Bird Number Two

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Our mud room is full of stuff once again.  Almost as soon as we loaded all of Luke’s belonging into the car for the trip to Milwaukee, Andrew started hauling his boxes down for the trip to Chicago.  Tomorrow is his last day home.  Of course, he will be back to visit and for holidays, but I wonder if he will ever call this house home again.  No, this won’t be easy, but it is time.  I am excited for him.  I envy him the experience and promise that lies before him.  What a lucky kid!  He is following his dream, and I hope he hangs on tightly to that dream.

I have always known that Andy had a solid purpose on this earth.  I’ve never known what that purpose is.  I still don’t, but that’s not what is important.  Of course, we ALL have a purpose here.  We are all meant to be, but as Andrew’s mother, I have always known that Andrew was meant to be born.  Hard to explain…

Grace Elizabeth was born 12 weeks early.  She was beautiful and perfect, but she was so tiny.  She fought for her life for 17 days until pneumonia entered the picture, and the fight was over.  She was born quickly.  I gave birth to her suddenly and at home.  We weren’t expecting her for weeks.  We weren’t ready, and she wasn’t ready.  None of it made any sense.  What purpose did this fulfill?

A month or so after Grace’s death, I found out that I was pregnant again.  It was Andy.  It was a miracle.  After trying for two years to get pregnant, I was suddenly and unexpectedly going to have another baby.  So soon.  Maybe too soon the doctors said.  It wasn’t an easy pregnancy.  I was grieving.  At the same time, I was excited.  As the difficult milestone of Grace’s due date approached, I was already pregnant.  It was a mind-twisting mix of emotions.  Nine months after Grace’s death, my healthy baby boy was born.

Many times I have wondered if Andrew and Grace passed beside each other on their way from one place to another.  He floated in as she was floating out.  Anyone who has ever held a newborn baby has seen the sweet “involuntary” smiles they make in their sleep.  I have always thought that it was the voice of angels whispering in their ears that are responsible for those smiles.  As my sweet baby Andrew grew, there were times when I wondered at his existence.  If Grace had not been born early, Andrew would never have been conceived.  It would not have been possible if I had carried Grace to term.

Twelve years later, he was almost taken from me.  One of the most powerful moments I ever experienced in my life was on the day of his accident.  Andrew had been wheeled out of surgery.  The doctor had come into the “Special Horrified Family Room” to talk to us.  Andrew was in a coma.  The doctor said things I didn’t understand.  Frontal Lobe Injury/personality changes.  Profuse bleeding.  Orbital fractures.  External Fixator.  Respirator.  Echo cardiogram.  The doctor said that Andrew would probably not live.  If he did live, then he would most likely be profoundly handicapped.

No, I didn’t think I was going to let that happen.  I walked away from it all, my husband, the doctor, the crying grandparents, the friends who had gathered for the death vigil.  I walked away.  I went into the bathroom and stood in a stall behind a closed door.  I was furious.  No-Fucking-Way was my son going to die.  No way was my son going to be damaged.  No-Fucking-Way.  It was unthinkable.  I had lost Grace.  Andrew wasn’t even supposed to be here.  His birth and conception should not have happened….but they did.  No one was going to tell me that at 12 years old it was all over.  No.  For once, thankfully, I was right.  If it was the only time my hard-headed belief was ever right, then that’s OK.

I could write volumes on what came next.  Yes, Andrew’s recovery was a challenge.  It was a struggle and a fight.  Andrew and I fought together.  I pushed.  I advocated.  I demanded.  I made him mad.  I made other people mad.  It was all worth it.  ALL OF IT.

Ten years later, the accident and the fight and work of his recovery is in the distant past.  If you met Andrew, you would see nothing unusual.  If you didn’t know, and no one chose to tell you, you would never know that he was injured so badly that the doctors were ready to give him up for dead.  What would you see if you met Andrew?  You would see a young man who is excited about moving out of his parents’ home to attend his “dream school,” as he calls it.  He is well-spoken and well-read.  He’s a fantastic musician.  He talks a lot.  He has a wonderful sense of humor…just like my Dad.  He is so much like my dad.

I love all of my children with all of my heart.  They are my joy and my life.  But Andrew is something else, too.  I’m not sure if I can explain it sufficiently.  He was born out of my loss.  He brought happiness into my time of grieving.  He saved my life more than once, but that is another story.  Would he be here if not for my determination not to allow him to die?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  That isn’t what is important.

