Accidents

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I had planned on writing about our trip tonight.  I had saved away things that I wanted to write about, but as it turns out, our trip home was the most eventful part of the trip.

T and I had a very late, and boozy, night last night, so we didn’t push ourselves to get going too early this morning.  In fact, we detoured to see the place where the fictional Mary Richards was to have lived during the Mary Tyler Moore Show.  I was duly impressed by the architecture as I have a strange fascination with the brutalist movement. Continue Reading »

A Heart Two Sizes Too Small

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I watched “How The Grinch Stole Christmas” tonight with Lola.  She has been singing the song from that movie all week long, and we finally decided to watch the DVD.

Fah who for-aze!
Dah who dor-aze!
Welcome Christmas,
Christmas Day.

I’ve seen the show many, many times, and I was only watching halfheartedly.  Something struck me as I listened to the words tonight.  When the Grinch witnesses the love and kindness of the people of Whoville,

“And what happened, then? Well, in Whoville they say – that the Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes that day!”

It’s the same old story, and it’s a beautiful story.  It’s the same story that has been told over and over in so many ways, many versions, and in every language.  For as long as human beings have been telling stories, this basic theme has been a part of that tradition.  A troubled character is touched by love, and some momentous positive change occurs.  This type of story is  more than just a “good vs. evil” tale.  These stories are lessons.  They attempt to teach us that not only does GOOD win over evil, but that if we are good enough; we can actually change evil INTO GOOD.

Earlier as I was driving home from work, I was had been remembering a “friend” that I had once believed in, championed, supported, and defended.  It was a classic case of throwing good deeds out there one after another in an attempt to douse the flames of evil.  I had excused insensitive behavior over and over again.  I forgave lies and half-truths.  I had forgiven this person for horrible, hurtful things without even the decency of an apology.  I had let bygones be bygones even when no attempt had been made to rectify the misdeeds.   I thought I could teach kindness.  I thought I could show by example the true value of friendship.  I thought I could convert Bad to Good.  When that failed to happen, I blamed myself.  What had I done wrong?  Where had I gone wrong?  Why wasn’t my love, friendship, kindness good enough to make a difference?  I had failed.  I hadn’t forgiven enough.  I had stood up for myself too often.  I had put myself first instead of my “friend.”  I had failed.  This person never changed, just as everyone around me had warned.  In fact, the situation continued to worsen until I had finally had enough.  I walked away from the situation feeling defeated, battered, and beaten.  I had failed.

I thought about this “friend” once again as I watched The Grinch.  Again, I felt the sting of my failure.  No, I wasn’t able to bring the Good out from under all of the Bad.  Yes, I failed, but I also learned a valuable lesson.  It is not my job to try to change other people.  Some people move from person to person taking all that is offered until there is nothing left to give.  While that is a painful lesson to have learned the hard way, I wasn’t really the loser in the end.  In the end, this person is still messed up, while I have learned to acknowledge and cherish the real and honest goodness that already exists in the people who are a positive and giving part of my life.  Those are the people whose hearts are NOT “two sizes too small.”

The Perspective of Memory

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I have to reiterate how very much I hate the month of November.  The time change has made it even more dark and depressing.  It’s cold and damp.  The fields, whose beauty I have admired all spring, summer, and fall are now bare.  The land looks harsh and unforgiving.  The world seems tired and used up.  I hate November.

As I drove to work the other morning, I thought about Grace.  All of these years later, I still feel her presence in my life.  I imagine what she would look like at this age (or any other age over the years.)  I imagine her much like Emily, and it makes me miss her even more.  I picture her making a life of her own, much like Luke and Andrew are doing now.   I wonder where she would be or what she would have become.  While those thoughts make me sad, they don’t overwhelm me.  After this many years, those thoughts bring a sense of melancholy.

I realized that Grace  would now be the same age I was when she was born.  The thought was stunning.  I was just a child when she was born.  The idea of any of my children having to face such a challenge, such a loss, at the tender age of 23 made me shudder.  They don’t seem ready for marriage or parenting, let alone being faced with the loss of a child.  My own 23-year-old is just now taking those first steps into adulthood.  He is energized and excited as he embarks on following his dream, experiencing new things, learning new things, meeting people, living alone for the first time.

The difference in my life with T and the lives of our own children are stunning.  We were 20 and 22 when we got married.  From that moment forward, there was no further guidance or support from our parents.  I don’t mean that they didn’t care about us, but that was it.  Their job was done.  There was no checking on us or offers of assistance.  We made our own decisions, good or bad.  We struggled financially.  We worked.  We attended school.  We paid our own way, often scraping the bottom of the barrel.  By the time T and I were expecting our first child three years later, both of our fathers were deeply into their alcoholism.

