I didn’t write this week, except a piece for my Patreon, because I was too stressed out to settle my head into any sort of space to get work done. Even now, a part of me doesn’t want to sit here at the desk and peck out my words, but I am because if I fall off too hard, I won’t get back up. So, here’s some words about my tiniest bestie.
Last night I was feeling down, so after work I went over to my Gram’s house because on Fridays there’s always folks over for dinner. It was just her, two of my aunts, and my 12-year-old cousin, G. I was going there solely to get a hug from my Gram, because Gram hugs are the best hugs, but I ended up with a solid gold 10-out-of-10 hug the moment I walked in, and it came from G. They are short, so they wrapped their arms around my waist and squeezed and said they were happy to see me. This filled me with joy and made me feel instantly less crappy. G has a way of doing this, though, and has been doing it for over a decade.
I remember the Easter when my aunt Mary told me she was pregnant and I was so excited, and then the following Thanksgiving they burst on the scene, a miracle baby made from love and science! By the end of June, my yet-to-be husband was living in their house, and I was seeing them every day. They would toddle over in the morning and take my empty coffee cup and climb onto the sofa beside me and watch the news while pretending to drink from my cup. Mark would play blocks with them and read them stories. They would holler out the window at us when we were in the yard, baby-speaking to us as though we could understand them. “Skibidee,” or “Skibs,” remains Mark’s favorite nickname for them-those were the noises they would make when they were in deep conversation with us, before they learned their words.
After Mark moved out, I didn’t see tbem as much, but we still had playdates often and family events where we would hang…and that’s when I realized-we hang. They have always thrown down with me the exact same way an adult would. They has always been considerate and kind with me, never bossy or manipulative or begging or the million other things kids can be when they are kids. They show great maturity when with me, so in turn, I have always spoken with them as though they are my peer. G isn’t just my little cousin, or a friend of my kids, they are my friend.
So yesterday, when I needed a friend, I walked into the door of my grandmother’s house and found one. They ran up to hug me and instantly took away my rain clouds. We sat across from each other at dinner and they had conversations with me and Gram and my aunts, and it was lovely. They also drew me a picture of a cat, which I shall keep because I personally also think they’re a brilliant artist. The moral of the story is that I went home smiling and now it’s morning and I’m thinking about them and I’m still smiling. So what if they’re 12? That’s a good friend that can make you do that.
Ok, first of all if you haven’t seen the cute thing I did to my website, please go click over there for a second. I’ll wait.
See it? That took two days and a half hour in a support chat. Anyway…
Christmas is tomorrow. I used to hate Christmas, and I really don’t know why. It has always been the hardest part of the year for me, and still is, but the difficulties have lessened with time. You would think it was because of the horrible Christmas in 2006 when my aunt Ka died, but no, this dislike started long before that, around the time I realized Santa was a sham. But little things held me…like doing the whole Xmas thing for my sister when she was born in ’96. I was 13 and already jaded about the holiday, but she made it fun again. Then one day my therapist suggested I come up with a tradition to do each year that I could look forward to. I think she meant like go buy yourself an ornament or make a special cookie, but I went all out and started cooking Christmas dinner every year for my family. With the exception of the dinner during which Ka slipped into a coma, it has always been a joyous affair.
But that is nothing compared to Christmas Eve.
I have never had a Christmas Eve celebration without my Gram. Every year she throws a party (save one year when she had back surgery and my aunt and uncle threw it instead.) It is the best party of the year, as EVERYONE shows up. My Gram has nine children, almost all of whom have kids, and some of those kids have kids. Not to mention the cousins. It’s an event, and one I anticipate every year with great joy.
Now., first of all, my family knew that this year, Christmas was going to suck. We knew it on March 16th, when my Poppa died. It just won’t ever be the same, no matter how you spin it. But then, another wrench thrown into the plans as a pandemic forces us apart. My poor Gram
That’s all I can think of. My Gram.
My other grandmother, Lois, died when I was 7. She lived with us, and my Grandma Pat (henceforth and forever, just Gram) lived on the other side of town, so I didn’t see her much. I do remember though that after Lois died, Gram became a little more present in my life…or maybe I just started developing more memories of her. Either way, she was there, and I was grateful. Especially after so hard a loss.
