Declaration of My Independence

Oye.  So, my kids won’t read this.  They don’t have any interest in my blog, which is okay, truly.

Disclaimer:

I have been slowly declaring my independence from the ties of parenthood, grandparenthood.  Now, that does not FOR ONE MINUTE , mean that I don’t adore my kids and grandkids.  i would drop everything, everything if one of them needed me –and I have many many times.  Happily. I don’t regret or resent any moment with my family over the last 35 years. Not one moment.

But, over the past 2, maybe 3 years, I have realized that I am running out of time.  No drama here, just reality.  I’m almost 58.  Realistically I have maybe 10 -15 years left to feel pretty good, be pretty active.  Then, with my family history, maybe another 5 years to dwindle…and that is best case scenario. Not guaranteed, by any means. I have spent the last 35 years wrapped up  in supporting other people.  My people, my kids.  But, its time, it really is, for me to have some ME time.  for sure.

We took a honeymoon and then one camping trip in my dads camper before we started having children.  popped out 3 in less than five years. When our third child was 5 we took our first weekend away, with out kids.  Did it once a year for the next 2 years.( This was the time in my life when I used to stand in the back yard and watch planes fly over and wonder where they were going, if I would ever fly again.  Yes, I know, poor pitiful me. )

After  our 20th. anniversary I planned a trip to Cleveland to see the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  I know, Cleveland. That was the extent of our travels, alone, during our marriage.  Period.  We took the kids to the beach, almost every year after the oldest turned 7 — in North Carolina. Wonderful family vacations. We bought a boat, took the kids out every week.  We spent many days with family and with each other, we swam at the neighborhood pool.  We gave them the best life we could. We spent every minute with them, as a family. And it was a good life.

Flash forward, 35 years after we married on that Cold January day.  Kids are grown and married.  6 grandchildren in 6 years and now number 7 due any minute.  We retired early, then went immediately back to work, me in a new career, husband in an extension of his previous job. Our kids all live close.  It is wonderful.  But, it began to be expected that we would cover the holes in their days.  We “felt bad” when the kids were in daycare, so we picked them up almost every day.  we “felt bad” when oldest daughter or our son didn’t get to “go out”, “have fun” — so we babysat, rented beach houses and invited them all to join us.  We worried that they were short on money, or time, or joy or rest time.  So we worked to “fix it”.  And our kids have become quite comfortable and expecting of our involvement.

And then, it occurred to me that while, for 30 years or so,  I was spending every day and night raising kids and then grandkids,  and had zero hobbies, very few friends and no down time, my husband had been  hunting, fishing, building race cars,  playing darts and helping friends.  Not as much as he wanted, but still , finding time to be him.    There was no time to be me.  I lost me.  I went through years of resentment, laying right under the surface, of the life he had molded me into.  It almost drove us to divorce.  I left for a little bit.  He went buck crazy.  I figured, hell, if he wants it back this bad, maybe it IS worth fighting for.

Over the last couple years, I have pushed back.  We are working to live for us now.  It is our time.  We get to vacation alone,  say no to babysitting,  buy things we want and do things we enjoy. When my youngest says “lucky you” when I say we are at the beach, or at a restaurant, I remind her that when I was her age, or when my kids were her kids  age, I was exactly where she is. We are working hard to remove ourselves from our kids marriages – their arguments, decisions are not our business.  We will listen if they talk, but we will not try to solve their problems.  It is not our job to figure out who gets who off the bus, or to the doctor, or new shoes. I shouldn’t turn around on the way to a business meeting to pick up a child that has a parent who should do it, as hard as it is for me to keep driving straight.   We will help, when we can, when asked, but we are trying to help them not assume we are taking care of these things. Its life altering, not only for us, but, Im sure, for them.