In two days, I will let go.  This time, I will allow him to leave to find his way on his own.  He will find his purpose, and I will be left behind with a smile on my face and a heart full of joy.  I have been honored to have this young man in my life.  I have learned so much in life by being his mother.  Even before his birth, when he was nestled beneath my heart, he brought me joy and a strength that I never knew I could possess.

I am excited to watch as the next chapter of my son’s life unfolds.  This time I am not holding him or holding his hand, but the bond of our hearts remains.

Updates and Observations

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Milwaukee.  It’s been a very busy few days since my last post.  One son is packed off to school.  It was a good trip, a good day.  Luke was so darn happy to be back at school and to see his roommates again.  They are such a great group of boys.  Ah, but they couldn’t wait to get rid of the parents!  Just watching them made me happy for the future of this world.  Youth, dreams, ambition, kindness, laughter.  It is such a good feeling to see my son in a place that fits him well and with people that he so obviously likes.  This year there is something new at Marquette for Luke.  His girlfriend is a student there this year as well.   She’s in the same dorm two floors down.  I wonder how he feels about this.  I wonder how they will handle it.  Luke enjoyed a year of freedom on campus.  It will certainly be a period of adjustment for them both, and I am staying OUT OF IT.  We enjoyed the afternoon in Milwaukee.  The bustle of the campus was exhilarating.  It was impossible not to get caught up in the spirit of the day.  We enjoyed a lunch with Luke and his girlfriend before heading out on our trip to Chicago.

T and I in Chicago.  How long had it been since he and I were anywhere alone and together?  Surprisingly, (even to me!)  I have decided not to share very much about our night and day alone.  I’m not sure why I don’t feel the need or desire to write about it in detail.  Maybe the details aren’t really clear in my own mind yet.  I will say this, though.  There was nothing at all wrong with our time alone.  It was full of friendship, gentleness, conversation, and caring.  I felt SAFE and cared for, which is something I have not felt in a very long time.

Brush with Fame.  T and I were heading towards Michigan Avenue and to the beautiful little park/garden where I have spent many hours crying.  Moments earlier, I had decided to stop into a deli and buy a lobster salad sandwich.  (This detour is an important detail!)  It was delicious, luscious lobster on a croissant, and I was munching big mouthfuls of pleasure as we walked along.  We stood waiting for the light to change so that we could cross.  As we stood waiting, a guy was working the crowd trying to get money.  He had a good spiel.  Either give him a dollar or according to him, you would be required to skip across the street.  Mostly, everyone was ignoring him.  When the light changed, he led the way skipping across the street.  One guy, the guy next to me, started skipping along behind him.  It made me smile.  It was a little round short guy.  His wife was laughing by his side.  Something was strangely familiar about them.  It was Danny DeVito with his wife, Rhea Perlman.  Seriously!!  I grabbed T by the back of the shirt and gestured wildly.  I think for a moment he thought I was choking on the lobster salad.  T wasn’t certain, so he followed them right into the art museum.  I sat there under one of my favorite lions waiting for him to come back outside.  He was grinning from ear to ear.  It really, really was them.  If I hadn’t stopped for my lobster salad, we would never have had our brush with fame.  Ah….good follows good!

And My Mother.   I was standing on the sidewalk in front of Luke’s dorm next to a huge pile of stuff.  T had gone to park the car.  Luke had gone to find a wheeled cart.  I was alone when my phone rang.  It was the hospital.  My mom had been admitted.  It was the same, continuing problem.  She was stable and resting comfortably.  I stood there for a moment and weighed it all out.  What should I do?  What was required of me?  It didn’t take long.  Today I was a mother before I was a daughter.  Today my job was to be there for my son, not to be running back to the side of my mother.  The nurse had said she was fine.  There was nothing I could do.  There was no imminent danger.  Should we skip the trip to Chicago?  Should I rush back home to see my mom and “do the right thing?”  No, this time with T was important, too.  We had both been looking forward to relaxing for a day.  We needed a break from the stress of our lives.  Rushing back to my mother’s side would only add a little bit more stress and accomplish nothing at all.  The next morning, I received another call from the hospital.  I was immediately scared.  I feared the worst.  What if she had died while I was out having a night on the town??  Thankfully, that wasn’t the case.  She had a nurse call me to make sure that I knew she was in the hospital.  She had thought I would come rushing back home.  I asked the nurse if I was needed.  “Oh, no!!  She is doing fine.  She just needed to be rehydrated.  She’ll be out in a day or so.”