And now she has had probably the hardest loss of her life, her husband of damn near 70 years.
And, she has to cancel her Christmas party. I would be beside myself.
So, this Christmas Eve looks very different, and it is the first one on which I will not be seeing Gram. I am comforted by the fact she is coming to my dinner however, which is a much smaller affair than years previous, when I would invite anyone who didn’t already have plans.
Usually, at this time on this day, I am rushing to finish last minute details. But there are no cookies to bake this year. The gifts have been purchased and wrapped for almost a month. Cards sent some time ago. I had much time on my hands this Christmas, so I got ahead of myself. Now, all I have to do today is prep a casserole and make a coleslaw. Then tonight I will be going to my parents to have a Christmas drink with them. Then home, to bed, to anticipate the following day.
I think the reason I don’t dwell on the death of Ka on Christmas anymore is because of my family. Not just my Gram, whom I adore, but my aunts and uncles and cousins who I get to see each Christmas, and it takes me back to when we were kids again. But my family…they are the ones that were there when Ka left. Take my aunt Mary…the night Ka died, she was right there, holding my hair back as I threw up my gourmet Christmas dinner at the news that Ka would be leaving us. She stepped into that aunt role even deeper after Ka died, in the same way Gram did after Lois passed. Or my cousin Katie. We were best friends as kids, and grew apart in some ways, as people do when they get older. But the night Ka died, she took Bern to her house and let her spend the night…she was there for my sister when I could not be. These are just two people out of like 45, each of whom I have a story about illustrating their love. I will miss them tonight.
But I look forward to tomorrow, which I something that in my youth I dared not dream of. I look forward to opening presents with my parents and sister and husband. I look forward to cooking dinner for Gram. I’m even looking forward to my Christmas outfit, complete with…makeup! Gasp! (I gave up makeup for Corona the way you give up chocolate for Lent.)
Anyway, I wish you and yours a very Happy Holiday. Hold the people you love close to you, even if they are a world apart at the moment. Love with your whole heart, and hope for a better tomorrow.
I worked at a day care. I had just bought my first car, an old blue Explorer that I named Betsey. I was enjoying the freedom she provided, being able to go wherever I wanted whenever I wanted. I think, really, that were it not for that old car, I would not be where I am today.
One July afternoon, I was sitting at my computer and I received a Facebook message. It was my ex-boyfriend, Mark. Now, we had dated briefly back in 2003, and he, in his 20-year-old stupidity, totally messed that up. So, for seven years we did our own thing…he went and had four kids, I threw myself into my theater work, and we didn’t think much of the other except perhaps in passing. Yet, to say that our business was finished would be incorrect.
He messaged me occasionally over the years, friendly-like. He was in a relationship with the kids’ mother and I respected that. But then came that July afternoon. I asked after his relationship-he said they weren’t together anymore. I didn’t think much of it in the moment.
He asked if I wanted to hang out. I told him I had the car now, so I could come pick him up, and we drove down to the marina where we went for so many walks back in the early days. We caught up, told each other about our lives, our families, and such…it was nice. I drove him home, and we had a couple beers with his roommate. I got ready to leave, and he kissed me goodnight.
We hung out regularly after that, but neither of us were keen to put a title on it. He had just ended a big relationship. I was busy beyond belief…I had two jobs, one at the day care and one at the theater, and no time.
Then one night he decided we were going to go on a real date. He took me to an Indian place. I had never had Indian food, and he was excited to share the experience with me. We were all dressed up because after we planned to go downtown to Curtain Up. It was a big night, theater-wise, and I had never brought a date. He reached across the table and took my hand. “So…I guess you’re my girlfriend now, right?” I smiled. I guessed so.
As we drove downtown, I expressed that I was a little nervous to tell my parents we were seeing each other again. My mother held little love after our breakup, even though I never said a harsh word against Mark during it. She just took on the Mama-bear role, and who could blame her? He assured me that while he was also nervous, it would all be fine.
Then we pulled into the parking lot. Right next to my parents, who were getting out of their car.
Thrown headfirst into our fears, Mark greeted my parents warmly and my mother was surprisingly excited to see him. We had a lovely time walking around downtown with them and enjoying the night. When I got home, I was exhausted, but I was happy.