We work full time.  We have a big house. We have sore knees and I have stents in my heart.  We have hobbies and toys and things we want to do.  Sometimes we want to do them with company, with children around. Sometimes we try to connect with old friends that we have ignored for years.  Sometimes we will alter our schedule to spend time with the people we love.  We will honor traditions and be present.  I never missed a hockey game, wrestling match or cheerleading performance.  Never missed a dance recital or a band concert.  Never. But I may miss a couple of these things when my grandchildren do them.  I may choose to sit on the back porch and read the paper or drive to the beach.  I’m going to build that beach house and spend months on end there.  And that is ok.

I declare my Independence.

Mother’s Day 101: Advice and musings from a “seasoned” mom

When you’re 5 Mother’s Day is a pretty big deal.  You spread toast with jelly, add the card you made in Kindergarten and carry the tray to mom who is “sleeping”  past her normal 5:00 am wake up call and serve her breakfast in bed.  By the time you are 12, you go all commercial and depend on dad or another willing driver to take you to the mall where you expand Hallmark’s coffer and choose a card — which can range from sentimental ” best mom ever” to a farting “how do you put up with me” piece of poetry.  And, if you’re lucky, dad throws in $10. so you can get her some flowers, or a piece of jewelry…In that strange period of time which marks the transition from high school senior to college freshman you see mom as a bit ( ok,a lot ) of embarrassment a good deal of the time.  So Mother’s Day gets the traditional treatment, maybe you and your siblings take her to brunch ( which consists of 45 minutes in line, past the time of your reservation and room temperature bacon served alongside something they call scrambled eggs and a massive hunk of prime rib, or ham….) .  During college Mother’s Day is, well its another Sunday after another “oh my God, the semester is almost over” Saturday night.  You call, and if you can you visit, hoping someone is making bloody Mary’s or mimosas, you know, “hair of the dog…”

Then, you graduate.  You get all melancholy that first year you have your own place, your own bills, your own, well, life.  And Mother’s day rolls around and you make plans to spend the day with mom, and when you get there she comments on your hair, and those jeans and asks if you’ve brushed your teeth or paid your college loan…and you wonder, “What the heck is this lady doing?  Trying to tell me what to do?”  And  you realize there are now two WOMEN in the conversation.  You realize, she doesnt…so you suck it up.

And then, its YOUR first Mother’s Day.  Glory of Glories you have birthed a child!  Trumpets announce the arrival and you sit royally in your throne awaiting the massive parade of guests and gifts.  NOT.  Your husband gets you one of those ” 3 for $10.” bouquets at Acme, the baby pukes all over the one clean blouse that fits those massive breastfeeding boobs and you are exhausted after 3 hours sleep.  Mom calls to ask when you are coming over and you secretly wish you were in Austrailia, with Alexander….

Years come and go and your children repeat the cycle.  You are amazed at how wonderful that jelly toast tastes, how your children chose the most perfect card — Hallmark must have studied my life to write this one —  You treasure the bacon and sing songs while you wait in line.

If you are lucky, and blessed, you will experience Mother’s day as a grandmother.  Yesterday as my husband and I sat on the beach, breathing in the salt and the calm, I pondered this day, my 7th. as a grammy.  I marvel at my daughters and their amazing babies — at their patience and work ethic and the different, yet equally effective lifestyle that they are living and raising their children in.  I treasure the way my son stepped in and raised his Ava, on his own, after her mom walked out on him, and her, at 5 months.   I laugh when I realize that I have had 6 grandchildren in 6 years, and now number 7 is on the way…

My husband sat a triad of gift bags on the counter on Friday.  He and two of the grandsons had gone shopping for my Mother’s Day gift.  Funny man — doesn’t he realize?  My Mother’s Day gifts surround me every day.

Happy Mother’s Day.  Enjoy the ride.

the king of bad decisions…

I just read an article about how someones dad, when laid off from work in the 70’s, turned himself into a landscaper.  Got me to thinking about my  dad, the king of bad decisions.

