And 2014 slowly ends…while 2015 limbers up to spread its wings

Day 365 of an iffy year, and -because it HAS been not-quite-stellar- I am bound and determined to let loose what we call around these parts “Dada’s little bluebird of happiness and hope.”  I might have mentioned this bluebird in the past; I often greet it with a negative attitude and threats to stomp on it with cleats.  I’m sunshine-y that way…it helps me survive the bumps in the road.

But because it is the last day of the Iffy Year 2014, I am going to accentuate the positive.  (Feel free to sing it…I sang it as I typed it.)

Accent #1: J has learned to eat anything and everything that is offered to him.  Lentil soup for dinner?  No problem!  Serve him a bowl and he’s happily spooning into his mouth like he never hated lentils or refused to eat anything “suspicious” in appearance.  Tuna steaks with couscous???  Please, sir, may I have some more?!  Blanched asparagus?  Wilted spinach?  Pumpkin-ricotta manicotti?  Hummus and pita?  Yogurt and pear chips?  Anything and everything with vegetables in it????  BRING…IT…ON!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Accent #2:  J’s size-44 pants are so big on him that they look like clown pants.  At a discreet and healthy pace, he is inching towards size-38 pants.  His XXL shirts look so big on him…and he can’t leave the house without a belt because even his size-40 pants start slipping down after a while.

Accent #3:  J no longer wears ONLY his sandals or his snow boots.  J wears sneakers.  J has a pair of lace-up suede shoes that he wears when he’s going out to a nicer place.  J alternates hats, and is happy making fashion statements through these.  J is expanding his style horizons.

Accent #4:  J no longer runs like the devil is chasing him when he sees a dog a 100 yards away.  He doesn’t react that way when he sees a dog five yards away either.  He has learned to take a deep breath, and walk a little faster without conveying panic in his movements.  Granted, he still sprints the last few feet to our door, but it’s a significantly vast improvement from his previous attitude.

Accent #5:  J has learned to manage the urge to get instantly pissed off when he doesn’t get his way.  We now see a conscious effort to listen to what comes behind the NO (which had to be appended to the end of explanations before,) and -while he will insist for a while- no longer explodes like a firecracker when he doesn’t get his way.  He will fume, simmer, marinate, hem and haw, but he doesn’t explode.

Accent #6:  J is taking less med, and will be taking even less in less than two weeks.

Accent #7:  There’s a little boy out there who is my grandson, and though we’ll never meet him and his mom wants to raise him on her own, our hearts are full of hopes and wishes for him.  If the situation ever changes and they need (or want) us, we’re here.  While we’re not over the moon with joy about the lack of a relationship, we know in our heart of hearts that the baby is in good hands.

Accent #8:  TGG dealt with this particular development in his life with a lot more grace and courage than many guys his age.  A little bit of what my dad refers to as “dragged by the hairs,” but he’s matured…somewhat…this year.

Accent #9:  Every single bit of crap we went through this year, we went through together.  The good, the bad, the ugly…the ups and downs…the sweet aromas, and the rank smell of the bad stuff…  At the end of 2014 we remain a family.  At the end of 2014 we love and forgive and respect and admire and support and encourage and prod and poke and push and shove each other…

In the spirit of the last day of an eventful (often too much so) year, I leave you with one of TGG’s favorite songs when he was a slip of a boy, back when I could sing to him (and then to J) without their discerning ears determined that I was not much of a singer…  

Harry Nilsson said it well, and may our hearts, faith and blankets serve us well next year.

Have a safe and happy New Year’s Eve, my friends…  From all of us to all of you: see you next year.  Peace and love (and The Force, of course) be with you…always…

Company for the holidays

The most unusual of occurrences has, well, occurred. We have had company for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, and this has thrown us into the sort of whirlwind of activity that we experience very seldom. The words “beat to quarters!” (our rallying cry when people are expected socially) have been called out more frequently and with more gusto than in a long, long time. This wasn’t “company’s coming to stay,” but rather “company’s coming for dinner!” That means that we went about our business during the day only to go into a frenzy of preparations shortly before they were due to arrive.

