Monday, July 21, 2014


At this moment in time, we are holed up around here having a bit of a "Simpson Family Love-Fest." Before you get any dirty ideas, I simply mean we are proud to be us. We have joined together and made it through some rather difficult times. We are gearing up to make it through some more.

 I am especially proud of my girls. Rob and I have raised two girls who look at the world at large and see possibility. Both of them (even our little introvert) look at the world with eyes and hearts full of compassion. We have raised two girls who can speak of mental illness and disabilities (especially anxiety) in their own terms. They understand that not everyone see or feels or deals with the world in the same way and they accept it. They don't view skin color or ability level or economic status as the defining feature of an individual. Time and time again, I see them striving to help others (even if it is simply through a wish) to have the best life they can.They find laughter in every day, even when they are scared or sad or mad as hell. They know how to find their support system (be it our little family or friends) and check in for a recharge. They can talk about and have opinions about so many things that kids their age don't. There is no lacking for conversation or laughter here.

My girls aren't conventional. They aren't very good at tricks that impress (on tests or sports fields or stages). They go through life doggedly determined to continue to be themselves, even when society pushes them to change. At first they might seem aloof, stoic, shy, and at times a bit rude. But when you get to know them, sit down somewhere quiet, and let them talk to you? These two girls have big amazing thoughts. They have endless compassion and a desire to right the wrongs of the world (even if they do it on a small scale).

I don't need certificates or high test scores or fancy programs to tell me what I know. These two will be just fine. They go into the world and follow their passions and changes lives (maybe many, maybe just a few). They will make an impact upon this world. And in their own "off the beaten path quirky way," they will have changed it for the better. How do I know this? They have already changed mine.

When Answers Are Not Definitions

We met with Lily's doctor and listened carefully to her report. Most of the information was not at all surprising, a little sad because now we now how hard she will have to work and how hard we will have to fight beside her. I have had time to process it all, and I have come away with this: we are already well on our way to providing what she needs and she is defined by her abilities and disabilities. Each of those things is a small part of what makes her Lily. Like every person she is complex and not easily defined by one word or label.

Once I stopped fighting things and asked myself  "If she were your student, what would you do?" This summer hasn't been perfect, but it has been so much better. I have broken things into small chunks for her. She has read almost everyday. We haven't kept up with math as well. I am going to focus more on that next month. She does best when she has 30 minutes of work and then a few minutes of relaxing time. Of course, I can't quit my job to do this and the school can't do this, but at least I have given her some time to recover from the last school year.

The doctor suggested that we model how to handle frustration and anxiety by talking out loud about how we are handling a situation. I had started doing that even before we met with the doctor and it has been very successful. She has been in quiet a few frustration situations this summer. She gets angry, goes away, comes back to apologize, and tells me what she can do next time. She hasn't been hiding under tables or walking away.

In large groups she still gets overwhelmed. She will tell me there are too many people, and I will ask her "What are you going to do?" She will choose to move away, come talk with me, find something to fidget with, take breathes... We have made sure to tell her what the situation will be like before we get there. We trouble shoot any worries we have and have her come up with ideas to handle them. We have tried very hard to warn her ahead of time when things might change.

I am dreading going back to school. The bottom line is this: she is still behind academically. The increased pressure and more intense schedule, will blow this cozy little bubble wide open. We will see if she can apply the strategies she's learned. It is so tempting to just pull her close and keep the rest of the world out, but that's not fair to her and it isn't fair to those few people who are lucky enough to see Lily for the wonderful girl she is. When she lets you in, it is a thing or beauty.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Book Talks

At the beginning of the summer, I found a big stack of paper backs in the basement. I have no idea where they came from. I could have bought them at the library book sale and forgotten about them. They just as easily could have come from my mother's house. All I know is it was the biggest and best surprise of the summer. I have plowed through the stack, taking time out to add to the stack (either other books that I've wanted to read or books by the same authors).

I think one of the hardest things about getting back into reading so many books is I don't really have anyone to share them with. I used to call my mom, recommend the book, and usually, I'd buy it for her. My mother loved to read. We had similar taste in books, although she tended to like mysteries and action whereas, I like books with feelings/emotions. I keep a notebook by my bed and write down the quotes that move me. I savor books, while my mother tore through them. Both of us had no patience for overly "trite" books (we also had the unusual habit of reading books backwards). I also tend to steer clear of "fad" books. I still haven't read 50 Shades of Grey, it just doesn't seem to be my type of book. I am a book snob and have passed this trait onto Caroline. Nothing ticks her off more than the masses discovering one of her beloved and unknown books (can we say The Fault in Our Stars?).

