My Father

I haven’t seen my father since 1986. I was 11 when he left. Even before that, I wasn’t around him much. He worked offshore when my parents were married, so there were long stretches when he wasn’t home. When I was 8 my parents divorced and I rarely saw him for the next year or so. My mother moved when I was 10, so I moved in with my father, stepmother, and baby sister to start school in a new place. My father and I lived there for 6 weeks when my stepmother kicked us out (which happened to be the night my wonderful grandfather died).

This is the day I moved in with my Grandmother. Her husband had just died after a quick, but terrible, fight with cancer but she didn’t even take time to mourn, she just started taking care of me. My Grandma’s property has two homes on it, so my father moved into one home with his brother and I moved in to the other with Grandma. Except for one other time, this was also the last time I saw my sisters until we were all adults (because their mother wouldn’t allow our family to see them).

We had been living with Grandma for several months when my father won a lawsuit against a former employer (for a legitimate claim). He won a substantial amount of money. Grandma had him put $10,000 in a savings account for my sisters and me to have to use toward college. Then she took me to the orthodontist, had them do a work up, and estimate what every single procedure and appliance would cost for my teeth to be straightened. Grandma went to my father and told him the total and made him give her the entire amount, despite his protests that he would just make payments. A few days later, after my uncle had taken out another trash bag full of my father’s empty beer cans, Grandma told him that if he had money to blow on alcohol, he could help her pay for clothes for me. He, and the $10,000 he’d put in the bank for his daughters’ educations, were gone that night.

About 11 years ago, when I was trying to have my first child, I asked a friend to help track down my father. My friend was a private investigator and looked for my father pro bono. I wanted to know if he was still alive and if I had any more siblings. I also really wanted to be able to tell Grandma something about her son. My friend found my father living in Alabama with a wife, but no more children. I thought for a little while of getting in touch with him, but decided against it.

Over the last 29 years, I’ve had every emotion possible in relation to my father. I’ve been furious, I’ve been sad, I’ve been eager to find him, and I’ve been resigned. I knew, even if I found him, that it wouldn’t really matter. He wouldn’t have any answers that would change anything and nothing that wouldn’t just be an excuse. I’ve always felt badly for Grandma who adored my father, her first born, until he proved that he couldn’t be an adult who cared for his own family or overcome his alcohol addiction. She still loved him, but she was beyond disappointed in his choices. Still, I knew she worried about him, because how could you not be worried?

When my older baby sister turned 18, I tracked down her mother and asked to get in touch with the girls. So we started talking on the phone and getting to know each other. We’re more connected now than when we were growing up, and I have two sweet nephews and a sweet niece because of them. We’ve all gotten married, but E (the younger of the two) is the only one who didn’t change her name when she married. Because of that, she’s the one the law firm’s investigator was able to track down most easily. E called me this past Friday after the investigator called her, and told me that our father had died. E had to get to work, so I called the investigator to make sure everything was legit and see what was going on.

Our father’s widow has a lawsuit because he died from an asbestos-related illness. He died from lung cancer, but I don’t have the details because the investigator was only calling us to get our contact information, she didn’t know she was calling to inform us that our father was dead. Basically, his widow was obligated by law to contact us because we are his heirs. She didn’t contact us to tell us our father had died. Almost 3 years ago. In October 2012.

After I talked with the investigator and established that it was my father we were talking about (he had a fairly common name, so I wanted to be sure), I called Grandma. I told her that her son had died nearly three years before from lung cancer. She thought it was ironic that “that woman” could find us when money depended on it, but not for common decency to tell us my father was dead. Grandma and I talked for a little while, but there weren’t many details to share. We have to depend on my father’s widow to call me if we want to know more. I’m not expecting to hear from her. Not when she didn’t call three years ago.

Then I called my mother because the law firm needs to know information about my father from the 10 years they were married. My mother and I thought it was ironic that she would be helping with a lawsuit that would get my father’s widow money when he never paid a dime of child support for me. Yes, we know the money would come to my sister and me too, but the irony is still there.

So much irony, y’all.

I have the same level of general sadness that I’ve always had about my father. He made choices that kept him from watching his daughters become adults, he will never know his grandchildren, and he drilled a hole in his mother’s heart that will never heal. It’s a strange thing to hear that your father is dead and then to be told that it happened almost three years before. You start to think of what was happening at that time, and wondering if you had any kind of “feeling.” Nicholas was 7, Tobin was 2, and of course Tesla hadn’t been born. And, no, I didn’t have any kind of feeling that my father had died. I had no idea.

I do know, however, that if I get any financial gain from the lawsuit, I will buy Grandma something lovely and wonderful.

