Tuesday, June 21, 2016

In the Beauty Pageant of Life, Just Call Me....

Miss Understood

I guess we all have those moments when we wish other people had insight into our circumstances without us having to rip open our hearts and show the bleeding remains of heartbreak.

As I get older, I am seeing a greater disconnect between people and with that comes a more distinct unwillingness to give anyone the benefit of the doubt.  People no longer seem to even attempt an understanding of what someone else has struggled through or is wrestling with in the moment.  We as a body of human beings are losing much of our humanity in only thinking about how someone else's behavior is affecting US.

No one should have to explain their personal pain, and yet....if we don't, someone is most certainly apt to get offended and stay that way.  To that end...I am just going to lay my "stuff" out there for anyone who cares to know.  And if they still are resentful or hate filled at the end of it, then I am just going to have to say "that burr is remaining under your saddle blanket by YOUR choice."

I'll go back a ways and briefly do a personal history first.  My biological parents divorced when I was very very little.  So small that I don't remember them being married at all.  I was raised by my mother and step-father.  My mom had always been a caregiver for HER mother and never enjoyed being able to feel like she was the child - she was always pushed into a parental role.  Because of this, she wasn't the most "touchy feely" mom in the world.  My step-dad suffered with the pain of not having his own biological children with him and had difficulty at times being the daddy a little girl needed and wanted.  My biological father disconnected emotionally from me at a very young age and was always this shadow figure that I knew should hold importance in my life, but I could never effect a re-knitting of our relationship.

As I grew older, my step-dad and I became closer and began to bond as a family should.  Part of this was due to the fact that my step-brothers came to live with us, and so,  Daddy had what he had always wanted and needed in his life.  Fortunately, my step-brothers and I became close as well and our family as a whole was better for their inclusion into it.

All of these things set the stage for what has been the darkest of nightmares in my life.  In the span of approximately 4 years....I lost my Daddy, then my oldest brother Nick, and then my brother Dave.  And then....I lost my mind.  I had a total mental breakdown which had been building due to an undiagnosed medical condition and kicked over the cliff by not 1, not 2...but 3 deaths in rapid succession in my immediate family.

My medical problem was revealed and treated and I grieved for my family and began to heal.  However, while all this was happening I was also "doing" life.  I had a great husband and a big family I was partially responsible for.  My husband and I both worked very hard but we struggled in our attempts to manage financially and to "blend" 2 families.  All of the 6 kids involved were in their teens and all but 2 lived with us full time.

I will stop here and state that I genuinely love all of these now adult kids.  Roger and I were different types of parents but we each had areas of strengths where the other was weak and I felt it was a very do-able process.  I will be the first to say I am in no way a good candidate for mother of the year, but I have given motherhood my very best shot with both my own and Roger's kids.  Roger, on the other hand, is a fantastic dad!  He is 100% selfless in his approach to life and the people in it.  I wish I were worthy of his example.

We had hiccups, bumps in the road, misunderstandings, out and out fights, and a lot of tears, hurt feelings and misunderstandings.  Both of us lost our jobs, we tried to have our own business (twice)  but because of the economy and a situation of no cushion to hold us up during the early formative days of business, we were not successful in keeping that balloon in the air.  The really horrible part of that was while we were struggling to keep a business going, we were barely paying our own bills and we had two of our sons working for us.  We tried to make sure they got paid, even when we didn't.  We sunk every dime we had into it until it sunk us.  And yet, even still, we also had a lot of fun and laughter.  It worked....or I thought it did.

But then.....my mom got sick.  I quit my job with a local landscaper and went to Amarillo right after Thanksgiving that year.  I was still recovering from H1N1 and had very little emotional or physical strength.  Roger was watching his business fall apart right in front of his eyes and neither one of us could lean on the other.  We both had to just stand on our own and try to make things better without burdening the other.  It was a bleak time.  It was an unhappy time.  It was a damn frightening time.