That’s my excuse for not checking in sooner. It’s true, but it’s an excuse nonetheless. On this, the day before the day before the last day of the year, I am so tired and so ready for the holidays to be over that I am seriously considering going to bed at 7 P.M. It’s not happening, of course, but the temptation exists.

Let’s backtrack a bit. The Twelve Days, as usual, went along smoothly except for the one catastrophic hitch of we sang off-key every single night, and -because there was so much going on- we relied on the pictures in our Twelve Days’ cards and ended up singing “eleven trumpets tooting” followed by a rather animated discussion of what the exact wording IS, and “eleven wind instruments making noise” the next night prompting a search for the actual lyrics online, and J saying ‘TEN!!!!!’ rather loudly so we would get on with it…

The relatives that joined us were somewhat unexpected. A cousin I’d not seen since TGG was a toddler (and J hadn’t yet been born) and his brother in-law were in town for a visit. Our family is as complex as the tendrils that grow from one vine from another, and this cousin grew up down the street from my childhood home, is my mother’s first-cousin, and has a niece who is doing her residency in the hospital where Dada works. Dada’s paternal grandmother was this cousin’s father’s first cousin. Our table was populated by relatives by blood, relatives by marriage, and relatives by blood AND marriage. That we are all nearly 1700 miles away from “home” and meeting for Christmas twenty years since we last saw each other is surreal.
J took well to the new additions to our dinner roster. The first visit, during which two middle-aged men came into our home while I was alone with J and Dada and TGG were at work, incited my youngest to be at his most protective. He was polite, but he made sure that it was easy to see how tall and strong he is. He followed us around, sat with us as we conversed, and locked the door quite noisily after they’d gone back to their car. The next visit, with the whole family present, was much more relaxed because, well, if Dada is OK with these two men coming to visit, J wasn’t going to act like my bodyguard. By Christmas dinner, J was jovially hugging people and saying Merry Christmas like this was an annual gathering at our home.

Yesterday we took down our Christmas tree, and J didn’t seem bothered by it at all. Little by little, we’ve been removing the signs of the holiday season, phasing out the notion of a vacation and ushering in a return to school. Winter, thank goodness, has been kind to us so far. I credit my over-preparedness for staving off the cold and snow and ice that plagued us last year, but -deep inside- we know it’s some sort of cyclical weather pattern that has made the season more temperate than last winter. We haven’t really seen snow. We’ve seen flakes, and a thin layer that melted quite quickly, leaving little sign of its passing. We’ve been cold, but not to the point that we’d been last December. Perhaps, we think, it’s 2015’s arrival that will open the floodgates of winter and we’ll put to good use all the things we’ve lined up to manage cold and snow.

It has been a year of upheaval. Every year, let’s face it, is a year of upheaval, but this year sort of knocked us on our asses. Its one-two punch has been…solid. We thought we were out of the woods, but on Friday evening my dad was taken back to the hospital with a fever caused by a urinary tract infection. He is still there. He celebrated his 85th birthday hospitalized, and his move to a rehab facility is jeopardized by this particular development. Unless he is cleared to go, he will go home and work only on two hours of physical therapy a week, and that hasn’t been sufficient so far. My cousins visited my mother this past weekend, and the news from there are similar; she is bedridden, no longer wears her dentures, and still bobs in and out of present day reality. With her 84th birthday looming ahead, I am hoping we’ll get to see her soon, but I cannot promise myself or anyone else that this will happen. Our holidays have been punctuated by the loss of Dada’s father this summer, and by my father’s and mother’s decline. Sometimes, when I hear my bones creak, I realize that I am older than my mother was when my grandmother passed away. My mother has already outlived her mother by a good 8 years, and the women in my family seem to last a long time…

Of course, I say this as I think of the birthday party my high-school class threw this weekend for those turning fifty. Much like in the 30th anniversary reunion, the women look pristinely youthful, and I am quite glad I wasn’t there to feel…like a wreck? For one, I saw only one photograph of a woman with gray hair, and her haircut was stylish and hip. I didn’t see one single woman who looks like she’s constantly reaching for the tweezers to pluck hairs off her chin. Every girl there was pretty, stylish, fashionable, youthful. I’m not saying they were all thin, but they all dressed a far deal more impressively than I do.

