Friday, September 9, 2011

That thing we call fear

I think I may have given God a black-eye. At least that is how my rage at my higher power felt last night as I shouted in frustration and fear. I have felt fear before and mastered it. I felt it when I realized the man I had set my future and love on was no longer available. I felt it when I realized that his disease would make me essentially a single mother without a co-parent and certainly no financial support. I felt it when I took a job from a 70-something spoiled child of a man who inherited his father's business, but not his professionalism, bootstrapping or business acumen. I felt it when I wanted to yell back at him, belittle him like belittles us, and couldn't for fear of losing my lousy paycheck, so that fear coiled like a poisonous snake in my belly, whispering for me to wait it out, wait it out, something better will come along.

Something better didn't come along. At least yet. And I lost that lousy paycheck. You want to know fear? Fear is wondering how to feed and clothe your child without losing your house. Fear is looking said child in the eyes and telling him that even though we felt squeezed before, we'll be choking from the squeeze this time. So I yelled at God. He can take it. I have heard all the platitudes before about how this is an opportunity, blah, blah, blah. Tell that to all the other unemployed people in metro Detroit. If I hear "chin up" one more time, I'm going to punch somebody's chin up.

Someone told me once that there are only too emotions, two modes of operation: fear and love. So I chose to feel love when my gruff father told me to let my house go into foreclosure and come live with them, instead of fear of being a middle-aged woman whose world includes that option of having to move in with her parents, child in tow.

And I feel love for my little boy who offered up the dollar bill his grampa gave to help with the bills. So, yes, I feel love and feel loved. I also feel scared shitless. 

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Good, the Bad and the Birthday

My boy  has been on this earth 10 years. I can't take my eyes off this miracle I helped create. He gives me great joy and causes much frustration. I enjoy his company and am grateful for the chance -- for this little while on my journey -- to have his care entrusted to me. In my darkest moments, having him to care for got me out of bed, inspired me to keep going and to do my best.
     He has seen and experienced more than many 10 year olds, some good, some not so good. He has cavorted in two oceans, rode a horse in the desert and in a pre-production EV in Motown. He learned to read long before school and has enjoyed many, many books. He loves to meet new people. He adores Star Wars, Harry Potter, pirates, cars, karate and waving around swords, light sabers, wands and sticks.  He does awkward magic tricks and tells cheesy jokes. He will stay in a pool or lake until forced out, even if his lips are blue and skin wrinkled. I don't know where he gets it, but he loves to speak publicly and perform.
    In many ways, he's a very normal happy, healthy boy. I'm prejudiced, but in many, he's also exceptional.
     I worry.
    He has seen his father take a seizure from alcohol withdrawal.  He learned pretty early that adults are fallible and can't always be trusted. He knows sometimes he knows better than the adults around him. He has heard and seen too many conflicts handled poorly.  He carries around a lot of anger for a little boy whose personality is naturally sunny. He is easily irritated and easily provoked. He fights with other boys and teachers and even the principal. I worry.
    But. Maybe because I'm his mother and it's my job to not only guide and discipline him but to love him unconditionally that I can find the goodness behind the bad.
     I'm not crazy about his defiance of authority. However.  He will never be easily influenced just because somebody is bigger or older than he is. He is fearless, but is no bully. He is gentle and helpful to children younger, smaller, weaker than he is.  He's not afraid to speak up for himself. As he gets older and more civilized and (hopefully) learns to control his temper, he will learn how to do so in a more respectful manner.
    The lessons he has learned having an alcoholic father are heartbreaking, but ones we all need to learn eventually.  He has learned to manage his expectations. He knows love comes in many forms. He has learned he can love someone and not idealize them. He has learned to be generous with himself and be aware of others' limitations. I have seen this in practice just this week.
    Right before his birthday he was on the phone with his father who was asking him what he wanted for his birthday, and what kind of cake he wanted for their dinner together. Like most kids, birthdays are THE day for being a little selfish.  But, knowing his dad didn't have any money, he told him what he really wanted was for his dad to make him one of his ice cream shakes and tell him a story. And that's how they celebrated together and he enjoyed it.
    At his birthday party the next day, one of his guests, a child from school with a volatile home life gave him a present. It was a packet of trading cards kept fastened with an old rubber band. It was obvious the cards were not new, but his own. Amid the expensive Wii games and cards loaded with cash, my son gushed over the cards. When we got home, he started playing with them, sorting them out thoughtfully. He said he realized they came from the boys on stash, and that made them special.   "If you have money, it's easy to  go out and buy a gift, but he didn't have any money so he gave me something that meant a lot to him."
    I am so proud of him. My scrappy, sunny, furious, generous, shiny son.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Getting Up