I spent the entire month of December 2009, in Amarillo by myself (with visits and support from very good friends) while Roger remained in Arkansas  trying to hold our life together.  My days were filled with visiting my mom in rehab, watching her deteriorate mentally, and packing and moving all of her household goods into storage.  I had been told she would no longer be able to live by herself and with no family in Texas to help, I needed (and wanted) to bring her to Arkansas with me.  To say mom didn't want this is an understatement and so we struggled with each other over that repeatedly.  On January 4, 2010, my daughter Kaylee flew to Amarillo and she and I drove my mom,  her clothes and a few of her possessions from Texas to Fort Smith.  Roger and I installed her in our house, in our bedroom... in our bed. 

The weather was horrendous that year and we were basically housebound for several days.  But, mom's spirits had improved and she finally seemed to be okay with the realization that her life would be here now instead of "home."  For many months, Roger's dad had been very ill as well, and he and his siblings were rotating in and out of the caregiver role.  I was so glad he had brothers and a sister to share that burden....it is an awful thing to shoulder alone.

Mom started having "spells" and eventually had to be hospitalized.  As our luck would have it, my mom was in a hospital room while 2 doors down in the same hospital Roger's dad was fighting for his life.  Again, neither of us could lean on each other - we each had our hands full and while Roger had his siblings, I had no one.  I just couldn't ask my kids to walk that journey with mom as she had settled into full blown dementia and I just never knew what she might say or do.

After almost 3 long weeks in the hospital mom just gave up.  She passed away and her last words to me were angry ones because she truly didn't know what she was doing or saying....but it hurt all the same.  Mom's passing left me with a full time job of settling her affairs, dealing with all the remains of her life and trying to work my own recovered job at the same time.

I was of no use to my husband or anyone else.  I sank deeply into my own knee jerk reactionary mode and just went about the task of trying to settle things as quickly as I could.  My poor husband was watching his dad lose his fight and he was losing his own fight for his business - none of which I could help with except to try to help financially.  Emotionally I had nothing.........for anyone.

There was non-stop arrangements to be made.  A funeral here with a memorial and burial in Texas.  The sale of her home and tying up the loose ends of her life in Amarillo.  All of which I was having to do long distance, which meant marathon telephone calls and having to impose on friends in Texas to do things for me.  Things like check on her house, keep the appliances running, the yard cleaned up and then showing that house to potential buyers.  There was not one moment of one day when I could just let down and allow my mind to rest.  Once the house was sold, there was the chore of moving all her worldly goods from Amarillo to Fort Smith and putting them into storage here.  I spent over a year sitting in a storage unit for a lot of time, practically daily, sorting through things, tossing things, piling things in categories and crying.  My mom died in January of 2010 and about 8 months ago I finally shredded my last document and was able to see an end to what my life had become.  It was at that moment that I finally allowed myself to begin to truly grieve for mom, for daddy, my father, two of my brothers and a few furry friends along the way.  I couldn't afford myself that luxury before that moment. 

During this time, Roger lost his Dad and his Mom.  Both were devastating losses for him, but losing his Dad was particularly hard because he always had his dad as his sounding board and his staunchest supporter.  I hope I was able to pull myself out of my own fog enough to be of some help to him.  I'm almost afraid to ask.  On top of all the actual human loss, there had also been the loss of two jobs with nice incomes, both Roger's and my own, people we loved who were struggling with problems, and just the general day to day life events that everyone has.

But over the course of the past 6 years, our family crumbled and I know that I am to blame a great deal for it happening.  I hate it.  I hate it so much that I would do anything to fix it.......and I feel like I've tried.  But if you only have the materials to build 2 walls of a room you can't  finish it without the other 2.

I will not make excuses for doing what I had to do during those 6 years to survive, to stay sane, and to bring myself back from the edge of the abyss.  I am blessed with my husband who has allowed me to "feel" throughout this whole ordeal without putting pressure on me to pretend that I was in any way, shape or form....okay.  Because I wasn't.  And he and I had both arrived at the understanding of what happens when you squash your feelings so far down they sit on top of the internal raging inferno with  nowhere to go but up and out when the pressure becomes too great.  He and I are well matched, we love each other and in spite of what a lot of people think we are truly happy together.  We have a lot of unhappy moments, mostly rooted in the fact that our family is shredded and there seems to be absolutely nothing either of us can do to fix it.