As T and I drove home, I gave my mother a call.  I wondered if I should call her cell phone or try to find the number for the hospital.  I didn’t think she must have her cell phone with her.  Otherwise, why was she having hospital staff call me?  T said to give her cell a try, “You know how your mother is.  She will have wanted to get maximum mileage out of this.”  So I called her cell, and guess what?  She answered it!!  She DID have her cell phone with her!  I was shocked.  She was doing fine, and I told her that we would be there to visit on Sunday.  She was upset that we hadn’t cut our trip short since she was in the hospital.  I remained calm and cheerful.  I told her that I had considered coming back, but the hospital had assured me that she was in good hands.  There was no need.  There was nothing I could do.

Today, with a half-million things that I needed to do, I went to visit my mother.  I stopped and bought a card and a plant before heading over to the hospital.  She was doing fine.  She’ll be released in a day or two.  Andrew and T went along with me.  We had so many errands to run on this one day off before we move Andrew to Chicago.  We had to buy bedding, household supplies, and groceries.  After leaving the hospital, we started shopping and checking things off of our long list.  We were in the first store for about ten minutes when my phone rang.  It was my mother.  “You need to come back.  I need you to run over to my apartment.  I need you to pick up a few things for me.”

I was in shock.  We had just been there.  Why hadn’t she told me while I had been there?  Her apartment building is attached by a corridor to the hospital!  We could have walked over there in less than five minutes.  Now we were a twenty minute drive away.  What did she need?  Instead of continuing my complaints I’ll just say that she needed nothing  important.  Once again, I was firm.  I told her that I couldn’t come back today.  We had too many things to do.  I reminded her that Andrew was moving in four days.  T and I have to work all week.  We had to accomplish what we could today.  I told her that I would try to make time to stop by tomorrow during my lunch hour.  Ugh….

Changes and Discoveries.  What I am beginning to discover is that I am pretty easy to jerk around.  I give too much.  I forgive too easily.  Too many people want too many things from me.  When I don’t do things exactly the way those around me expect, then people are mad at me.  I feel like a pawn in too many lives.  The girls were mad because their father and I spent the night in Chicago and didn’t take them along (even though we left money for pizza and they had a fun night.)  Andrew was mad that I was cleaning last night, because he wanted to watch something on TV with me.  As soon as we walked in the door from our mini-trip, I went about unpacking, cleaning, and doing laundry.  T played slots online.

I could feel the cloak of stress fall all around me within the first hour of being home.  I called T upstairs and tried to explain it to him.  I told him all that I was feeling, and I asked him, “Who takes care of me?  Who really cares about me?”  It seems like everyone around me wants something from me.  They want me to take care of them.  They want me to make them feel good.  Most of the time, I feel inadequate.  There are too many of them, and only one of me.  I come up short every time.  No matter how hard I try, no matter how much I give, no matter what I do, it is never enough.  No one is ever satisfied, and most of all, I am drowning in all of it.  I am sinking quickly.

Maybe he gets it.  Maybe not.  We’ll see…

Things I Love…

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OK, I will admit it.  Yesterday I was wallowing in self-pity.  I’ve done a pretty good job of wallowing today, too, but I have tried my damnedest to remember that THIS, this self-pity phase, while it is really horrible to live through, is not all there is to life.  I have been down before, but I have never given up.  Ever.  It’s not in me to give up.  There is way too much beauty in life for me to ever forget what a privilege it is to be alive.

As I drove back to the office from lunch today, I tried to refocus.  I mentally listed one thing after another that make me happy.  Yes, many of them are worthless, superficial things.  Some of them are big…HUGE.  That isn’t what matters.  These are all things that remind of the joy in life.  These things, little and big, are what make it worth getting up in the morning and continuing to put one foot in front of the other.

Nail Polish.  I have a new obsession, and both of my daughters are right on board.  We buy nail polish, and more nail polish.  It’s not unusual to change shades each day.  I only paint my toenails, but they have been colorful this summer.  Our new favorite brand is Essie.  They have the most fantastic shades.  The girls have even gotten me to try shades of green and blue.  

 

8-year-olds.  I love 8-year-olds, and I am lucky enough to get to live with one this year.  8-year-olds are wise and innocent all at the same time.  They really have life figured out, and they aren’t messed up by the sexual urges and matters of the heart that lie ahead.  8-year-olds are perfect, little human beings.