I almost hit the wall today. I have to keep in my mind at all times that co-parenting with an alcoholic means never using the word "when" to your child, but "if." That you must always have a backup plan. That your child will suffer disappointments more frequently than most.  That he will have anger and other issues that will have to be addressed. That you will be called upon to parent alone most of the time. That you will have to bite your lip and hold your breath and allow the alcoholic time with your child when sober hoping that wellness lasts through the entire visit. That you will not venture far when your child is in the alcoholic's company. That when it goes well you will smile and laugh and talk fondly about the alcoholic for your child's sake when he relates his successful visit. That you will you be there in a moment's notice to rescue him from the chaos when that wellness does not last and the alcoholic gives into his addiction during his parenting time. That you will have to wipe tears of disappointment from your beloved child's face when said parenting time is cut short and all those wonderful plans your child made with the alcoholic are scattered to the wind.
      I should know all this by now. I shouldn't let myself be lulled into a false sense of security from a few weeks of months of sobriety. My son has spent several very successful, happy and uneventful weekends with my ex. Spring break is here and he was able and willing to take our son for the entire week. Weeks of tweaking our son's schedule to ensure he was at soccer and catechism and karate took place and those discussions were reasonable and joyful between us. He was sober and had been for some time. Our son was looking forward to it. There were museums to visit and soccer to practice and games to play with his dad.
     His dad came to the house Friday morning to pick him up to start vacation.  He was on time. He was sober. That afternoon I had a missed call from that house. When I called his grandfather answered, out of breath, said our son had called. There was commotion, his father and grandfather had been arguing, it had gotten slightly physical. My son needed to, wanted to, leave. His father was gone when I picked him up. He was crying, with his head facing the wall so as not to be seen. He said his dad started to seem funny late in the morning and it got worse. He was disappointed and scared.   En route I thought fast -- funny what adrenaline will do -- and  I already made plans for him to be with my sister her kids for the week, a place our son thinks is heaven on earth. That chased his tears, at least for now.   
     When we got home he was there. He of course, was the injured party in the situation, the victim, he is so misunderstood. I heard him out, away from our son told him I was sorry but he can't fix this now. He was in tear with the disappointment of it all.  He left peacefully enough, though he called later several times, more angry and self-pitying which each call. The botched visit was everybody else's fault.
     I plied our son with McDonald's and Star Wars and he went to bed happy.
    I spent the night at my sister's after I dropped my son off there,  for the change of scenery, and a  sympathetic ear.
     When I drove home this morning, that's when it hit. Self-pity. I was really feeling sorry for myself and my situation. I was hurt that my son has to go through this. I felt sorry for myself that I can't rely on my ex to be well enough to take his son during scheduled time.  Summer is coming up and the camp in my neighborhood I can afford, my son hates and refuses to go. My sister's husband will be recovering from heart surgery this summer so I can't ask them to take him. What if the scholarship for the Y summer camp doesn't go through? Where does he go and what do I do? I have limited funds and vacation time. That got me thinking about my situation. I am in a job , yes in my chosen journalism profession, and yet pays bad enough that my son qualifies for free lunch and medicare. I have been looking for another job since I got hired and have yet to get more than one interview. My profession's stock has gone down significantly while it tries to find its footing with "new" media. I have no insurance for myself. I'm paying off a mortgage on a house bought on top of the real estate bubble. It's worth less than my outstanding loan by half, which means I'm pretty much paying rent for 25 more years. My son is getting in trouble in school for fighting and angry outbursts and I'm worried about him. And I'm lonely, at least sometimes. I'm not young anymore and its hard to meet -- or want to meet -- new people that would want to even try to fit themselves into my chaotic life. In other words, my mind traveled down a very hopeless and dark path.
    So I'm driving home and listening to Bruce Springsteen try to cheer some aging woman up on the radio -- but not this aging woman -- and I hit....the...wall. I pulled over into a cornfield and crumpled. I was tired of slugging it out every day and getting up every morning and doing it all over again. I give!
     I gave in to that for awhile and thought to myself that if I lost myself, if I forgot who I was and what I was about and just gave up what that would mean. How desperately my son needs me. So I wiped the tears. Started the car, drove out of cornfield to slug it out for another day. And will do so tomorrow too and the next day and the next.


Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Laughter and Mental Health

     I  just got back from a much-needed trip. Like typical Americans, my son and I didn't rest by a pool, but crammed as much as we could into the week we could. There was too much to see, to much to absorb to sit around relaxing. I can read a book and lounge on the couch anytime. (okay not by a pool in a tropical setting, but you get my drift) . And you know what? It was restful. We were satisfied and relaxed every day. We slept great.
    There is something to be said to seeing new and beautiful sights. The change of scenery alone gets your adrenaline going and beauty is healthful. Stimulating your senses give you new outlook on things.
    It doesn't hurt if you have a host like I did, who took a week off to ensure I got to all the stuff on my exhaustive itinerary and provide adult companionship along the way. He provided a safe place to explore a new place. And laughter! Let's not discount the medicinal qualities of laughter. Why is that you laugh harder, get sillier, with people who knew you as a kid?
     Len is my cousin and someone I haven't seen for 15 years and haven't spent a good block of time since we were very little. But Len and I have that rare relationship of picking up where we left off. Or rather, starting all over, but from a base of really knowing the other person.
    How can that be? How can somebody who hasn't talked to seen much of you or even know the most basic fundamentals of your life really know you? I think it's just that early on, we knew that essence that made us, well, us. Regardless of what Len does for a living, who he's in love with, whatever habits he has picked up--he's still Lenny. And I am still Chrissy regardless of what my mood  or situation happens to be or what strategy I'm deploying to tackle my challenges.
    Travel isn't practical for many people, I know. Some, like me, have financial challenges or family obligations. But I think its imperative to strive to get those three fundamentals that make a vacation, a vacation incorporated into your life  somehow: a change of scenery; beauty  and laughter.
    You don't have to go to southern California for a beauty and a change of scenery. You can go to a local art museum or gallery. Or walk through a park that's new to you. I know for some people who complain that they work so much they just want to spend time at home. I understand, but every now and then it's important to get out of our comfort zones and gain a new perspective by experiencing someplace new and different. Without that we become stale.
    I don't have to go across the country to laugh of course. But it was a learning experience.  My son kept asking Len and I to tell him stories about our times together as a kid. At first I thought he was interested in family history and then it occurred to me that he enjoyed hearing me laugh. And I sadly realized that I don't laugh much at home. I enjoy things deeply, I smile with him a lot and joke around. But that deep, sincere belly laugh is rare to me, and a rare sound to him. I have a lot of challenges, I know. But I can't use that as an excuse, I can't say, "there's nothing to laugh about." 
    So that is my quest  for this spring; to lighten up and see the absurdity and humor in situations. Like how I'm assigning myself laughter. Now that's funny.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Happy Valentine's Day

