Monday, July 30, 2012

Boy Intro #2

A long time ago, I wrote about one boy in my life, but there are two others always on my mind. Now presenting: Faather. (Brother intro at a later date.)

Yes, Faather. Also known as Big, Big Pig, Dad, Pops, Richard, Crabbio, Crabbio Le Faather, Jim, James, and suddenly Diego.

My dad is the guy I’ve loved longest. I’ve been a daddy’s girl my entire life. If I had a scanner hooked up in this joint, I’d scan a photo from my baptism where my mom is smiling like a model at the camera, my dad is looking at me, and I’m gazing back at him like he’s Superman. I was five weeks old.

My favorite memories of my early childhood take place in the backyard, and he’s in almost every one. We had a log back at the edge of our property that we’d sit on when I was about three or four. It was our thinking spot. We’d go back there after dinner and my dad would let me babble away about whatever was intriguing my never-sleeping kid brain. We’d check the hickory shells for nuts the squirrels had missed and pile them somewhere for a lucky squirrel (or whatever other animals wandered into our yard… usually deer but one time we found cows out there. Story for another day). I remember when my dad built his shed in the backyard to store the tractor, lawnmower and all his other woodworking and yard tools. There are pictures of me standing on the platform before it was walled in. I’m wearing a green floral-print shirt and shorts, and I’m definitely carrying a purse.

We hung out in my kiddie pool, my dad patiently tolerating me dumping buckets of water on his head. There are pictures of me sitting on his lap in a deck chair, with his beer bottle at my lips. Yes, I was probably about two when this was permitted and yes, it’s likely that there was still beer in the bottle. I like to think I turned out ok in spite of this.

He continued as a devoted father as I got older. I remember one birthday party where he sat in a chair in the middle of the yard and let me and my friends throw water balloons at him. If we hit him, good for us. If we missed, he sprayed water from the garden hose on us. Good times.

We hit a rough patch when I was 14. I’m using the term rough patch very loosely. He yelled at me like 12 times for talking on the phone too much and spending too much time with my first boyfriend. Typical things. By the time I was a mature 15 year-old, it had passed.

As the years passed, I began to appreciate my father more and more. He retired when I was 15 after nearly 40 years with the same company. He worked his way up from a maintenance man to a safety director position with a chemical company. He was a role model for working hard to provide for his family. He was very present for my brother and me. And he made efforts to be as present as he could for his four kids from his first marriage that moved 12 hours away with their mother.

I also learned to appreciate what it means to be a supportive spouse. My parents were utterly committed to one another. It eventually occurred to me that what they shared wasn’t guaranteed to anyone. I had friends with divorced parents, or parents who were married but could barely stand each other. I was fortunate to grow up in a house where affection was openly shown between Mom and Dad, and “I love you” was said daily. My mom had gone back to work a few years after he retired, but they were looking forward both being retired and spending those years together. I was looking forward to it too. They deserved it.

Mom and Dad :)

But, as anyone who reads this blog knows (and I do mean anyone… pretty sure it’s not anymultiplepersons), they didn’t get these years. My mom worked until she was diagnosed with cancer, and never returned. They had days together in the house, but not under the circumstances anyone wished for.

While caring for my mom, I gained a new respect for my father. A friend who went through the loss of his mother a year before me said it best – “…As I look back, my dad went from good guy to true hero.  It really shows what a true life partnership can bring.” The love I already felt for my dad grew exponentially each day as I witnessed the way he cared for my best friend – my mom.

He was at every doctor’s appointment, and every chemo and radiation session. When she was practically living at Good Sam, he spent almost every night there. (The only ones he missed are the ones I offered to take so he could get a decent night’s sleep, and I think two nights when the snow was too bad to get there.) He administered her pills, made her food, took on responsibilities to keep the house running, helped her to the bathroom, bathed her, and so much more. He treated her with the respect she deserved, working tirelessly to preserve her dignity. And while serving as her caretaker, he never forgot that he was her husband too. It was probably the most beautiful display of love you could possibly observe.

Her death left him broken. His life partner was gone. And because he’d given up everything in his life to care for her for sixteen months, I think he was left feeling a little bit like he didn’t have a purpose after she was gone. This improved, slowly but surely, and though I know he’s still lonely, time has helped. He busies himself with the house and garden, and my brother lives with him. When TJ and I lived in the house for a few months before we bought our own, I was pleased to see his progress. He was finding ways to go on with his life.