I remembered the 17 days of Grace’s life.  Our parents did nothing to make that time easier for us.  In fact, their problems  added to our stress.  Both of our fathers were often drunk on their visits to the hospital, and it hurt to see that during such a terrible time.  Classic enablers, our mothers turned a blind eye to their husbands’ behavior.  Confrontation was useless.  It only made matters worse.

There are many bad memories related to our parents from those 17 days, but that’s not what this post is about.  It was in  remembering those terrible days and our parents’ dysfunction that made me see something else entirely.  I was 23 years old back then.  Now things are flip-flopped.  I’m no longer the child.  I am the parent of a 23-year-old, and I was suddenly, profoundly aware of the difference between my relationship with my children and the relationship I had with my own parents at 23.

I called T as I was driving, because I wanted to share these thoughts with him.  I said, “Do you realize that Grace would now be the same age I was when I had her?”  He said, “Wow.  I guess I hadn’t realized that.”  We talked for a while and I asked him if he remembered how our parents had behaved back then.  “Oh, yeah….of course.”  We talked for a while about particular incidents.  We marveled that we were able to get through that hellish time and keep moving forward with our lives.  Looking back from the perspective of time, distance, and as parents now, it is stunning to see the drastic differences in our style of parenting compared to our own parents’.

While I am using our oldest son as an example in this blog post, certainly the same principles could apply to each of our children.  Andrew may be an adult, but we still support him emotionally as parents.  This past year has been a challenge for him.  He was struggling to find his way.  He lost his long-time girlfriend.  His grandpa died.  He didn’t know where he was headed or what he wanted to do with his life.  Many times, there were conflicts.  We saw him struggling, and we intervened even as he attempted to push us away.  We offered him support and encouragement as he worked to find his path in life.  We spent HOURS discussing options with him.  Truly, it has NOT been a good year.

As T and I talked yesterday, we compared this past year and our son’s difficulty to the challenges he and I faced at the same age.  They were completely different issues, but there was one similarity.  Young adults are still on shaky legs when it comes to facing the big things life can dish out.  T and I faced our challenges without the wisdom, advice, and support of our parents.  They were so mired in their own dysfunction.  Our problems were a burden to them.  It is stunning to look back on that time from the perspective of a parent and realize such a thing.

This is not about anger at our parents during that long ago time.  This is about something much more significant.  Years later, these memories and thoughts have allowed me to be so thankful for the wonderful relationships we have with our own children.  Through the pain and the loss, lessons were learned.

T and I discussed our experiences this past year with Andrew.  It’s amazing to see how far he has come.  The unhappy, struggling, and confused young man from last year has embarked on a new life.  His excitement and energy have returned.  Could he have done this without our support?  Maybe, maybe not, but I like to think that we tipped the scales in his favor.

Last night Andrew called T to tell him that he had just finished writing a 10-page analytical paper.  I came in the room just as they were ending their call.  I sat down, and T told me about their conversation.  I was so proud.  I was happy to see T’s pride in our son, and happy that Andrew is taking things so seriously.  (He had skipped free tickets  to a private movie premiere to stay home and write.)

After T updated me on their conversation, I called Andrew.  “I am so proud of you!” I said.  I was beaming, and I could feel his happiness as he began to tell me about the assignment.  When he was done talking, I reminded him once again of how proud I am of him.  Oh, how I wanted to remind him of the mixed-up young man he was a year ago.  I wanted to tell him that I was proud of how far he had come, but I didn’t.  Those bad times will remain in the past unless he brings them up.  My job is not to remind him of his failures, stumbles, or faults.  My job is to be there if is falls.  My job is to congratulate him on his successes.  My job is to love him and to be proud.

Excuses and Enabling

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Enabling behavior is born out of our instinct for love.   It’s only natural to want to help someone we love, but when it comes to certain problems — helping is like throwing a match on a pool of gas.

 

I have been thinking about this a lot lately.  Addiction runs in my family.  It runs in my husband’s family as well.  While my own father’s drinking problem did not begin until after I was out of the house and married, I was still profoundly affected by his alcoholism.  My late father in law was also an alcoholic.  Our mothers constantly made up excuses for them.  None of us believed the excuses, but our politeness required us to play along.  We enabled the enablers.