I have only met one other person who shares my insane love of books. We can talk for hours about books. The conversations meanders through a maze of authors and quotes and personal connections. Unfortunately, she travels to be with her family every summer. Once she is back, I will hit her with my latest list! We don't get to hang out very often, but when we do, it is always at the library. We roam the stacks grabbing books for each other. You know the stereotype about women and shoes stores? That's us and books.

I had a dream about my mother a couple of weeks ago. She comes to me in dreams so much more often than my other family members do. Every time I dream about her, I wake up feeling so calm and peaceful. Whether these dreams are the result of heavenly visits or the needs of my subconscious doesn't matter. These dreams help. I tend to keep them to myself because I am afraid of sounding childish, and it would make them less special.

This time, it was all about books. She and I were sitting working on some sort of craft project. I think it was crochet, which is funny because first of all I don't crochet and second of all my mother and I were hardly the sort to sit around and craft together. We craft/crafted as a way to keep our hands busy. Our crafting was solitary, not bonding. My mother loved to crochet. It was nice to have shared that with, even if it was only a dream. I was telling her all about The Glass Castle and how much she would like it. She was very excited and couldn't wait to read it. The best part is she was just like she'd always been: long brown hair, slightly husky voice, but she was calmer and more peaceful than I'd ever seen her. She wasn't in a hurry or trying to move onto the next thing. Nothing else (my brother, the dog, my kids, the TV, stories about other people) was distracting her. I had her undivided attention. That was a rare thing to get while she was alive. It wasn't personal, my mother was a multi-tasker. She rarely did one thing at a time (much like me now). It really was the nicest moment.

Comfort Zone

Just as I am lamenting not really having close friends and being stuck in a rut, I come to find out that this seems to be a universal theme amongst the women I know. I continue to hear: "I am trying to push myself to do things that scare me." "I am trying new things!" "I am putting myself out there." "I have always wanted to try __________, so I figured I should go for it." All of this adds to me feeling like I am not alone and that is so liberating.

I went on a chocolate tour with a friend and some of her friends this weekend. It was so much fun! Not only did I get to taste yummy treats, I got to see beautiful old buildings, and hear how my friend is going through some things that are so similar to me. It was so nice to hang out with other women and just chat. Our kids were not the focus of the conversations because we all had kids of various ages or no kids at all. I was out as myself, not a mother.

In between organizing my house and trying to make it look somewhat put together, I have been reading and reading and reading. I am on my 7th book. The more I read, the more I relax.

Sunday, July 13, 2014


This could very well be one of those confusing posts or a self-pitying post, but honestly, it is more of an explanation. Maybe even a way of working things out in my mind.

I am the ultimate organizer, juggling multiple balls, and keeping so many things going at all times. Most of my living, though, occurs in my head and occasionally spills out here. I have a wonderful life, and yet, at feel at a loss most times.

In my family (the one that raised me), I was always considered "sweet," sentimental," and "wise beyond my years." Within my family, I was always so much quieter. It was an odd dichotomy because I talked constantly, but in some ways they never really knew quite what to do with me. All of that talking was my way of being seen and staying present, not forgotten or disappearing. My family kept me grounded here on earth. It would be so easy for me to just retreat into my head and live through words (the ones in my mind and the ones others have written). I figured out long ago, the easiest way to stay present was to watch, observe, and give people what they needed. Most people would be shocked at what I've noticed and filed away about them. I have this crazy visual memory that is filled with snapshots in time. At my mother's funeral, my distant cousins were so surprised at the small details that I remembered about them. I doubt most people realize how important they are to me. I am a story teller. It is what I do best. The thing about my type of story teller is we spend so much time watching, we might not always be living.

I always felt loved by my family, maybe not always understood, but very loved. Each time I lost a member, I lost a piece of  me. Now, I am so ungrounded, just floating there. I am a satellite of some wonderful, loving families (in laws, step). I know they like me, but they can't really anchor me, nor should they be expected to. They try very hard to include me, and I try very hard to be included.

I am an anchor in my own right. I anchor Rob and the girls (and in some part, my brother). There is nothing I'd rather do. But it is hard to be an anchor, when you are floating around as a satellite. I am not completely at a loss. I have my brother. The problem is he is trying to anchor his own family. He and I bounce around, connecting in between caring for spouses, children, houses, jobs.

I am trying very hard to find a place. I am still so much happier observing. That's why I love to read and watch movies. I can be part of a place without actually being there. There is no risk in losing fictional characters.