Am I sorry?  Oh my goodness, yes.  A thousand times yes.  Do I still love everyone in my family? Infinitely and eternally.  Can I guarantee that there will never be problems or issues again?  No...I can't.  And I shouldn't be expected to have to live up to anyone else's ideal me.  I am deserving of being myself and being forgiven and loved in spite of my warts, flaws and shortcomings.  Everyone is deserving of this.

I guess the lyrics of that song about walking a mile in other people's shoes might be helpful to some.  I know that because of my journey these past 6 years, I am certainly a much more tolerant person than I ever was before.  And I've also come to understand that just because people don't talk about what they are struggling with, it doesn't mean they aren't suffering and doing the absolute best they can do.  It also doesn't mean that just because someone doesn't call you out on your behavior, they approve of it.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Stagnant Water

God has blessed me with a very good memory.  At this time in my life I am most grateful for that blessing, even though, I do occasionally drop the ball and forget something "today" - I remember my life's milestones pretty vividly.

Growing up, I attended a VERY small school in the Texas panhandle.  How small was it? You ask.

This was my entire 8th grade graduating class!
Pringle Elementary 1964

I remember that night like it was yesterday.  There were a lot of tears - we had been very sheltered in the 8 years we walked the halls of that little school.  We had the equivalent of a private school education and we had great teachers!  I'm not sure about the other 6, but I did not attend a pre-school or Kindergarten.  I just started off in 1st grade, a little only child, and, for me, the first time I had experienced more than just a few other children remotely my age.  Needless to say, we were all pretty tight...some of us still are.  I do often wonder what happened to Gary Kelley, Freddie Mayfield, Sharon Freeman & Karen Blanton.  But I know exactly where Canon Knight and Mary Hembree are and we talk from time to time.  

I remember the somber yet celebratory mood of the evening and the knowledge that after the tears and speeches, we would be headed to Borger for a Bar-B-Q dinner at Sutphens with our sponsors and parents.

When I was this age, I was pretty smart...smart enough to be the Salutatorian of the class.  No one could outsmart Karen - she was hands down the smartest chick I've ever known.  As the Salutatorian, it fell to me to address the assembly.  Back then, no one trusted you to write your own speech (and honestly, I'm not sure they should have....then....or now.)  My speech was written by my English teacher, Rita Chisum.

Mrs. Chisum was a great teacher, one I always tried not to disappoint.  Disappointing Mrs. Chisum hurt......because she hurt for you.  She was a fabulous role model and she gave me great words to say on an important night.
Unfortunately, I can't remember the whole speech but I do remember one part of it, "Our lives must be always moving forward to remain fresh and full of promise.   Like a river, we must be continually flowing - for standing water grows stagnant and stale.  Nothing good grows in stagnant water."

Over the course of my lifetime, this phrase has played out many times.  And, I must admit that it has been a primary driving factor in what I do.
It is the reason that I recently stepped out of my work comfort zone to learn something new.  I went in an entirely different direction than the one I had spent my entire working career traveling.  It is challenging, fast paced...it can be frustrating and the environment is busy and loud.  I have to be quick....I have to be accurate and most of all....I have to be mentally alert, well rested and focused.  There is no skating through my job as there is a great deal of accountability.

There is also a great deal of satisfaction in knowing I still have the capacity to learn new things, to thrive in new environments and to be productive.  I feel lucky.

And I hope somewhere in some way I have made ALL of my teachers proud of the lump of wet clay they had a hand in molding into a person who is not content to stagnate.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Bless the Beasts AND the Children

I’ve been listening for a couple of days at all the back and forth regarding the child who managed to get himself into the gorilla enclosure, leading to the death of the gorilla. I’ve listened to animal rights activists, parenting experts, zoo authorities, animal psychologists and hundreds of other so called “know it alls” on what happened, why it happened, how it could have been prevented and how it should have ended.

Here is what I know for me…….as a parent and grandparent……..and a lover of all animals large and small.