It got bad.  Both of our father’s hit their all-time high (or low, depending on how you look at it) when our daughter Grace was in the hospital.  Imagine a drunken grandpa carrying a rocking chair through a large university hospital and arguing with a nurse at the door of the neonatal intensive care unit when he was not allowed to present it to his new granddaughter.  The stress of our dying daughter pushed both of our fathers to the edge.  Our mothers, instead of keeping them away from our already horrible situation, plastered smiles on their faces, rolled their eyes, made excuses, and pretended that our fathers were not sloshed.

Of course, I have forgiven my dad.  That was years ago, and Dad is gone now, too.  He died on the anniversary of little Grace’s death.  I often think of them together now.  I was able to forgive my dad, because he recovered.  He made amends.  He allowed me to vent.  During my dad’s six-weeks of inpatient treatment, almost 20 years ago now, I confronted him about the many ways his drinking had harmed me.  I had refused to attended family therapy with he and my mother.  I had divorced myself from their problems.  I was pregnant and taking care of two little boys at the time.  I wanted/needed to concentrate on my own family, not my parents’ continuing issues.  I didn’t participate in their counselling sessions.  Instead, I wrote my dad a letter and gave it to his therapist.  The therapist didn’t think my dad would recover.  His words:  “Your dad is full of bullshit.  He thinks that he’s more intelligent than everyone here.  He thinks he can bullshit his way through recovery, get back out, and go back to hiding his problem.”  As I have gone through my dad’s belongings, I have expected to find that letter.  So far, though, it has not surfaced.

Thankfully, that therapist was wrong.  My dad did recover.  He helped many, many others find their way to sobriety, too.   One of the happiest-saddest-most profound-most comforting moments of my life was at my dad’s funeral.  As I stood at the head of his casket greeting those who had come to pay their respects, one person after another whispered in my ear, “I knew your dad from Tuesday nights.”  Some of them knew him from his Thursday night meetings.  Some of them showed me their AA coins discreetly as they passed by.  They loved him.  Some said, “Your dad saved my life.”  T and I were moved and overwhelmed as the back two pews of the church filled up with my father’s AA family.   In the midst of my grief, I was so very proud of my dad.  His pain, his addiction, and his recovery had profoundly and positively affected so many people.  I was proud to be proud of my dad.

As for T’s father.  He never recovered.  He has been dead now for over a decade.  I don’t think T has ever forgiven him.  There is much about T’s father that I don’t know.  It was bad.  I do know that much, but it’s something that T won’t discuss.  Even though T was hurt and damaged by his experience of growing up with an alcoholic father, what he took away from those experiences was how NOT to behave.

We are products of our environment.  I am part addict and part enabler.  I have struggled with both sides of my personality.  I have skated too close to the edge of behavior that was not healthy.  I have excused the behavior of others, even when there was no forgivable excuse.  At the root of it all is ENABLING.

When we behave in a way that we know is not healthy, we excuse ourselves.  We enable ourselves.  When we allow those in our lives to “get away” with bad, hurtful, or self-destructive behavior, we are not helping them.  We are hurt them.   We are hurting ourselves.

What if we all called a spade, a spade?  What if T and I had said, “Dad, you’re drunk.  Leave.  Our daughter is dying.  This is inexcusable.”  What would the results of those words have been?

That incident in the hospital so many years ago is my first real memory of being an enabler. I knew that I was hurting myself.  I knew I was perpetuating a lie.  I knew that I was saying, “Oh, it’s OK.  Go ahead and act like an ass.  Go ahead and hurt me.  I’ll pretend not to notice.”  Did I really think I was “being polite” to no confront my father, mother, and in-laws?  I’m not sure how we all justified that hiding their alcoholism was more important than making special the last moments spent with our dying daughter.  It’s sad and sick to think about.  That is what enabling is:  Sad and Sick.

While that incident was my first memory of enabling, it taught me nothing.  My enabling manifested itself in many shapes and many forms in the following years.  Worse than addiction, which is selfish and self-serving, enabling empties us of ourselves.  Enabling takes pieces, bit by bit, until we lose pieces of our own value.

Yes, this is a heavy subject tonight, but I am not feeling heavy as I write this.  Instead, I am feeling a weight lift.  This is a GOOD step.  Identifying a problem is the only way to begin addressing it!  I have a new filter, or I am going to learn to use a new filter.  Is this person being considerate?  Are they acting in my best interest?  Am I ignoring warning signs and red flags?  Tonight, I am feeling invigorated and optimistic.