Now, I’m not going to lie to you. The next six months of our relationship were difficult. We made mistakes. We spent time apart. We considered the cut-and-run.
Mark moved to Amsterdam, NY for a bit. This was particularly hard. During that time, my trusty blue Explorer because less trustworthy, and died on me. So, I went and bought a white Buick named George, and that is what I was driving when I picked him up at the train station.
We’d had a talk. He needed to come home. He missed his kids. He couldn’t find work. And, he missed me, too. So, I sent him the money for a train ticket, and he came home. “I miss Betsey,” he says, as we drive towards the next destination in our lives. I miss Betsey, too.
It is ten years later.
So much has happened. We have lost and gained jobs. We have been broke. We have been homeless. We have changed career paths. We have moved apartments. We have dealt with illness and depression. We got married. We have lost people we loved, and reconnected with people we lost. We have been through SIX cars. I don’t know that I would change any of it, though. This September will mark not only 4 years of us being married, but ten years of us being together. A whole decade. It seems remarkable to me, given all that we have conquered.
So much has happened in ten years, all because one day I bought a new car, and Mark messaged me, and I went to show it off.
Despite my brother-in-law Jason’s guarantee that we would catch something, he was of course the only one to reel anything in. We did however buy K a pole, and teach her how to use it, and she took to it like a natural.
But let’s back up.
On Thursday of last week, Hubs and I ventured across New York state to visit his family in the country for his step-father’s memorial service. Honestly, I don’t remember much of Thursday. There was lots of driving for me since Mark doesn’t, and I was tired at the end of it. We ate dinner and had a few drinks for his sister Dawn’s birthday, and I went to bed early.
Friday, all my nightmares and worries materialized when I woke up and immediately ran to the bathroom to vomit. My inner monologue was rampant with fear as I tried to calculate how long it would take to get me to the nearest hospital. I took my Zofran and a Xanax and fell back asleep, and when I awoke it was after two and I had slept though the service. Discombobulated, I walked outside in search of my husband and instead found most of my in-laws partying in the barn. Had I realized it was so late I would have changed my clothes or brushed my hair or something, but I was in a fog.
I was sitting at a picnic table by the pond when E came around the corner. She saw me and ran to give me a hug. The kiddos headed up on Friday with their mom and step-dad, and this was going to be our first adventure as one big happy family.
Once, years ago when I worked at the daycare, Mark volunteered to help with our annual carnival. I remember explaining a family to him-one of the kiddos was there with his mom, dad, and step-mom. Mark turned to me and said, “I hope we can do something like that someday.” This weekend, he got his wish.
Saturday was the day we would spend all together. It began with fishing with Jason, as previously mentioned, wherein I caught nothing but seaweed and sticks, and also managed to snag my hook in a tree. We did do a little off-roading to get there though, and at first I was scared Mom’s Toyota wouldn’t make it up the path and back, but it took it like a champ-like it was nothing. Take that, Ford trucks.
After that we went swimming at a place called Stewart’s Landing that had a big dam. Mark started telling us tales of jumping off of it, and then decided he wasn’t as old as he actually is and took the plunge. Afterwards, K wanted to try. I was nervous, watching her climb over the railing and standing on the edge. She’s a strong swimmer, so it wasn’t the water that worried me, just the jump. After insisting we all stop watching her, and then asking Mark to jump again so he would be down there if she needed him, she summoned her courage and leapt. Mark was unbelievably proud.
After swimming we went to Jason’s for a fish fry. I ate 2 whole fish (well, minus the head,) bones, fins, and all. And it was absolutely delicious. I pretty much just relaxed and visited while the boys shot BB guns with their cousin and the girls rode ATV’s with Mark and their mom. Their step-dad also taught the girls to play horseshoes, and at the end of the night the boys decided they would have a sleepover at Jason’s. So, the girls went back to the hotel with their mom and me and Mark had the night to ourselves.
We went and hung out with his mother and his sister Dawn and did shots in the barn. Then our nephew and his friends showed up and we hung with them for a bit before I headed to bed.