Coffee.  Few things give me as much pure pleasure as coffee.  Thankfully, I work in a coffee-fueled environment.  There is always a fresh pot of coffee brewed in the conference room at our office.  We make a pot before meetings.  We make more after lunch.  We send out departmental emails to let everyone know when a fresh pot has been put on to brew.  In the event that there isn’t a fresh pot of coffee, there is a back-up plan.  There’s a Keurig brewer in an office upstairs.  We all keep Keurig pods in reserve.  I have a lovely tray with my supply of Caribou Obsidian Keurig pods.  Ah…  Delicious!

Caribou Coffee.  I love Caribou!  Hands down, it is the BEST coffee.  If you have never been to Caribou, GO!  Try the dark chocolate mint mocha or the raspberry dark chocolate mocha. Ahhhh…..  I was a happy camper today, because I finally bought a car magnet.  “I Love Coffee.”
 
Pepper the Wondercat.  I love my cat, .  He runs through the house calling “maaaaa maaaaaa maaaa,” until he finds me.  He makes a funny noise when he runs up and down stairs.  He “tells” me when he needs more food in his bowl.  Mostly, I love how he sleeps on my shoulder all night long.  He waits until I settle in, then he climbs up from my toes.  He walks up the length of my body, and settles in when he reaches my shoulders.  He curls up, and there he stays all night long.  He seems to know that I need him, that I need to be comforted.

My kids.  I love having the opportunity to raise my four children.  Highs and lows, ups and downs, dirty diapers, dirty words, achievements, laughter, hugs, and smiles.  There has never been one moment of regret.  They are all so very unique.  Such a surprise being a parent has been.  I am not necessarily a woman who has always loved being around kids, but my own?  Nothing in life could compare to the experience and privilege of raising these children.

Hugs.  There was a time long ago, when I was not a “hugger.”  Now, I have come to value hugs.  When you’re getting enough hugs, life is good, very good.  Other times, sad times, there is nothing I crave more than a simple hug.  I try to remember that.  I try to be generous in liberal with my hugs.  Each of my children are hugged each and every day.  The girls and I hug constantly.  Nothing feels better, nothing conveys love and safety like a hug.  I love the warmth, comfort, and scent of someone I love.

Pepsi.  Pepsi is perfect. After my first cup of coffee, I pour a Pepsi.  Perfectly bubbly.  Perfectly refreshing.  It tickles my nose.  It’s not too smooth or syrupy.  It cut through the morning feeling in my mouth.  Pepsi is perfect.  I really wish I could someday experience Pepsi in a tall bottle once again.  I remember from my childhood the old Pepsi machine on the Main Street of our little town.  Plug in a quarter, reach in,  the machine would release a bottle.  I can remember being scared that I wouldn’t be able to pull it out fast enough before the machine would once again maintain its grip.  That never happened, though.  Each time I was rewarded with the long glass bottle of pop that I would open on the front of the machine.
It’s not a long list, and it’s certainly not complete.  Life is full of wonders, large and small.  I’m sure I will be back again with my moments of self-pity, self-doubt, and self-loathing.  Today, though, it has felt good to take a short break from all of that.  It has felt good to remember a few of the things that make me happy.

The Worst Question In The World

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Yesterday was not a good day.  Today was better, but only because I was so busy at work.  I didn’t have many moments to think.

I have back-tracked.  I have revisited….again….that same old questions.  WHY?  Why….this?  Why…..that?  The question of why always leads me to look at myself.  What is wrong with me?  Why am I not good enough?  Asking those questions always leads me to begin the litany of my shortcomings.  I am not nice enough.  I am not patient enough.  I didn’t give enough.  I didn’t express myself well enough.  I am not pretty enough.  I am not smart enough.  Who would like ME?  Why would anyone like ME?  I am not worthy of love.   You get the picture.

 

Rejection:   refusal, spurning, dismissal, elimination. 

Elimination:  1.  to   remove or get rid of, especially as being in some way undesirable.  2.  to omit, especially as being unimportant or irrelevant.  3.  to remove from further consideration or competition.  4.  to eradicate or kill.

Spurn:  to reject with disdain; scorn.  2.  to treat with contempt; despise.  3.  to kick or trample with the foot.

 

Losing is not easy.  Losing a friend because they choose not to be in your life any longer is damaging.  Being a liability in  someone’s life means that you are a problem.  You are not worth their time or effort.  To them, you are disposable.  Who could not look in the mirror and wonder, “What in the hell is wrong with me?”