I confess that, in light of these photos, I went to Target and bought some face cream because of the red patches that have started cropping up due to the ever-plummeting levels of estrogen in my body. I spent a great deal of time muttering at the multitude of boxes that announced “anti-aging,” “anti-wrinkle,” “youth restoring,” and so on and so forth. I don’t want to look younger, but I don’t want to look like I’ve had an encounter with jellyfish… Sadly, none of the boxes said “this is the cream for you if you don’t want to look like you’ve had an encounter with jellyfish.” I picked the most harmless looking (and cheapest) jar of face cream, and then I proceeded to get hungry as I applied it because it smells like orange creme sorbet.

And that’s been the holidays so far. I know we have one more to go, and lots of paperwork to get through before then. I know that it brings my fiftieth and J’s twentieth birthdays closer…but it brings to a close a mean year. One can of worms will be discarded, and perhaps another one will be opened…perhaps this will be something nicer. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps…
Until we get there, well, it’s like Schrödinger’s Cat…it might be awesome, or it might be a dud. Let’s call it awesome until it proves otherwise, and finish 2014 off with as much dignity as we can muster…

Ugh…technology…

I spent well over an hour writing a post to publish today.  The best laid plans of mothers and others were foiled by an “error” that didn’t save my draft, didn’t help my mood (which had lightened somewhat,) and totally frustrated me.  I have no post…that is: I have a post but I have to reconstruct it from the bits and notes I jotted while doing ten other things, and -as of this moment- the coherence with which I put them together earlier has succumbed to irritation…

So…long story short: I will write more about the past weekend and the upheaval attached to it, as well as the good things that resulted from some of the madness…

It will have to wait ’til tomorrow, though…I smudged my notes, spilled some tea, and J and I have five rather sizable baskets of laundry to fold ASAP.

The bumpy road to Christmas…

I will confess that I am completely un-Christmas-y this year.  I can’t really explain why, but it’s true.  Suffice it to say that when we brought our tree home on Thursday evening we discovered that the base had a crack (that hadn’t been noticeable before we started pouring copious amounts of water,) and more time was spent sopping water up from the carpeting than wondering when we’d have time to decorate.  The tree’s trimming got done at 4:30 PM today, and we did First Day presents at six…

Yes, my friends, it is THAT kind of Christmas.  The Christmas we’re not yet ready for, and the Christmas we’re trying to grab by the ankles and get pulled up to the sky by…

Last night I almost was into it, and then something happened that threw me off.  Something on top of the ten other things that have been dragging me down.  Let me start with the first week of December and work from there.  TGG calls me one morning from work, and this is unusual because he calls at lunchtime unless something has happened that isn’t particularly good.  Well, this call is to tell me that he has had a significant amount of money (ok, significant in OUR world…I’m sure to other people it isn’t that much) put on hold in his checking account, and that the bank has informed him that it’s due to a debt of OURS.  Long story short: a state where we lived for only half the year ten years ago claims we never filed taxes for those six months and decided, all this time later, to get their money by hook or crook.  I went into our files and there is the copy of the tax return, signed by Dada and myself, with copies of the W-2s and everything else.  Further exploration demonstrated that every other tax return we filed that year went through without a problem, but it seems that that particular tax return and check either didn’t make it out of the P.O. where we dropped it off (in the midst of the near-to-midnight April 15th rush,) or never got processed.

If I told you that I spent over seven-and-a-half hours either “on hold” or trying to get someone to talk to me about this, would you believe me???  Well, I spent more than that amount of time.  And I barely got any information because, well, I am not the taxpayer.  Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the state revenue agency I was trying to deal with refused to give me any information because I am not my husband.  This prompted a back and forth of “hey, I’m the one who can call because of the time difference, and I’m the one who is holding the checkbook in her hand to pay this thing,” and a lot of “I’m sorry, ma’am, but we’re not authorized.”  At the height of my annoyance I informed them that I was going to pay the amount that was on hold in the checking account, and not a single penny more…and that the check we’d originally mailed to them was for a higher amount…so there!