In the morning, after the kiddos hit the road, Mark’s mom took us to McDonald’s for breakfast, and then we headed over to the Little Falls canal lock to do some fishing. Mark somehow got me to climb the thing, which was terrifying. I have seen locks before, since I live at the end of the Erie Canal. We have one in the river, and one in the aptly named City of Lockport. I have never stood atop one though, and it was very high up. I’m not afraid of heights per se, but I am deathly afraid of my glasses falling off my face.
We fished for a bit and nothing came of it, except for a story about how John (the man whose memorial we were there for) used to use nuts as sinkers when he was fishing. Mark’s mother had gifted him John’s tackle box, and it was in the trunk of the car. Right after Lauri told me this story, Mark opened the tackle box to find a dozen or so nuts.
He’s keeping them. He’s hoping they bring us luck.
In the evening, we drove out to my sister-in-law Carrie’s, to visit with her and her boyfriend Sal. Her kids, who I met ten years ago when they were all babies, are now almost adult-sized. Afterwards, we drove home and I got a good night’s sleep, knowing I would have a long drive ahead of me the next day.
In the morning, I awoke before everyone. I made some coffee and went out on the porch and watched the hummingbirds flit between the feeders. When everyone woke up, we went to the grocery store so Lauri could get some stuff for lunch, and then we went to Tammy’s house. Tammy is Tommy’s wife, who is Mark’s other late step-father. On Friday, she told me she bought my book and read it cover to cover, telling me which poems she liked and praising my efforts. She insisted I come by to sign it, so I did. We also visited briefly with Mark’s grandmother, Vera. Then Tammy was kind enough to gift Mark with some prints that were Tommy’s. He was pleased.
We headed back to Dawn’s and had a nice lunch, and then we hit the road. The ride home seemed a little quicker than the ride there, as it always does, and when we walked back into our lives there was an air of disappointment. We spent such a lovely week out in the country with his family. We were never bored for a second, even without our gadgets and such. Everyone was kind and hospitable, and I will miss them. I know Mark will too…he always does.
Anyway, it’s back to the real world…and the real world arrived in the form of an envelope. I opened it to find a check for my book sales in May, and I burst into tears. Guys…I have never been paid for writing before. I remembered my first theater paycheck back in 2002-that was a big deal, but this is much bigger to me. For the first time…finally, blessedly…it was real. The shock had worn off, and I accepted the fact that I was indeed, an author.
Last year, and every year before it, my family celebrated Easter at my mother’s house. It was the big party she threw each year, the holiday she hosted, and one I looked forward to simply for that reason. When I was young, we would first hunt for our baskets, then go to church, then rush home to get the food ready for the rest of the family when they arrived. We would eat breakfast together and everyone would wear their Easter clothes, and sometimes it would be nice enough to go outside.
Time moved on. Mom still held on to that Easter basket hunt, but church was no longer part of the equation, once Ka passed. I wasn’t much of a believer in Catholicism anymore, and my mother had her own personal reasons for having trouble going to Mass, so it sort of fell out of the day. But brunch prevailed. Still, the family would gather at our house and eat eggs and sausage and laugh and drink and generally be merry.
But this year.
I started to feel crappy about the situation on Friday (more to come on that front, Thursday.) I knew I wouldn’t see my grandma, and that is hard. Since Poppa passed last month, I have been thinking about her daily and wanting to see her, but I stay home because Mark is still out there working and I don’t want to risk anything. The only people I really see are Mark, my parents, sister, and the kids. And even being around my parents, I am nervous.
However, my cousin Dominic, who is a musician, was having his first ever live Facebook show from his mothers’ basement to raise money for local businesses affected by Coronavirus. I tuned in to find half of my family watching along with me…including my grandma. It made me feel like we were connected for a moment. Dom is a great guitar player and singer, and it was fun spending Friday night in my bedroom jamming out to his tunes. I found a new song I like. Another one inspired a poem. I have said before how I love seeing all the art that is being created in this terrible time…my cousins’ contribution to that made me so happy. For a little while, it felt like there was no quarantine, and that we were all at the bar enjoying one of his shows.
On Saturday, the kids were here. Usually, my mother would organize an egg hunt and make them baskets, but this year that was a no-go on several accounts, one being that I was in the GD hospital AGAIN…but that’s beside the point. My mother also wasn’t feeling great and no one wants to risk anything with the kiddos of course, so instead she and dad drove by and wished them a Happy Easter and dropped off a basket full of plastic Easter eggs filled with candy and money. The kids were delighted, of course.