But wait, I have been dealing with this for long enough now to know that logic cannot always be applied to every situation.  Some people are guided by a set of rules that (thankfully) didn’t get passed out to the rest of us.  Adolf Hitler, Rev. Jim Jones, Stalin, Genghis Khan, Goebbels, Mussolini.  These guys didn’t care about the feelings of those they hurt.  They did whatever they wanted.  They did whatever it took to please themselves.  They didn’t own the damage they inflicted.  Guilt was a foreign concept.  They didn’t spend moments reflecting and agonizing over the results and consequences of their actions.  They certainly didn’t apologize.  Just as the abusive husband blames the wife.  “She was asking for it….  She shouldn’t have pushed me.  She should have known better. ”  Bad guys never take the blame for their own actions.  That blame is much easier to place on everyone and everything around them.

Of course, I have never encountered anyone with the level of evil of men like Hitler or Stalin, but evil and corrupt behavior, whether on a large scale or a small scale, hurts people and destroys lives.  Yesterday I was stupid, and I blame myself for that.  It does me no good to ask the question, “WHY?”  There are some questions without answers.  There are some people beyond understanding.  Not everything in life is neat and tidy.  Not everything or everyone follows logic.

T and I took our usual 3-mile Power Walk after dinner.  He made me walk with him.  Well, he didn’t make me.  I said I was too tired, but he looked so disappointed that I said I would go.  I didn’t want to let him down.  He’s really excited that he has lost four pounds.  I have lost none!  The Power Walks seem to spark my hunger.  I am ready for a snack as soon as we’re back home.

Tonight as we walked, I was lagging behind on the hills.  Beating myself up is exhausting business.  I am beyond tired this evening.  I was griping and grouchy on each hill.  I was whiny like a child.  “It’s too hot.  Do we have to do the whole three miles?  Can’t we go home now?  I’m thirsty.”  T refused to let us cut the walk short.  At times, he grabbed my hand and helped me along.  As we headed up the last, and largest, hill near the end of the walk, he put his hand in the small of my back and told me to let him help me.  It was amazing!  He wasn’t even pushing me, but leaning into the weight of his hand made that last hill easier than all of the others.

That small action of encouragement meant so much to me.  He was helping me and being a friend, and I didn’t have to ask.  I didn’t have to beg.  I didn’t have to sell myself to him.  He didn’t care what I looked like.  (ponytail, glasses on, no makeup, sweaty, and grouchy)  He was helping me, because none of those surface things matter to him.  He was helping me, because he is a good person.  So simple, and so welcome, and just what I needed at the exact right moment.

 

Uh Oh, Here I Go…

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The tears have started.  Oh, this is not going to be easy.  As I drove home tonight, I realized that this marks the end of another day.  This means that I had one less day to go home and see my boys draped (largely) around the house.  Suddenly, none of the things that have bugged me over the past few months (years!) seem to matter.  I WANT to go home and see six cars in the driveway.  I want four TV’s on.  I want the house bustling with kids.  I want to hear “Yuck” when I’m asked what I’m cooking for dinner.  I want those piles of big shoes in the mudroom.  I don’t want a neat, tidy, and quiet life without the boys around.  I want one of them in the living room watching a History Channel documentary while the other one is downstairs playing the guitar.  Soon, and I know it now, there will be way too much quiet around here.

I cried all the way home.  I tried to hide it when I walked in the door, but I foolishly broke down the moment I walked in.  There were my big boys, snide remarks and all, waiting for their mother to come in from the garage.  I walked in and broke down in a mess of crying and laughing all at the same time.  They’ve been expecting this.  T announced, “Ah, I knew it was coming.”  Luke said, “Oh, I’m heading into the living room.”  Andrew said, “Don’t worry, Mom.  You are welcome to bring a pillow and a blanket and crash in my tub anytime.”  I stood there laughing and crying all at the same time.

I tried to tempt them away from their plans.  Do they really need to grow up already?  I told them that I have a plan.  I thought it would be a blast to build a giant sandbox in the back yard.  I’d be willing to quit my job, and we could play with bulldozers again all day long.  They just laughed….although, I know for a moment that they thought it sounded like fun!  These next few days will be difficult and bittersweet.  I envy them their youth and excitement.  I am so proud of them, and they are straining at the bit to get this show on the road.