Dealing with the bank was ever so slightly easier, but still a lot of time on the phone waiting to figure out how to undo the whole “hold” thing.  Hopefully I can finish resolving this matter on Monday.

The other issue that has proven massively frustrating is dealing with the child support enforcement agency.  TGG had saved enough money to make sure that he would be able to pay whatever the court determined he owed his son once child support was calculated.  Once they told him the amount, he sent an official check from our bank for the full amount…and then the trouble began.  Because the attorney for the other party recommended to his client that TGG’s wages be garnished instead of allowing for direct pay, TGG’s employer garnished his wages in excess of what would count for the current month’s payment, and informed TGG that since he was over 12 weeks in arrears…  As you can imagine, TGG has learned first-hand the lesson of how frustrating it is to deal with government agencies.  To make matters worse, the same girl who said she wanted nothing from him has described TGG as a “deadbeat” online and he was told she called to ask if the money was in yet.  In less than a month since the hearing, TGG has seen more insistent activity from a child support agency than I’ve seen in the fifteen years since I got a divorce and my ex-husband started paying inconsistently what he owed his children.  Today we finally got a letter that states they will be deducting the payments for each month from TGG’s paycheck, but…the employer listed is incorrect.  Go figure!  That means yet another call…

In the midst of all this, J has been happy and relaxed in spite of the fact that he sees his brother’s belongings slowly being packed away and stored in the garage in anticipation of the move.  The anxiety of where TGG is only arises in the evenings if TGG goes out.  The other night we returned from our shopping trip and J immediately asked where TGG was, and we explained he’d gone to The Nutcracker, and would be home before midnight, but that soon TGG will be sleeping in his new home.  J knows this, but he is not yet ready to accept it; we foresee some anxiety, but we’re ready to deal with whatever comes.

I am, as you can imagine, trying to handle all the ups and downs of our daily life with as much dignity as I can, and last night I whisked my husband away to a nice little restaurant to have a glass of wine and a simple dinner ahead of our weekly grocery shopping trip at the big box store.  My ankle was hurting (it later swelled up like a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon,) but we were both in a good mood and enjoying the evening in spite of the cold.

And then I saw her and I recognized her…

I try not to think of TGG’s baby.  It’s not that I am heartless, but I do respect his mother’s choices in regards to how she wants to raise him.  If she doesn’t want anything to do with TGG, it is understandable that any interaction between them could affect this young child, and I am not one to force the issue because I believe that a mother’s happiness and well-being -in the long run- are good for the child.  If she changes her mind later on, I will be fine with that, too.  It’s not like these kids were in love, planning a future, sharing hopes and dreams and aspirations.  We never even met her, and it was all so brief and…in keeping with the current hook-up culture?…well, it wasn’t much of anything…

I worry about the baby.  I want him to be well.  I want him to be properly taken care of, and happy, and safe.  I want him to flourish and blossom, and I want his mother to be as happy as she can be.  I really, truly do…but I try not to agonize about this because it does eat away at me if I let it.

And last night we saw her.  It took me a moment to put together this girl with the one I saw on the picture they sent with the paternity test results, but it was her.  The baby wasn’t there.  She was with her dad.  Her dad, in fact, had a rather pleasant exchange with me and I wished him a merry Christmas.  I’m pretty sure he didn’t know who I was at the time.  When I reached the register, Dada -who had been looking for something I asked for- came up to me and said nothing, but I think he’d seen her already.  He had been at the courthouse with TGG, and had a brief glance at her when she rushed into the courtroom.  I saw her over his shoulder as she stopped in front of our register and asked her father about something.  He looked at me, and he sort of smiled.  I don’t know if she had said “hey, Dad, look at those people…that is TGG’s dad…,” or if he simply was being friendly, but then and there my heart skipped a beat and my blood started swirling around my brain.

They walked away, and I said nothing.  I didn’t think she’d be open to me coming up and saying “are you so-and-so?  I’m TGG’s mother.”  I let her walk away.  Dada, who realized I’d recognized her, asked me if I was ok, and I had to say “no.”  All the way home I thought about how this girl has my grandchild with her, and how I really, really, really hope they’re happy, and well.  At her age I didn’t yet have children; I had a college education, an incipient marriage, a job, a future ahead of me.  I thought, at the time, I had someone I’d be with forever, and I had children based on the notion that I was about to form a family that would be permanent.