And then came Sunday. We lounged around. There was no panic. No church for us or anyone, of course, though I could watch it on TV if I wanted to. Mom came around and we went to grab coffee, then I wrote for a while before taking a shower and heading over to her house for brunch.
She did not hide baskets, because she did not make baskets, for the first time ever. She did get us each a bag of sponge candy and some other treats, but just left them at our place settings. As for the meal, it was just us-Mom, Dad, Mark, Bernie, and myself. There was lots of food. We ate, we drank, we laughed and were merry. But I missed everyone else.
When I came home and realized Easter was done now, it was a letdown. I thought about how each of my aunts and uncles and cousins Easter’s must be-they have been going to my mom’s house for years and years. This is the first many of them have had in their own homes. I thought of my Gram, who I love and miss so much right now, and have never known an Easter without.
I started telling Bernie about Dom’s concert on Friday, though, and it made me smile to remember that for a second, a bunch of those people I had been missing were in the same place, even if we weren’t in the same place. I think that during this horror story we call life right now, that’s the best thing we can hope for-connection with the people we love, no matter how.
It is January, my least favorite month. I have no topics to write about because I am exhausted from the whole holiday rigamarole. It ended last night when we celebrated Sharon’s birthday and exchanged Christmas gifts with her and Kevin. I ended up with a splitting headache, so when I got home, I went to bed instead of brainstorming blog ideas like I usually do on Sunday nights.
M is with us this week, which is always nice. Other than that, there isn’t much going on except me deep cleaning the apartment. I started with the office, which is a treat because I always end up finding things that I forgot about. This time around I found a picture a friend of mine took for a college photography class. I framed it and hung it on my living room wall. I moved on to cleaning the dining room, but I haven’t taken down the Christmas tree yet, which is the next order of business.
We had the kids this weekend. I mentioned offhand that I needed to clean the bathroom on Saturday. An hour later, E calls me to the back of the house and shows me that she did it for me, “So you don’t have as much to do tomorrow.” When I say she cleaned the bathroom, she cleaned the bathroom. She even put up a new shower curtain that I didn’t know I owned. I gave her a pass on her usual chore of picking up the living and dining rooms because she busted her butt in the bathroom. L helped with the laundry, managing to get five loads done. M was on garbage patrol, running bags out to the cans for me whenever I needed it. K didn’t do much, but she did work well with E to clean their room, which is impressive as they are usually bickering when left alone too long. The boys even cleaned their bedroom, more or less, which I really appreciate. Of course, I am going to go in there and vacuum and clean under beds still, but they got the ball rolling.
So, you see, there’s nothing very interesting going on right now. I literally am writing about cleaning, probably my least favorite thing in the world. But, I am very grateful to my kiddos for helping out. I don’t even have to ask anymore. They each know they have a responsibility to the household when they come over, and they fulfil that. I just hope they do the same at their mother’s.
So, I write about cleaning because the well is dry. I haven’t written anything besides blogs in weeks, and nothing substantial, not even a poem, for almost a month. I am chalking it up to the outpouring of words that NaNoWriMo brought me; I went hard for a month and now I need a break. I am hoping the muse will return soon. In the meantime, I will clean my apartment and praise my kiddos and wait for inspiration to strike.
When Mark brought up the idea of a family camping trip, I was firmly against it. That’s a two on four situation and we would be in the woods with no electricity. Hard pass. He suggested we ask my parents.
I asked my parents to take me camping all the time when I was a kid and it never happened once. My mother did accompany me to Girl Scout camp one year, which was nice of her, and another time we went hiking at Allegany, which was fun but would have been better if we had brought a tent.
So, when I was in the hospital, I thought long and hard about the camping idea. I was a Girl Scout for my entire young life, and Mark spent his weekend roaming the woods as a child, so we have no problem with the scenario at all. We’d go camping at any opportunity, if we had a tent. As for my parents, people tend to go the extra mile for their grandkids, so I don’t know why I was surprised when my mom was all in on the idea. Now were at a 4:4 ratio, 5:4 if my sister can get off work. That’s doable. That’s achievable. That doesn’t leave me and Mark searching the woods because M wandered off the beaten path.
