her next act. Check it out.

http://www.fiftyisthenewfifty.com/traveling-on-my-own/

Sunday, March 9, 2014

What Do You Love?


 
What do you love? What are you grateful for?
I know, totally cliché. There can be truth in cliché. If you struggle with finding something you’re grateful for, or you don’t have something you love in your life, then I’m sad for you. That would suck.
By “something to love” I mean now. Not “if I had more money” or a different job, or no job, or lived in a different town, or lost weight, or found a man. Today. What do you have in your life that you love? 
If you have something you love, then I’m guessing you’re already grateful.
Years ago I told someone “I have no tolerance for being miserable”. And I don’t. To be clear, I have no expectation of happiness either. I’m grateful I was born into circumstances where my basic needs (food, clothing, shelter) were met. Someone loved me. I was born with good health, above average intelligence and decent looks. In a time and into a country where women have opportunity. If not equal opportunity. All of these things contributed to my ability to pursue the cliché “more out of life”. I’m aware that’s not a given. I’m grateful I’ve had a certain amount of luck in my life.
 I do not expect that no tragedy will touch me or that I will never be ill. That people will never disappoint me and that in short, things will not always go my way. But I have no tolerance for misery which I have any control over. Not even a little bit. Therefore I have things I love and I do them. They make me happy. Happy is better than unhappy.
When I ask what do you love? It’s not the same as who do you love. Who do you love can be tricky. It can be a trap. It can mean that you mostly do what someone else loves, that you put their needs before your own, that you forget what you love.
No, I’m asking what-do-YOU-love and do you do it?
When was the last time you realized “this moment could not be better”? Whether you were gardening, cooking, walking in the rain, writing a story, riding a motorcycle, taking karate lessons, singing a song, dancing, or…. You get the point.
When was the last time you loved something so much that there was nowhere else you would rather be and nothing else you would rather be doing?
I hope it’s today.