My dad started out, the child of a bootlegger and a drinker — the little brother of a beautiful blond haired beauty, my aunt Nita.  Stories of their youth sound a bit horrifying to me — taking care of each other while pop made night runs and mom sat at a speakeasy drinking.  Not the stuff Holiday cards are made of. But they survived.  She ran off and married a handsome soldier in the mid 40’s — dad and pop drove out west and dragged her home, twice I think, before pop finally relented.  Pop  never was crazy about Uncle Eddie, and his “polish” family ways, but that is another story.  They spent everyday of their life together, raising three children, until Aunt Nita passed.  Then Uncle Eddie stayed in their little brick house until he joined his beloved Juanita in Heaven.

Dad dropped out of school shortly after 8th grade ( can you say, bad decision) and joined the navy as soon as he could convince them he was old enough.  Served during wwII, lots of pictures remain of him drinking in Puerto Rico, manning his gun on his ship, hanging with friends and sailors…We also have several pictures of his boat, the tops of onion skin paper letters that he wrote my grandmother…only a few words written in his beautiful tight script left on the 2 inch letterhead that he eventually cut off the letters.  I have no idea why the letters werent savable, the words I can read speak of beautiful islands, longing for home and assurances that he would be okay.

When he returned he ran ragged for a while ( bad decision) drinking, wrecking cars and raising hell.  One particularly bad night resulted in the death of a friend in a car accident that may or may not have been dad’s fault.  He spoke of that infrequently, but always with sorrow and regret.  There were women — many of them and fights and beer.  Somewhere in there he reacquainted himself with the woman that would become his true love, my mom, Betty Ann.  They had known each other when she was 10 and he was 16, and if you believe my dads story, one day he and pop were riding through Dover, shortly after he returned from the Navy and she was walking down the street, no more than 14 years old.  He said “pop, Im gonna marry that girl some day”.  And so he did.  A month after she turned 16 — took her to her grandmother who had raised her and said ” Im gonna marry Betty Ann this weekend, ok?”  And that was that.  ( one of the good decisions!)  They didnt have, as my mom would say, a “pot to piss in” for many many years.   They moved a lot, ran shoe stores ( bad decision leaving that field, apparently dad was a great salesman and mom and he worked well together) , were caretakers at a lodge ( Big brother pushed bigger brother off the dock one day, ran like hell back to the house to hide), sold freezers….and then dad landed the job of his life:  on the line at General Motors.

Their life changed then and dad began a lifetime of bad decisions that led them to a point,when for all intent and purposes they should have been sitting pretty,  where he said “Im worth more to your mother dead than alive” as he bemoaned the fact that when he turned 65 the value of his life insurance was cut by 3/4 .  Dad knew how to spend money, but not how to save it.  His pride and the fact that my mother had become pretty much a “hood ornament” a beautiful woman that he liked to show off and have host parties, kept her from working much and his job at GM , where he eventually made it into supervision
(imagine that, without even a high school diploma) paid well, but not well enough to warrant the lifestyle he loved.  I never, never heard that man tell me I couldnt have something.  My first car was a 190 sl mercedes.  My brothers had matching corvairs in the late 60’s, their own band that dad drove to gigs in Atlantic City.  When I couldnt learn to drive the stick shift that the mercedes had, dad bought me a cougar:  the mascot of my school, and in school colors.  He gambled and drank, spent every penny he earned in that cycle of poverty that people who grew up with no money often do, and when at age 54 he had triple bypass surgery and was retired immediately ( 1979 ) he had no savings.  Did that daunt dad?  Hell no, he had his retirement, which in the late 70’s was good, he had GM (“Dont worry honey, people will always need cars, GM will always be on top ….bad decision)  and he had the belief that since his dad had died at 62, and he had his heart attack at 54, he wasnt going to live long.  Hence the term life insurance that in his head would keep mom, along with 1/2 of his retirement pay, in her current lifestyle  ( I have lost count of the number of bad decisions there) . Over the next 13 years they lived the life.  Bought a travel camper, drove up and down the east coast ( mom was afraid of flying), hit Disney world, Cape Hatteras, kept a place in Cape May for years.  Bought cars — on their credit card, no lie, selflessly gave my children gifts and trips and experiences that shaped their lives, but still no saving, no thinking about the future.  When my grandmothers died, there wasnt enough money to buy tombstones.  In 1992, dad sold their house, he couldnt keep up with it anymore and they needed cash.  They had close to 100000 in equity line on a house they had paid 13000 for in 1962 — and bought a modular home.  From this modular home they  lived like they were at the beach,  they loved that place.  Until the first tornado watch was issued.  They were scared.  I talked them into coming here for the weekend, tried to get them to come here permanently.  Dad went through the depression that follows a second heart surgery, the loss of his insurance, General Motors cutting benefits.  He suffered from the lack of a formal education, and the man who would do anything for anyone, the man who could fix anything and whose hands could hold the weight of the world, became confused and scared.  He bought ridiculous things from telemarketers.  He bought hundreds, HUNDREDS of those state coins and stashed them, later to use them for common purchases. He gave my son his little s10 truck because he liked it, and bought yet another car.

