Saturday, May 02, 2015

Ice Breaker

At this point, I’m a middle aged woman beginning the next chapter of my life, trying to find my happy place. It’s been quite a journey so far. I’m finding I’m an introvert with people skills. I like myself today, which to me is more important than love. Not an easy journey, it has taken many years in recovery for alcohol AND people pleasing to reach this point. My journey, began the day before Kennedy was assassinated, in a town outside of Chicago known mainly for their hospital and prison. Why my 15 year old mother and 17 year old father were there is still a mystery to this day. They found out the hard way that living out the 1960’s mantra of “Sex, drugs, Rock and Roll” to the fullest didn’t mix well with parenting, which led the State of IL to intervene. It’s still etched in my mind two strange women putting me in a car, with my parents claiming they were aunts sent to care for me while they went on vacation to work things out. That last goodbye haunted me for many years. Bouncing between orphanages and foster homes, an adoptive family, wanting a little girl but so done with diapers whisked me away, brought me to their house. Ha! I showed those mean foster brothers, I WAS worthy, ADOPTABLE. Step 1: Accomplished; now all that was left was perfection so as not to be returned. No pressure there. Luckily for me, perfection was something I had been training for, I knew at a very young age that perfection USUALLY left fewer scars. I traded in 2 foster brothers, spawns of Satan himself, for 2 big brothers, parents that loved me, a dog and a cat that I recently found out was mine? Apparently I bought Tinker Bell from my brother for a mere 25 cents. I also met my very first BFF, my constant companion, partner in crime, Grandpa Ott. He helped me acclimate and was the one person that I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt loved me no matter what. I wasn’t as accepted by everyone in my new family, but that didn’t matter as long as I had him. Out of high school, my rules changed, and the inner rebel came out until it was mutually decided that it was time for me to become an adult. Venturing out into the world was something I wasn’t really emotionally ready for, which left me a target for the very people I protect my kids from today, but I also found my first “True Love” which led to the birth of my oldest son. Not only did I believe I had replaced the loss of my grandpa, having a child that would love me unconditionally, AND my mom could never label me a teen parent, after all I had 17 days of being 20 under my belt. The combination of my mom’s mastery of tough love and me being a magnet for users and abusers, we set off to begin a NEW, IMPROVED life; Cali here we come. Digging ditches for myself became a way of life. Drama and despair were a constant companion. If I didn’t have any, I’d find a supplier. All while telling myself if it weren’t for all these NOUNS running around, life would be perfect. If there was a bridge in sight, I had the matches. Finally I hit a hard rock bottom on St. Patrick’s Day. Even in recovery, I broke all the rules initially, fought it tooth and nail, but I kept hearing “When you’re sick and tired of being sick and tired” so I managed to “Keep Coming Back” without drinking in between meetings. What better way for a single mom to stay sober than to find a man in recovery. Two birds, one stone! The FAST TRACK to perfection, until it wasn’t. Three boys five and under, as well as a brooding teenager, I set off once again, but I gave it my all first. Through his year in the hospital awaiting a liver transplant, I worked full-time, while I covered his work responsibilities, took care of the boys and stayed sober all by myself. With his re-birth, straight out of Pet Cemetery, and my newfound knowledge that I COULD MAKE IT, things never returned to what I had known before, we went our separate ways. Through the nasty aftermath until his death I remembered and truly felt I’m a fighter, a survivor, masked in a mild mannered persona. My secret weapon “Never let them see you sweat. My anthems include “The Bitch is Back and I’m Still Standing” Due to my early childhood scars, my children’s well-being and family became my number one priority, above all else. I can say with confidence that I have raised four wonderful young men, full of empathy for others, while strong enough to know when to walk away from all those unhealthy situations that I had gravitated towards. They are now spreading their wings, embarking on their own paths, creating their own trails instead of blindly following the pack. Over the years I’ve had the opportunities to make amends for my thoughts, words and actions that have hurt others, and to reconcile with my past. I have reconnected with both birth and adoptive family. Although terrified of their rejection, the first amends made were to my parents, whom had become estranged for a few years. I remember my dad called me the minute they received my letter. I’m forever grateful that I was granted about 15 years of building a solid relationship with them. I finally returned to my childhood home after 30 years, to care for my dad in his final days, staying for a month to help my mom during the initial transition. I even claimed “Favorite Child Status” which took a mere 50 years. Now it’s time for me to begin a new chapter in life. I do that through writing, art and getting into service for others. Today my dreams include helping women break the cycle of abuse, writing an Oprah Book Club’s Best Seller, and performing at least one time on that infamous Improv stage, which calls to me every time I see a show. Part of that journey is what led me here, to join Toastmasters, and with a group name “ADLIBMasters” I was hooked. In exchange for allowing me to join you, you’ll all be invited to my second open mic, first one is STRANGERS ONLY!