T and I are going to try to make this as easy, and as much fun, as possible.   Wait, I should say that after a “discussion,” T and I have decided to make this as much fun as possible.  Yesterday, he suggested that we drive Luke to Milwaukee and back home all in the same day.  Then…he suggested that we sleep over in Andy’s apartment the following weekend.  Yeah, I about flipped out!  I couldn’t believe that he wanted to just treat this as a serviceable job.  Take the boys.  Do what was necessary.  Turn around and drive home.  No, I wasn’t going to let that happen.  It’s time for things to change, and I told T as much.

I have had fun in Chicago with our daughters.  I have had fun in Chicago with Andrew.  Now I am determined to teach T how to have fun, too.  Thankfully, as I flipped out and told him that we were going to have fun, he began to smile.  Andrew’s apartment is ONE ROOM.  I am way too old to crash on the floor!  It was just a minor bump in the road to loving each other again.  We quickly agreed to make plans to spend time together on these trips to take our sons to school.

We are both taking the day off on Friday.  We’ll take Luke to Milwaukee and then head over to Chicago.  T hasn’t seen the neighborhood where Andrew will live.  We’ve decided to park our car and explore a bit.  Then we’re going to check into a hotel for the night and enjoy some moments of adult time without kids around.  I’m looking forward to hanging out and relaxing.  This is going to be a good step in the right direction for us.

These next few weeks are going to be crazy.  The Tuesday after we take take Luke to Milwaukee, I will head back to Chicago for a class.  I’ll be there all week.  I won’t even be home to help Andrew pack.  T and Andrew will head to the city on Thursday for moving day.  I will only be in class until noon that day, so I will be ready to help with moving day by the time they get to the city.  I am extending my stay, and T and I will once again spend some time alone in the city.

This is all going to take some careful planning.  We are moving our boys away from home.  At the same time, we have our continuing responsibilities at work.  Things are hectic and busy.  Boxes are everywhere.  We’re feeling stressed out,  but we’re also entering a new phase of our lives.  For the first time in decades, we are going to be able to get to know each other once again.  I’m actually looking forward to it.  I’ve written about my sad Chicago walks, and I am excited to bring T along on my path.  It will feel good to have a friend by my side.  It will feel so good not to walk alone.

 

Perfect As You Are

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Sometimes we need to remember that we ARE OK just the way God made us.  I am as guilty as anyone else out there of being my own worst enemy (another favorite song!)

As I drove along today with my sunroof open, the warm air streaming in, the blue sky above me, and the sun shining down on my head, I realized that YES, I am OK.  No, I know that I’m not perfect, but I am also beginning to realize that I need to have care, love, and respect for myself.  Being OK has to start with ME.

Just as I was thinking all of those things about putting an end to my eternal battle and endless self-criticism, the song Perfect came on.  “Change those voices in your head.  Make them like you instead.”  Easier said than done, huh?

One more thing that I want to share with you in this super-duper quick blog post is this Facebook page.  It is chock full of fabulous daily reminders that this great, beautiful world is larger than the thoughts that reel over and over inside our own heads.  I need to remember each and every day to look beyond the tip of my nose and find the good and beauty around me.

http://www.facebook.com/pages/You-ARE-Enough/246517085364842

 

Change, Letting Go, Transitions

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Changes.

I am back from Chicago.  I made it through alive, a lot less sane, but still breathing.  This isn’t a travelogue.  This trip was much less about where we traveled, but much more about our experiences while we were away from the safety and routine of home.  This trip was about change, opening new chapters, and continuing to work on silencing the lingering strains of old memories.

Once again, Andrew and I stayed at the Palmer House.  If ever there was one thing that helped ease us through our fears of the city, it was the staff at the Palmer House.  They were ever helpful in answering my endless questions about navigating the city.  The weather was beautiful as we set out for our first solo trip on the L.

We didn’t even know how to pass through the gates.  The only transportation I have ever had to pay for was a cab.  That’s easy.  Just look out the window, watch the meter, and let someone who knows his way around drop you off at the door.  We stood in front of the ticket kiosks as hundreds of people passed by around us.  I watched a few people put in money and take their cards.  I watched for a few minutes, but I still had no clue what they were doing.  I read the posted instructions.  It might as well have been written in a foreign language.  I looked for a brochure!  🙂  Of course, there was no brochure,  “Mass Transit For Dummies.”

Finally, I went over to the ticket booth where a CTA employee sat behind glass.  I knocked on the window and asked her to help me out.  With obvious impatience, she helped us put in our money and take our cards.  She asked us, “What line?  How long will you be gone?  Is this round trip?”  I suppose all of those things mattered, but I’m not really sure how they affected the amount of money we put in the machine.  There was no ATM nearby.  They don’t take credit cards.  If you put in a $50, then by God, you would not get change back, but you could ride and ride!!