The bad choices of his youth and mid years caught up with him.  Dad lasted 82 years.  It was a hell of a ride.  He had alot of fun, in the end his financial decisions about his retirement check  have allowed mom to live a good life.  He taught us all lessons about love and giving and enjoying the day.  He was, and continues to be my favorite person in the world.   I miss him more than I can say, and when the strokes and dementia stole him from me I hung on to him, pulling out moments of lucid conversation and joy.  My husband would roll him down the halls of the nursing home, telling tales, listening to dads stories, searching for the “little people that had rolled” him across the lawn the night before.  I convinced my mom to let me bring him here about a month before he passed.  It only lasted a week, she couldnt handle the fear being alone with him brought her when I was at work, but one moment in that week will always be etched in my mind as the essence of dad and my’s relationship.  He was asleep in the living room, where we had set up a temporary hospital: complete with special bed, medicines, equipment and 24 hour nursing.  I was spread out on the couch, in case he woke up.  In the quiet, he lifted his head and looked at me.  I said “Knitting”, he nodded and said “Napping”.  And that was it.  lay his head down and went back to sleep.  That was all it ever took.  A word or two.  Dad and I knew that we were there for each other, always.  Bad decisions, mistakes and regrets aside, he was the best, and while he never made it big, he always made me, and the others around him, feel they had it all.

September vacations…who knew?

One of the busts about teaching is you have to live on their schedule.  “Them” being the districts that set the school year….there are no vacation days in teaching…except for the ones built in, and when you have vacation, be it Spring break or Summer vacation or Christmas break, the WHOLE NATION of children are on break and everything is crowded and noisy…and you know, full of kids.  Which, being a teacher for 25 years, I can tell you, is NOT how teachers want to spend their vacations — with a whole load of kids who don’t listen to them…but I digress…

So, now that I am retired and restarted, in another wonderful career…..I can take a vacation in September.  Holy God, why didnt someone tell me it would be this awesome????  September, glorious september. cool in the evening, warm during the day, uncrowded beach.  Oh my, how did I not know about this sooner?  Oh, thats right, I was in school…WP_20140928_009 WP_20140928_034 WP_20140929_006

Ah. The family vacation.

Back from the annual ( well almost annual, we missed last year, but that’s another story) family vacation.  A week on Cape Hatteras, sitting in the sand, listening to the grand  babies laugh, and fight. boy can those 4 find stuff to argue about.  You see , they are 1,2,3 and 4 years old.  You get the picture. 

 

But, in the midst of it all I was struck by the lack of urgency.  Often we get to the island and we hurry, gotta do this, see this, spend this much time in the sun…shop, whatever.  None of that this time.  Each day began in the sun and ended on the deck.  Bathing suits and flip flops.  Fried fish and steamed clams.  Blue claw crabs.  MInnows in the bait trap and oysters under our feet.  And no sense of ,” oh heck, its almost over:….just a feeling that we were supposed to be there, and that we would be there again.  Good stuff.  Good stuff.