I know I’m lucky to have such a strong relationship with my dad. He worked most of his life, and I feel it’s unfair that he was robbed of the “reward” he deserved – a retirement with my mom as his companion. I know he feels that way too. I admire him for pushing forward.  I realize he’s not without faults, but to me, he really is the model of a real man. Kind, strong, honest, funny, humble – and committed to his family.

Dancing at my wedding reception.

Reeeeeeally dancing at my wedding reception... getting fancy!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Skin and Bones

My dear friend of 24 years, Christina, is going through a difficult situation right now. Her father is battling aphasia. I believe his specific situation has a more detailed name than aphasia, but that’s the overarching issue. As time goes on, he struggles more and more to find the right words to say what’s on his mind. Christina and her family are slowly losing him mentally, and it weighs on her.

As I think back to my mom’s final days, I realize that the mental decline can take a bigger toll on the family than the physical. It absolutely was miserable to see my mom’s body weakening. But the moment I remember my emotional collapse beginning was Monday morning, not quite 40 hours before she passed away, when my dad called to tell me the cancer may be in her brain. I was at my desk when I took the call. I pinged another bestie I work with (Annie of A Girl's Guide to Being Alone) to meet me near the elevators of our office. She sat with me while I choked out the words and calmed down. It wasn’t that we had lost her – she was still at Good Sam at that point. It was that she was gone. Not quite lucid anymore. It was me realizing that I would never have a full conversation with my mom again. The witty banter (yes, witty banter, we were hysterical together) was done. I’ve never been able to fully articulate what that feels like, and I’m not really doing it justice right now.

Sometimes, songs say it better. This isn’t a new song, but once I really paid attention to it, I realized how well it fits. The lyrics crept in my ears and as my brain was considering the weight of the simple words, the music was wrapping around me. This song makes me cry, makes me want to dance, makes me want to talk to my mom. This song takes me back to those days of begging her to hold on. Asking her to keep fighting. Praying desperately that God would spare our family from this pain. Crying to TJ and anyone who could handle me.
Skin & Bones - David J. Roch

This song almost makes grief feel pretty. I wish grieving felt like this song feels in my bones now. (I also wish I didn’t look like Kim Kardashian when I cry.) When I hear this song, I cry, without a doubt. But afterwards, I almost feel like I’ve been cleansed of grief, at least for a little while.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Storify This

Today, I tried something different - creating an entry in Storify. This was a joint work/blog project. I'm not sure I'm sold for personal use, but I can definitely see advantages for using this at the day job! For some reason my hyperlinks don't seem to be working well, but the address for the entry is: #storify. Certainly not the most interesting piece I've ever written, but it serves it's purpose as a test piece well enough for me.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Inspiration Baby Steps

I attended a conference for work a few weeks ago and was asked “What inspires you?” And naturally, I choked. I think it’s hard to choose one thing that inspires you in all the ways you can possibly be inspired. The song that inspires you to make a bunch of plans and start going out more might be very different from the song that inspires you to focus more inward on yourself and home.

And of course, sometimes we don’t need to be inspired into an action, but rather a state of mind. I think inspiration is anything that moves you from point A to point B.

When point A is “I can’t think of a damn thing to write” and point B is 4 hours of putting words on paper
As a high school senior, I took AP English. With the exception of reading “Lord of the Flies” for the 3rd time in my school career, I loved this class. The material was as interesting as could be expected, but our instructor was truly at the top of her game. The questions she posed to our class after finishing a piece went beyond basic material comprehension. We talked about the feelings behind the words.

I’m a packrat, so I’m sure there are random notebooks and assignments from this class stored somewhere in my father’s house. But one piece of paper has traveled everywhere with me – from home to college dorm rooms, apartments and now my first house. On this piece of paper: "Preludes" by T.S. Eliot. No piece has ever made me think more, wonder more what was intended with the words. Each stanza paints such a crisp, clear picture for me, and that’s how I want to write. In truth, the images painted are bleak, but again, it’s more about the style of writing for me.

When I’m struggling to write – be it a story at work, a blog post here, or even a simple email – coming back to Preludes helps. It opens my mind. This type of descriptive writing isn’t always ideal for an email, but it helps me get past writer’s block to put words on paper. I can always come back and review or edit. Preludes doesn’t always get me to “final” but it gets me to “draft” and that’s (for me) the hardest part.