Sunday, March 29, 2015

One Flew the Cuckoo Nest

Since the boys were little, I thought all I ever wanted was for them to be happy, healthy, productive adults. Now that the time is here, all I want to do is call a time out. Mixed with my pride for them, is excitement for what they can accomplish, but also extreme sadness for their leaving. Couldn’t they have taken a bit longer to grow up? Maybe ease into the whole independence thing. It amazes me, some days seemed endless when they were small, but somehow the years still just seemed to fly by. Did it have to happen so soon? I’ve only been raising children for thirty-one years. I found myself filled with such mixed emotions as I spoke to a mentor and self-proclaimed big brother for my "Stevie" last week. Great news, great opportunity. He sold me so well, I ran to Steven's room to tell him about this exciting opportunity. I didn’t realize that within an hour I’d hear it was a done deal. So caught up in the moment I forgot to ask questions, like "What's the catch?" There's ALWAYS a catch. Ten hours separation between my son and his mom, oh and a mere 24 hours to prepare for this move. Friends always commend me for my toughness, my ability to hold it together, never one to let the sweat show. Little do they realize, behind the scenes I’m a blubbering fool, unable to face anyone with my puffy, reddened eyes, standing in a puddle of my own tears. Mixed with the excitement for his opportunity, pride in his ability to look past the hard work to what he can achieve in the long term, is sadness that he has to spread his wings so soon. Hopefully I can hold it together so that the last vision he has as he drives away will not be me resembling his brother’s face once swollen by multiple yellow jackets stings. I am proud of him, just not as prepared as I always thought I would be for him to spread his wings and fly the coop. A friend mentioned the quote about animals eating their young, relating to his experience with parenting, but I've CHERISHED every moment I’ve had with my boys. I’ve ALWAYS adored them, no matter what the situation. I went into parenting knowing that in the grand scheme, our kids are with us for a very short time. I ALWAYS love them. Never, even on the worst of days did I wonder what kind of seasoning I should use. To prepare myself, I found the name of the town, looked into what it's all about, to see for myself, it's not as dark and desolate as I imagined after speaking to Steven upon his initial arrival. I know once he acclimates, he'll be fine. I have the checklist in my head of all that I need to clarify with him. 1) I won't just show up, but if he needs me there, I'm there in a heartbeat, but I have to be invited, well I’ve already changed that to I’ll call before I show up at his door; 2) this is ALWAYS his home and the door is always open to him. 3) He knows he's my world, I love him dearly, and am so very proud of him, always have been and will be forever more. For added measure, I had a house key made on a special world key to symbolize that no matter where he may roam, he always has a HOME. While working through this transition, I realized much of my insecurity and fear behind this huge transition stems from my experience on the other side of this fence. I was constantly reminded that "once I left home there was no turning back; the door closed behind me. She promised to throw money in the rolled down window for the grandchildren on their birthday. Within a month of my departure, my bedroom became a den, new carpet and all. It was like she, signed up for eighteen years and when that time expired, we were on our own. It took 30 years and my father's deathbed for me to return. Why? I was never invited, never made to feel it was my home to return to. I can't speak for my mom on why she made things seem so FINAL. I'm sure she didn’t mean for it to be as harsh as I interpreted it, but there was never any clarification, so I took her at her word. Now at almost 80 years old, she feels alone, wishing someone would jump at her list of demands, while not wanting to be a bother. She pushed us a bit too hard out of the nest, and lives got in the way. She's set in her ways now, refusing to try new things, while expecting everyone to cater to her. She has earned that right, but as with any right, there are consequences. Mom and I have cleared the air since that time so long ago, and we’ve all tried to help her through her own transition. My brothers live 20 minutes away, so I suggested inviting them to Sunday dinner. Her response, “What, I HAVE TO cook?” I’m half way across country, so I suggested Skype, setting it up on her computer so she merely has to click on my picture. It’s too difficult to figure out, even after I set it up on her computer; email has too much junk, someone might steal her information on Facebook. She can’t hear well enough for the phone. I offered to buy her a ticket to come out here. She HATES flying. Train? Too long, she has problems with my bladder”. I even offered to send a grandson for a visit to help over the summer. “What, and stay at my house?” I'm sure the list goes on, but you can see the direction this is headed. Once I got out of my head, I realized her experience doesn't have to be mine, and I'm sure it won't be. I believe in give/take, and am a bit more open minded than she. I'll have a tentative ticket, with my finger on the mouse to click buy the second they ask me to visit. Because of my mom's tough nose approach, she is hurting now, because of the pain I felt over the distance within my family, and having felt as an outsider in both birth and adopted families’, I traveled to the opposite end of the spectrum. Family is my #1 priority. I've cherished every moment I've had with my boys. Even on those days that seemed they’d never end, I never once wondered what kind of seasoning would be best for kid stew. I made a conscious commitment when they were born that FAMILY was my absolute highest priority. I'm blessed. My kids have no doubts about my love for them, they know they are always welcome, and this is always their home. They have space to spread their wings, and I'll always be their biggest fan. They have a built in fan club with their brothers and mutual tight knit group of friends, which they've shared over the years. It would seem that my report card from my parenting adventure came in with flying colors. My boys are becoming those healthy, happy, productive, successful members of society that I had dreamed for them so many years ago, I just wish it didn't happen so quickly. I am OK, it's OK to cry. Some tears are of joy. So happy for them, excited for their new adventure. The tears are still flowing, but now they truly are joyful tears. Change and unknowns are scary, especially once they land inside my head, which can be the darkest place to venture to alone. The good news is as soon as I choose to be done, I hold the key to find my way out. Even with a 10 hour separation, we have ROAD TRIPS, Skype, phone, Facebook, Messager, many options. This is not the end, just a new chapter, new beginning, full of hope and excitement. No matter where their travels may take them, they always have a HOME.