    I spent my entire adult life -- with very little break -- as part of a couple before my divorce. My ex-husband and I have lived happily apart as a new couple;  happily together as an unmarried couple; happily together as a childless married couple and happily together as a new little family. The last few years were spent living unhappily as a married couple with a child and unhappily apart as separated married people raising a child. Now we are divorced, living apart --happily for me -- and raising our young son together.
    In light how much time I spent as a twosome and how new I am to singledom, I have realized how strange my feelings towards coupledom have become. Am I envious? Surprisingly not. Though I do feel a twinge every now and then when I see an ad for an intimate restaurant or a romantic vacation experience. Though we all know that that stuff  is special-occassion romance which although important to a relationship,  has very little to do with work-a-day marriage.
    What I find rather funny is my bewilderment.  I find it perplexing that two people find each other in the first place and want to spend enough time together that they choose to actually live together. How do they do that?  Why do they want to? I ask.  And have to remind myself that I did that once too. I am amazed that it  actually works sometimes.  I am happy for friends who find it. I love seeing couples who love and support each other's interests and goals.  I am embarrassed for those who find it -- or think they have found it -- and give up stuff for it.
    Maybe it's an age thing as we all become more ourselves are we get older. Maybe falling in love and being part of a couple is for those whose lives and habits are still malleable enough to meld together. And of course, those oldsters that stay together have already sorted everything out and welded two lives so that nothing can pry them apart. Whatever it is, falling in love and staying together is a miracle and one that should be celebrated.
    So for Valentine's Day I wish  all my happily married or happily in love friends some great high-maintenance romance-- you deserve it after the work you have put in to make it work. Have the lobster, stay at the nice hotel and drink an extra glass of champagne for me!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

A mother's anger

Of all the emotions, anger is surely the most dangerous. Not only because of how much damage it can wreak left unchecked and unrestrained, but also because sometimes it masks another emotion that is too hard to face. Like fear. Or despair.
    While using anger to mask other emotions tends to be a masculine prediliction -- and I have first-hand knowledge of this from my son who seems to coincidentally get in trouble at school for fighting when he has heavy things happening in his life -- this is something I do as well.
    It is a lot easier to get angry than to admit that I am overwhelmed with fear. It is lot easier to stamp my feet and curse than admit devastating sadness and cry myself to sleep. While I have done both--admitted I was overwhelmingly frightened and cried myself to sleep-- I often resort to anger. It is a defense, I know. But it feels more empowering than sadness or fear.
    But I also know if I'm not  identifying the right emotion, it can sneak up on me  and come out sideways. That anger I am  expressing can become uncontrolled. I become unreasonable. I have resorted to violence in my anger-twisted justification of dealing with the alcohol-altered person I married.
    So, knowing this about myself, I know I need to deal with the real emotion behind the mask. Even if it hurts, even if it too hard.
    My ex is in Rehab. This is a good news, even if this is not his first time to the rodeo. While I pray that this time is sustainable, I am keeping in mind the old adage of "hoping for the best and preparing for the worst." I am keeping my expectations in check. I remember how disappointing it is when sobriety is hard-gained and then lost in a flash.
    I've examined my emotions from all sides and here is the deal: I am angry. Period. It is not sadness or anything else. It is out and out pissed-off spit and vinegar anger.
    I am angry for what he has put our son through. I am angry that my son at the tender age of nine, whose biggest worries should be whether there are enough batteries for his Star Wars light sabers, is worried instead on whether or not his father will be sober for good.  I'm  pissed that our son has had to learn so early that people you love desperately can also be untrustworthy. That a person whose job it is to care for you can be unreliable and neglectful. That he lashes out in school when the worry gets too much. I'm furious that it is taking a team of counselors and family members to make sure he knows that he's safe and loved and help him navigate his emotions.
    Maybe I'll move on from this anger, but that is where I am right now and sometimes anger is the appropriate emotion. I know it is a disease. I know! I know my ex isn't choosing to hurt our son. I know! I know his guilt has got to be overwhelming. I know all this and perhaps in the near future I can even bring myself to feel compassion.
    But, first and foremost, I am a mother, dammit! Like all mothers I want the best for my child and I want to protect him from harm. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned? nuh uh. Hell hath no fury like a Mother whose child is hurting.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Fun with an Alcoholic...Not