The confusion didn’t end even once we had our cards in hand   The poor over-worked woman had to come back out of her glass cage and show us how to pop the cards down into the machine that activated the turnstile gates.  I must say, Andrew and I were both impressed with the spunky pop up of the cards.  That was most satisfying!

Once we were through the gates, we descended down to the platform.  Andrew’s eyes were huge as he saw the subway for the first time.  Everyone around us looked preoccupied.  Everyone looked like they knew what they were doing and where they were heading.  There were tracks on both sides.  We knew that we wanted the red line, but which side was right?  I knew the address of our apartment finder, but I still wasn’t sure which train to take.  Once again, I wished for a brochure with maps.  Instead, I found a man who looked trustworthy (and I am NOT a good judge of character!!!)  and I asked him which train would get us to Belmont.  I was pretty happy to discover that my hunch had been right.  We were in the right spot, and within moments a train whizzed up to the platform.

There was no place to sit when we boarded, so we stood holding onto poles.  Andrew’s eyes were huge.  He looked pale, almost sick.  At the first stop, people got off of our car, and I grabbed a couple of seats for us.  I was scared to death that I wouldn’t know when it was time to get off the train.  Thankfully, I found the map of the red line on the wall above Andrew’s head.  I was happy when the next stop was announced, and I could see that we were indeed headed in the right direction.

We made it to Belmont and from there it was an easy walk to our apartment finder’s office.  He turned out to be a very nice man.   He asked us questions and made a few phone calls.  Soon, we were on our way to the first apartment.  It was located in a fantastic old building in a beautiful tree-lined neighborhood.  I loved the feeling and history of the place.  I was excited as we climbed up six flights of stairs.  He unlocked the door, and I couldn’t help but laugh when I saw was on the other side of the door.  This was a studio apartment?  My God!  This “apartment” was smaller than my bedroom!  I could not stop laughing and saying, “$895 a month for THIS?”  I had never seen anything like this in my life.  Luke’s dorm room was bigger than this apartment.  I mentally cut the list of furniture I had planned to send with Andy in half.   Still, there was something so cozy, cute, urban, and exciting about seeing this tiny little place tucked under the eaves of this beautiful building.  By the time we went to the next listing, I was prepared for the shocking lack of space in a city apartment.    I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to look inside each of the buildings that we visited.  The vestibules, tiny courtyards, iron gates, and ancient elevators charmed me.  I envy Andrew the chance to get to experience this new way of life.

We knew that we would have to act quickly or we would stand a chance of losing any one of these listings.  The list of available apartments near his school with a September 1 move in date was tiny.  Andy made the final decision.  I should say, he decided the moment he walked into the third apartment.  I could see it.  He felt at home in this one, and it was the one he finally decided upon.

We had done it.  We rode on the L.  We figured out where we needed to go.  We looked at apartments IN THE CITY! Andy filled out the paperwork, and signed his name in a hundred places.  We even found our way back to the Palmer House.  By the return trip, we knew what we were doing.  We bought our tickets, popped them into the jaunty machine, and found our seats.  By the return ride, Andrew had lost his look of panic.  I could see it in his face.  He was imagining himself as a part of this hustle and bustle.  We had a great night of celebration.  We had a fantastic dinner sitting outside along the river.  As I talked with my son, the lovely Tribune building decorated the front of the skyline over his shoulder.

Letting Go.

I had looked forward to my morning Chicago walk.  Before bed, I told Andrew not to be alarmed if I was gone when he woke up.  I planned on heading out for a walk as soon as I woke up.  He could go explore on his own for a while, and we could catch up with each other later.  I knew he wouldn’t mind the time alone, and I knew that I needed some time for myself as well.

I said that I looked forward to the morning walk?  I looked forward to it  in a way, but I knew that it would not be easy, carefree moments.  Once again, I would retrace steps from my past. Bit by bit, I would release a few more pieces of that past. I wandered.  I remembered.  I touched the handle of the door at Miller’s Pub.  I touched the lions at the Art Museum.  I touched The Bean once again.  I found my favorite little park tucked in next to the museum and sat on a bench for my “Chicago cry.”