I am trying very hard to find a place. I have put myself out there more than ever. I have tried going out with other mothers and attended a new church. I just haven't quiet found my place. I have this amazing little family, and yet I am very lonely. This can go one of two ways: either I keep rolling on and wear down the edges or I find my missing piece (if you are confused go read Shel Silverstein's The Missing Piece and The Missing Piece Meets the Big O).

Monday, July 7, 2014


I just finished reading The Glass Castle. I loved it. There is a comradery between those who have grown up in eccentric/dysfunctional families. There is also a dark sense of humor. Things that others might find upsetting or shocking we sometimes find them funny. I loved the humor Jeannette Walls was able to see in her life. I also loved that she knew there was always love. I could pontificate upon the topic of eccentric families, humor, and love for hours, but that is a post for another time. Today's post is about my legacy: pets, lots and lots of pets.

My paternal grandfather, aside from being the best man I have ever known, was our town's animal control officer. This was back in the day before tons of paper work, rules, and silly litigation. It was a time when a man could own a donkey in the middle of a suburban town. A time when said man's wife (in her robe) could be often seen chasing that donkey down the street when she (the donkey) staged early morning escapes. This was also a time when this man's son could bring his young bride home to meet his family along with their pet baby alligator, standard poodle, four toy poodles, and two spider monkeys (the donkey had moved to a farm at this point). That young man was my father; his bride, my mother. My mother grew up in South East Asia, you would think nothing could surprise her. Well, the alligator and monkeys did.

Stories about all of the crazy pets we've had and the equally crazy things they have done, have been one of the driving forces behind our family stories (the other force would be the equally crazy things the humans in our family did). All of my life we had tons of pets. Before my brother was born, we had two dobermans (one was a runaway show dog who had been so spoiled by his short time with my mother, his owners couldn't keep him after they found him), a black cat, two parakeets, tropical fish, a rabbit, and multiple gerbils (my poor teen uncle had no idea he was giving me a male and a female). This was all in a small rental house.

When I met Rob, he'd never really had many pets. He'd had farm animals in his teens, but had never met a family who treated animals like parts of the family. I brought him home to meet my Connecticut family for Thanksgiving. I had already warned him about the copious amounts of drinking and tomfoolery. I even warned him that my father would put black olive in his eyes and sing "Tomorrow" (he thought he looked like Annie from the comic). I warned him that everyone would talk over each other and joke and laugh,and it would all be insanely overwhelming. I had forgotten about the animals.

At this point my grandparents had two toy poodles, a macaw, and a cockatoo. After years of being attacked by the "demonic cotton balls" that the four toy poodles turned out to be, two was nothing. I really didn't think the animals would factor into our visit. My family was not a subtle bunch. If they thought something, they said it. Case in point: we all sat down to dinner and the cockatoo started screaming. My grandmother yelled "God dammit, shut up before I put you in the oven and cook you like the turkey!" The bird wasn't scared a bit. As a matter of fact, she unlocked her cage, walked out into the dining room, climbed up on my grandfather's shoulder, and spent the rest of the meal rocking back and forth and screaming. Later, Rob got to meet the macaw during "happy hour." Barney got his own shot glass full of vodka and tonic while Papa had his. After his vodka tonic, Barney's pupils would dilate while he screeched "Wheee!" Papa would make the bird a tin foil cape and he would lift up his wings to be the "Budweiser Bird." After that, I am surprised that the boy still decided to marry me.

Truthfully, he loved my crazy family. He understood that even when they unintentionally hurt each other and me, there was still a lot of love there. Rob himself has always had a ton of love to give. He couldn't wait to get our first dog. She became our practice baby. From that moment, we decided that our house couldn't be a home without pets. Currently, we are the keeper of Buffy, the terrier with ADHD; Tuck, the daredevil turtle; Trixie, the insomniac rabbit, and Jacques, the friendly Beta fish. We are notorious for keeping animals alive waaay longer than their life expectancy (we kept a dwarf rabbit alive for 10 years), raising animals with special needs (our Dobie with a brain disorder gets her own post), and spoiling them all rotten. They keep us me busy, but also give us so much joy. Many nights are peppered with the exclamation of "Look at the dog!" (or if you're me "Look at the turtle!").  Sure there are drawbacks (it is very hard to find someone to watch that many animals, so we can go on vacation together, and my house smells a little gamey), but they are worth it (I have invested in an awesome steam cleaner for starters). I have no doubt that both of my daughters will grow up to have a house full of animals. Really (in my humble opinion), there is no better way to teach children to love, than to fill their lives with furry and scaly siblings.