When point A is “I want to smack my husband” and point B is remembering why getting married was the smartest thing I’ve done
To be 100% clear: I love my husband more than life itself. My days start and end with him, and when I’m traveling and they can’t literally start and end with him, it makes me sad in a good-wife way. Having said that, he makes me want to scream a few times a week. My mom always told me this is normal.

Choosing a good first-dance-at-the-wedding song isn’t easy. There are tons of great options. But I think it’s worth it to invest a little time weighing a number of options. After a full 21 months of debating, we chose “Stay With You” by John Legend. The lyrics spoke so clearly to both of us, it really should’ve been a no-brainer to pick this song. And so anytime I find myself growing impatient with him or wishing I could make him sleep on the couch (we have a policy against doing that to each other), it’s helpful to hear Mr. Legend’s lyrics in my head. They force me to consider all that’s beautiful about TJ. And his list of pros is significantly longer than any list of cons I could make up. This song inspires me to let go of the little stuff as much as possible, and remember all the big reasons why we chose each other.

Our first dance.

When point A is “I’ll never choreograph a decent dance for my team” and point B is teaching them 48 hours later
I coach a DIII collegiate dance team with a friend. I’m typically responsible for all the hip hop choreography for a season. For months, I’ll hear songs that I think are great options, and my mind will overflow with ideas for choreography. And then, usually one week before I have to teach, I’ll decide that every  move is dumb and I hate every song. I’ve finally learned to not plan anything for the 2-3 days before I teach, because I’m inevitably going to spend those days on the couch, listening to song after song and making up a routine in my head.

God bless YouTube. Seriously… how did choreographers do anything before they could search for the UDA Nationals or So You Think You Can Dance videos to get ideas? The girls on my team told me to start watching Jasmine Meakin, a dancer and choreographer from Australia. When it comes to hip hop, there’s no one I’d rather watch. Her moves are sick and her style makes me feel more vanilla than anything ever. I can spend hours watching her videos, gathering ideas for my girls, and even finding songs. (Fact: My girls were going to dance to a Skrillex song until 36 hours before our June practice, when I changed it to Work by Ciara after watching Jasmine Meakin’s killer choreo to it.) Watching her reminds me that it’s ok to try something a little out of the box… if it doesn’t work, we just need to change it before a performance!

When point A is “I desperately need to feel my mom’s presence” and point B is understanding what she always knew
This is a tough one. It’s so easy to be bitter about losing my mom so soon in my life (and hers). Taking an incredible woman off the planet when she was only 52 seems to me a cruel injustice that I may never understand. Occasionally, I’ll find myself wondering if maybe I’ll just bump into her on the street one day – Is there any way she could’ve faked her own death? And if she did, would I be mad or just so happy to see her I’d let it go? (I understand this is insanity. Very few people successfully fake their own death. I also saw her and was there when they closed the casket, so I’d say that makes it a sad but done deal.)

In this crazed desperation, I want to talk to her, or feel that she’s near me. It’s true that time does make this kind of thing easier, but it also makes it more distant. I hate that I no longer slip and say things like “I’m going to my parents’ house” or “I should email this to Mom.” It’s been more than a year though, and reality has set in. I no longer make those little mistakes. I know that when I go home, it’s to my dad’s, and if I read a crazy piece of celebrity gossip that we’d have spent hours obsessing over, I’m just going to have to have my own little obsessive party in my brain. In the months after she passed away, I became obsessed over having a “piece” of her with me always. Usually this meant wearing one of her rings that my dad gifted to me. Sometimes it was putting on a sweater of hers, or wearing her favorite perfume. It became a little bit consuming. My solution won’t be right for everyone, but a tattoo gave me the permanence I was looking for.

One year to the day after she died, I went to get a tattoo with my dad and brother. Dad got his nickname for her tattooed on his wrist and Zach got her initials on his right bicep. I chose to have the tattoo artist replicate the word Love in my mom’s handwriting on my right forearm. This tattoo has provided a surprising amount of solace. When I need to concentrate, I rub my index finger over it a few times, marveling that it’s in my skin. When I need to feel centered, focusing on what’s really important, I stare at it. It makes it so simple. And that’s when I feel her hugging me and saying she’s proud of me for understanding what she knew all along: Love is the be all, end all. Be with the people you love, and spend your life doing what you love. And if you do those things, even if your life ends 30 or 40 years sooner than you’d planned, you’ll find peace.