I am beginning to understand now that some things in life follow no reason.  People don’t always act in good conscience or in good faith.  Life is not fair.  Oh, I have known that all along.  After all, I have buried two children.  I almost lost Andrew.  I have suffered the unfairness of life many times.  Those thing were random, though.  Bad luck, horrible luck.  Never before, though, had I ever encountered the cruelty of human nature.  Sure, I knew it existed, but for some reason I had thought that I was safe from human cruelty.  After all, I had already suffered way too much unfairness in my life. Why would any person knowingly add to that pain?   I had trusted.  Misplaced trust is truly the worst pain of all, and I think that I am a pretty good judge of pain.  Perhaps I am an expert.

I sat there in that peaceful place in the big city thinking about my Chicago Morning Walk, the revisiting, the remembering, the loss, and the pain.  Why do I do this to myself?  Of course, it makes little sense to set out on this path knowing the painful memories that will hold my hand, my head, and my heart as I make my way down memory lane.  Why?  As I sat there and thought about it, I realized that it is little different than visiting a cemetery.  We revisit the memories so that eventually, we are able to let go.

We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the life that is waiting for us. ~ Joseph Campbell

 

Transitions.

The sadness couldn’t last long.  I wasn’t in Chicago to be sad.  This was a time of planning and moving on to the  next stage.  Andrew and I still had a lot to accomplish while we were in the city.  Our next step was a visit to the school, which actually meant I had to write a giant check.  It was exciting to see him entering the doors as an accepted student.  What a program this will be for him!  He will have the opportunity to experience his dreams.  We finished up our business and headed to Millennium Park for a late lunch.  With The Bean in the background, we enjoyed the BIGGEST hot dogs I have ever seen.

We had a great evening with friends.  A dear friend (and co-worker) was also visiting the city with her sister.  Her daughter and daughter’s boyfriend had recently moved to a great apartment on Lake Shore Drive.  We all met for cocktails before a fantastic night out on the town.

This friend of mine “knows all.”  We have no secrets between us.  When we met, almost four years ago now, we knew there was a connection.  We recognized something in each other.   It wasn’t long before we both knew why.  We were both survivors.  Years ago, my friend had lost her young son to cancer on Christmas Day.  Even though many of the people around us don’t know of either of our losses, we recognized the survivor in each other.  It is a deeply, deeply hidden knowledge.  There is something in our eyes that never truly clears away no matter how much time passes.

Last night, as we sat sharing beer and ribs with each other and the children we are so very proud to claim as our own, she leaned over and whispered to me, “This is good, isn’t it?  Are you doing OK?”  I hugged her.  I hugged her, because I love her and because she truly does know me.  Change is not easy.  Letting go is not easy.  Good people are out there, and she is one of them.  Sad memories can be replaced (or at least minimized) by other good memories.  Time and new experiences are the stepping stones to healing.

It was very late when they threw Andrew and I into a cab back to the Palmer House.  It had been a long day, and Andy was asleep within minutes.  My mind was still racing from the events of the day, and I ran a hot bubble bath.  I grabbed my phone and called T while I soaked.  We had so much to talk about in these quiet moments without kids observing our discussion.

So many changes were happening all at once.  So many changes.  My emotions were all mixed up.  It was now official.  Within the next two weeks, both boys would be gone.  I felt exhilaration and loss all at once.  I saw the big blue eyes and soft cheeks of my baby sons all mixed up with the huge shoes and whiskers of my adult sons.  How did this part of my life end so quickly?  I am not ready.  I want to push Luke in the swing again.  I want to watch hours of Thomas the Tank.  I wanted to make roads with bulldozers in the sandbox.  On the other hand, I am tired of waiting up for them to come home at night.  I am tired of laundry, cooking for so many, and girlfriends over all the time.  I needed to talk to T to sort out all of these conflicting emotions.

He listened to me.  It was 1:30 in the morning, and he patiently listened to his weepy wife on the phone.  In his calm way, he asked me if I remembered the times when I felt overwhelmed when the three oldest were little.  We had multiple kids in diapers.  We couldn’t catch our breath some days.  Yes, I told him that I remembered.  He reminded me that we got through those times just fine, then we had a number of years when things had settled down.  Now, here we are again.  Our lives are so crazy that we can’t catch our breath again.  He said this, and I think he is wise.  He hit the nail on the head.   He said, “This is the infancy of our boys adulthood.  It’s like they are back in diapers again, and it’s overwhelming.  It will be over soon, though, and we’ll catch our breath once again.”

I asked him what that would mean, though.  Where will we be once the dust settles?  Will we have enough of ourselves left after all of this?  He said, “God, yes!  We will have each other once again.”