No matter how careful you are, at some point in your parenting career you have momentarily misplaced a child. They are like little colts, they bolt unexpectedly, their attention span is nil and they are determined to go where they shouldn’t go. The very nature of being a parent or a grandparent is one of hyper-vigilance and it is exhausting. I have quietly grieved and somewhat understood those people who have forgotten a child in the car. While I don’t think I ever could….I have no clue what someone else is dealing with that makes them just not present enough. And….I have no right to judge. Granted, I do believe that some of them were deliberately negligent and it breaks my heart. But for me to sit in my living room and rant and rave about how irresponsible people are would be hypocritical at best. I will say that given the fact our cars can tell us when our lights are on, our seat belts unfastened and our door unlocked they should be able to sense and alert when something weighing more than 10 pounds is on a seat. But that is a post for another day.

Confession time….when my son was still in diapers but mobile he would patrol the house looking for liquids to drink. One could not clear a table fast enough to avoid him trying to drink all the left over cups and glasses. At that time in my life, I painted….A LOT. And, one day I was sitting at my table painting when the phone rang (pre-cell phone days). I turned to pick up the phone and as I turned back I saw him replacing the orange juice container that had held about 1/4 of a cup of turpentine. Yep……he drank it. I grabbed him up and whisked him away to the doctor (you could still get in to see a doctor in those days as well) who gave me a laxative for him and recommended a good double diapering. I won’t go into the epic nature of the resulting blow out but he did have a nice burned bottom to show for my lack of attention (for a split second.)

Fast forward to a few years ago when I was baby sitting my granddaughter Audrey. We were sitting on the couch watching TV. I got up to use the restroom and came back and she was gone. For what seemed like a hour (probably more like 3 minutes) I tore my house apart. The doors were all locked…..the garage door was down….and yet I could not find her anywhere. I searched closets, cabinets, the washer and dryer and even resorted to looking inside the break maker………no kid. I was sobbing I was so terrified and yet I knew she had to be in that house somewhere. She would not answer me and I was scared to death. Finally……I said, “Audrey, I’m going to watch Monster House. Do you want to watch it with me?” From the corner of the living room came a small little “yes.” That child had been sitting under an end table right there in plain sight the whole time, hiding. This led to a discussion regarding the rules of hide ‘n seek. If I say 3 times, it’s time to come out….you HAVE to come out. My blood pressure did not return to normal for quite some time.

I confess these things to say I understand how things can go wrong and I feel badly for everyone when they do. Sometimes bad things happen to good people….sometimes bad things happen to bad people. Sometimes things just happen.

To me the greater question in the issue at hand is how an enclosure meant to secure a huge wild animal was able to be breached by a small child. And once it was the whole situation became a flaming train wreck headed to one ultimate conclusion. Something was going to have to be done and quickly. Wild animals are wild animals – they operate on instinct…..and they can flip a switch without any warning. Even the family dog that has always been a kind and patient animal has the capacity to revert to that inner wolf given the right provocation.

Was there a different ending for this story……..maybe. But, I don’t know it. I don’t know the animal in question…..didn’t know his nature or habits. Sedating him might have worked and it might not have. Again….we never know what single action will flip the switch on the nature of a beast.
I am an animal lover and yet I have no problem with eating meat. I believe God put plants and animals here for man to use and enjoy. I don’t agree with hunting unless you are putting food on your table. I do believe the meat industry could do a much better job of being humane in the treatment of food animals. And wild animals are a mysterious source of wonder to me. Zoos are the only opportunity I will ever have to see the magnificent animals found in the wild. And I believe that for the most part good conservation is practice by zoo authorities.

But………..I believe the life of a child trumps the life of a beast in this situation. It was not the child’s fault he found himself at risk. Maybe it wasn’t anyone’s fault…..it was just one of those random crappy things that happen that give us all the opportunity to sit back and arm chair quarterback the play by play. We all have an opinion but that doesn’t mean we are right. I venture to say there are a lot of people who feel dreadfully about how this played out and even more who are second guessing their own actions and behaviors in resolving it. 

Be careful in loud affirmations that you WOULD NEVER, COULD NEVER be in the situation all those people found themselves in that day. Because you very well could and might if you deal with beasts and children on a daily basis.

God bless all the beasts (large and small)
And all the children (short and tall)
And all the parents and standers by
Who had to bear witness….
Bless those who cried.
Bless those in charge
Who had to decide
And bless dear God
The beast who died.
And bless the child with infinite measure,
Help him know his life is a treasure.