And so, we’re going camping. The first task has been to find a cabin, which I have, and am just waiting to book until later today after my mother checks her work schedule. It has no electricity, which means the children will have to detox. (And, lets be real, the adults. We’ve already discussed whether to get a power bank for our phones.) It is, in fact, the exact same cabin I stayed in during my last camping trip when I was 19. My mother wanted electricity at first, but booking of those cabins happens a year in advance, and the only available ones I found were outrageously priced. Instead we will haul out lanterns and flashlights and find a way to make it all work. The kids will learn new skills that will help them someday, and they will have the experience of camping for the first time. We will go hiking and fishing and swimming, and we will enjoy our summer days and our time together.
I’m really looking forward to camping. Which is surprising considering how against it I was in the first place. Now, though, it seems like a celebration of my family, and that is what I’m really anticipating.
Recently, Hubs and I watched Black Mirror: Bandersnatch on Netflix. (Yes, I am aware that this is the second post in a row referencing our Netflix addiction.) If you don’t know, it is a show where you choose options for the character throughout. This type of thing was tried before in a Final Destination movie that I recall being highly disappointed in despite the hype. The buildup was real for Bandersnatch, though, and I was waiting for this for some time, as I have loved Choose Your Own Adventure (CYOA) books since I was a kid. I still have a couple somewhere, their covers long torn away and possibly missing perfectly good endings as well. I would read them over and over, trying to find my way to every possible ending before putting the book down. So, when I heard Netflix was going to try this format, I was excited. Even more so because their first foray into it would be with a Black Mirror episode, one of my favorite shows. Hubs and I popped popcorn and grabbed our PlayStation remote and settled in for a good time, and boy did we have it. It was everything I wanted it to be and more. We watched it three or four times. M is here today (for once the sole child in the house) and I was considering going back for a rewatch with him. That’s how good it was.
But this post isn’t about Netflix formatting or Black Mirror or even CYOA books. It’s about parenting.
My sister, who is thirteen years my junior, often says things you would expect out of the mouth of some wise old owl. Just the other day, she says, apropos of nothing, that it seems to her that parenting is a lot like a CYOA book. It was as though something slid into place, clicking into its spot. Hubs eyes grew wide as he realized that every single question your child asks every day is another option for a different storyline. Just then K entered the room and asked to use the laptop. We honestly had to think about it for a second. What if we say no, and she resents us? Or doesn’t at all and just goes and finds something else to do, but misses out on something that could have proved useful in life elsewhere? What if we say yes and she spends all her time watching videos and becomes addicted to screens and ends up homeless on the street? Or she learns some new information or skill that she didn’t have in her arsenal before? In the end we said yes and a fight broke out between the girls, not remotely one of the planned-for scenarios, only cementing the obvious: you don’t know how the story is going to go.
M is staying with us for a couple days and also again for a week in May. In May he will have to go to school, and he wants to walk. Now, if I were 13 and it was 1996, I would have happily allowed such things, but HE is 13 and it is 2019 and times have changed, buddy. Mark is less comfortable with this than I am, and that is saying something from a man who has walked everywhere since he was ten years old. Mark is worried about older kids, cars driving onto sidewalks, cars plowing through stop signs, kid-snatchers, drug pushers, and M falling over his own two feet. Choose your own adventure: Let the boy walk home from school and learn independence and responsibility, or let the boy walk home from school and get snatched by methheads? Don’t let the boy walk home from school so that he never learns to be independent or don’t let the boy walk home from school so he doesn’t DIE?
Obviously, we will let the boy walk home from school for the independence and responsibility bit, and pray all the rest is just the pipe dreams of parents who worry too much. But you never know, from the smallest decisions, to the big ones, what effect they will have on the lives of your children, and your life by default. You make a million little decisions for your child everyday without even knowing it, and then you have to hold on for the ride and hope to God the story doesn’t send you back to page 5.
Now I’m going to go hang out with M, probably debate Godzilla vs. King Kong, discuss new Mortal Kombat characters, and try to get some teachable moments in there somewhere. Maybe watch Bandersnatch. Maybe go for a walk.