Einstein once said insanity is doing the some thing repeatedly but expecting different results. So maybe I'm insane, but what I think what happens with me  when I'm dealing with active alcoholism is  this: what I think I'm capable of in the quiet serenity of my peaceful home is different when actually faced with it head on.
    My ex had been sober for weeks. All through the holidays. This is reason to rejoice. When he is sober, he is reasonable and agreeable and our conversations are on point about child care. My son spent ample time with him over the holidays and by all accounts and my conversations with him, our son was  comfortable, cheerful and agreeable. He really enjoyed this special time with his Daddy.  I really want my son to have a close relationship with his dad, and sobriety is a key ingredient to its success.
    So our son had one of those extra days off school that hang at the end of a long holiday like leftover tinsel and I wasn't sure what to do with him as I had to go back to work. He had bounced around a lot during the holidays between relatives, and  although it was joyful time for him, he was settling into his home routine and I was loathe to pack him up for yet another sleep over. So I asked his dad if it was okay if came over in the morning and stayed with our son. Yes, it was, but he needed gas money. Okay, deal.
    He was there on time and sober. We went over meal plans and I was on my way. He called an hour later and informed me a pipe  burst in the basement and we dealt with having a plumber come out.  He was helpful with that and still sober, though rather stressed after the incident.
    A few hours pass and then the call comes, and I know. He's drinking. Did he find the brandy I used for eggnog? Did he bring a bottle? Did he run to the store and buy one with the gas money I gave him? He's talking about how the plumber told him the pipe bursting was due to my overloading the washing machine though I shouldn't question the plumber on this because he would be offended and not be my plumber any longer. He is not making sense and my stomach is in knots, though I try very hard to remain patient. When he drinks, even a small amount, his initial euphoria takes the form of lying to somehow boost himself to some important position.
    I manage to extricate myself from the overloaded washer/burst pipe conspiracy conversation. A little while later I call home to gauge whether I need to come home early, but my son is happy watching a movie and had eaten lunch so I make the call to continue the day as planned instead of risk a scene by  interrupting the day. My son confesses to me his irritation with his daddy though, which is another sure sign of alcohol consumption as he is a little barometer. His Daddy is not "acting normal" when he drinks.
     When I get home my ex is in the basement, telling me he cleaned up (it looked no different than when I left) and that he got me a good price on the plumber, etc. --again with the posturing. I tell him thank you, and doesn't he have appointments? Well, the appointments are rescheduled, he has things to talk about. He is not making much sense. He comes upstairs and its obvious he doesn't want to leave. He talks about a checklist he and our son had for what needed to get done today. He must mention this checklist 20 times, which drives both of us crazy and my son starts to backtalk. I'm telling my son not to be rude, in the meantime thinking to myself, what the hell?
    He needs to leave. How do I get him to leave? I thank him again. He wants to stay. I'm the love of his life, he says.  I will always love him  but we don't work, I say. Why?  he says. I don't want to get it into what will become a circular and painful and useless conversation. I tell him I don't think this will end well, and he needs to leave because I don't want to argue with him. Why? I tell him I will speak with him tomorrow but tonight its obvious he has been drinking.
    He denies this, as usual. But its no use denying it--he is like night and day. I can smell it and I know getting hooked into any conversation will take up my entire evening and end in arguments. So I have to stay on point. Like a drunk, I keep repeating the same things: It's time for him to leave. Thanks for you help. We'll talk tomorrow because this wont' end well tonight. It works and somehow I get him to leave without a scene.
    I think my home is a trigger for him. This is the place he did most of his drinking. This is also the place that has the most bittersweet memories for him. He has told me before that he hates coming to the house. I should have listened more closely to that and not had him spend the day there. But then again,  I can't control his disease. Something else would have happened to make him want to drink.
    It breaks my heart to see how broken he is. I told him I wish him happiness and success and I do. How wonderful it would be for our son if that could come true. To have a father who is whole and sound each day all day. So in the New Year, that is my hope and my wish.