Nearly 27 years later, my life has taken different turns, and I have learned a lot about the inconstancy of our plans, the futility of our promises to ourselves and to others.  I’ve learned that reality is stronger than we are, and that we have to work very hard at overcoming the things that go wrong, and we still might screw things up if we miscalculate one move.  I wonder where she’ll be twenty-seven years from now, and where my grandchild will be…

We didn’t tell TGG we’d seen her.  I don’t think he needs to know that I briefly struggled with running after this girl and asking “why?  Why couldn’t you just opt for a more civilized approach?  Why am I so willing to respect what you want when I know we’ll all regret it later?”  He’s having a hard time with this, and the only things his son will ever really know about him is that he pays child support, and whatever this young lady tells him.

Yes…this Christmas is definitely bumpy, and I’m struggling with getting into the spirit.

A gunman on the loose…

Today our town made headlines because of a gunman who killed four people.  The news broke sometime after ten a.m. with an APB indicating the vehicle being sought, and that the suspect was considered armed and dangerous.  Schools locked down.  Parents worried.  Messages traveled back and forth over social media speculating who, where, why…

The suspect has been found, and he is not alive.  He wasn’t killed by any hand other than his, according to reports.  From messages he had posted on Facebook previous to the attacks, he didn’t seem like he meant to survive today.  And it all happened here…where we live.

Now, I’ll have you know that I am a firm believer in teaching your children gun safety, and my sons learned early on in life that when a gun is in the room they are to leave it immediately.  I know how to handle weapons, and I choose not to…not because I think they kill people, but because I have no personal need for them.  TGG and Dada practice target shooting, and both have gone hunting in the past.  I am a fairly good shot, but I feel no need to prove what I know to anyone.  I believe in preventing things rather than reacting to them, and so I taught my boys to be cautious, observant, and drop to the floor if they hear a shot.  Everyone has flashlights handy, we don’t open the door unless we’re expecting someone, and so on and so forth.  We are your garden-variety chicken-shits, and it has served us well.

Having said that, today was a hectic day.  It doesn’t matter how safe you think you are, when you hear that something like this has happened in an area where you circulate fairly frequently, and your kid’s school calls to inform you of a lockdown because of an active shooter that cannot be located, well, you realize that there’s nothing you can do to prepare for situations like this one.

It’s deer hunting season, and I’ve learned to live with the random sound of shots ringing through the air.  The truth is that a lot of people who were near where the shootings took place didn’t really think anything odd was happening.  This, like Newtown and many other towns that have experienced such tragedies in a larger and smaller scale, is not THAT kind of place.  You hear shots and the first thing that crosses your mind is “hunting.”  I grew up in an area where it was not as unusual to hear shooting, even in those days when most muggings involved a threat with a blade rather than a gun.  My aunts taught me to hand over whatever was being asked for, not make eye contact, and run as soon as the chance presented itself.  On a night in December about twenty-three years ago, two of my aunts were robbed of a vehicle and their purses right outside our driveway, and -of all the things they found totally atrocious about the incident- that it was at gunpoint was the most offensive to them.  “The children (they never referred to them as hoodlums or such) had a GUN…a REAL gun!  Don’t they know it can hurt them?”  In the light of day, of course, the realization that they had been on the bad side of the gun was even more shocking.  “They could’ve shot us!”

When the schools lifted the lockdown and sent the kids home, parents rushed down to wait even for the high school kids.  You can’t help but worry at moments like those…you remember all the stories that have been front and center since the late Nineties and you wonder HOW and WHY in this little town (don’t let the population and the big university fool you…it IS a little town,) and WHO would do something like that?

The dangerous man (which is what I explained to J as we rushed home in the drizzling rain) has been found and is no longer dangerous.  There is no rejoicing in this fact, and there wouldn’t have been rejoicing if he’d been found alive either because four people are dead.  Nothing will change that.

The sounds of hunting will no longer be, to me, just sounds…now I have room to wonder and worry.