 

Getting Lost

Getting Lost, with a capital “L” was the theme for last week. I, apparently, have a horrible sense of direction and that has become even more clear than it already was last week. I haven’t gotten lost on the way to drop off the kids and to go to work because I have a checklist of my step-by-step moves. Coming home is another story.

I got lost every day the first week living in Dallas. Well, lost may not be the most accurate term. I’ve been getting turned around. There hasn’t been a time when I didn’t know what street I was on or where I was in general, but there were many many times when I was going the wrong direction or stuck behind 80 jillion other vehicles and then missing my turn. It has been so incredibly frustrating because I have been late picking up the kids pretty much every day that we’ve lived in DFW. It is the worst feeling to be going against the clock and not knowing exactly where you are. The worst.

Hopefully I’ll get better the longer we’re here, it’s only been a week. But I’m tired of frustrated tears on the way home (from me, the kids are fine). Send the sense-of-direction gods my way, would you?

She Saved Me Every Sunday

It started because I wasn’t sure I could entertain a toddler by myself an entire weekend for the rest of my life. I wasn’t sure I could stand to be alone with my thoughts an entire weekend. It started because N woke up every day by 5:00 a.m. regardless of the day of the week and I wanted a nap.

I knew Grandma adored having us over and it helped soothe the little sadness she had over not being able to take care of N while I worked. So we just showed up one Sunday morning and stayed until early afternoon. I didn’t intend to make it every Sunday, but that’s what it turned in to.

When my aunt, her daughter, retired she started coming to Sunday lunch too. Then whichever cousin or grandkid was in town or living nearby came. We added spouses, we ditched spouses. We added children and lost a child. Some Sundays were birthday celebrations, some included hunting Easter eggs. On holidays like Christmas or Thanksgiving, it is often only the food that is served that is different from a regular Sunday.

We do laundry or pay bills or watch mindless television before or after we eat. We tell stories. I listen when she needs to tell me something about my other aunt, the one who lives with her but can’t cut her own food anymore. I hope I’ve helped her as much as she has helped me. I get to watch her snuggle my kids and make everyone pay the “toll” of a hug as they come in the door or they won’t get any ice cream after lunch. I get to watch her sneaking just one more cookie to the boys. I search for containers after every lunch to put the leftovers in because it’s literally impossible for the woman not to cook more than necessary because she doesn’t want to have too little. “Just in case” is her motto. I may have inherited the tendency (Grandma says her mother was exactly the same).

Over the past year or so she has been calling me some Saturdays to tell me she’s not up to having us over the next day. It doesn’t change her mind when I tell her we can just have sandwiches because it’s about the visit and not the food. She wouldn’t feel right having us come over without offering us a “real” meal. I’ve cooked for us a few times, but she says I’m too busy with the kids and she doesn’t want me to have added work. Like she hasn’t taken care of our entire family all of our lives.

We have two more regular Sundays before my little family moves to Dallas. And one of those is going to be a staged Easter because we’ll be gone for the real one and my Aunt suggested we fake it so the kids could all hunt eggs together. Y’all, that’s my family. We have Easter the Sunday before the real deal so that my kids can hunt eggs with their cousins.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m very excited about our new adventures in Dallas, I am. But, I will miss my Sundays with my Grandma (and Aunts and Uncles and whichever cousins are around). What started out as a way to escape my own thoughts turned in to almost eight years of weekly conversations, ice cream, and paying for lunch with a hug. I am so lucky.

All The Jams Have Been Pumped

Most business days, at 10 in the morning and at two in the afternoon, since I went back to work last spring I have pumped breast milk. When I was ready for a session, I announced down the hall that I was Pumping Up The Jams so that nobody would come into my office. On Friday, Tesla turns 1 (I know, I can’t believe how quickly this year went either), and I’ll be done pumping. We’ll still nurse when we’re together because we both love it, and I’ll let her nurse as long as she wants to until she’s 2.

But, I’m more than a little happy to be done pumping. It’s not my favorite. What is my favorite is that I was able to give Tesla the majority of the nourishment she had in her first year. We supplemented with formula, but, for the most part, she was a breast-fed infant.

I am also happy that we’re done pumping just in time to ship my pump to my sweet niece, Jessica, who is having her first baby this spring.

All the Jams? They have been Pumped, yo.

 

Miss Me?

I’ve been away from this space for a while and I have missed it and you. I didn’t purposely take a break, but I feel like I’ve barely breathed during the last year…I certainly didn’t take the time to write.

But I am back and have stories to tell. I am glad you’re here.

Racism and Listening

I’ve spent a lot of the last year reading and listening about racism. I’ve had conversations with people I respect and whose views and perspectives on race come from personal experience.

Before the last year and a half or so, I thought I understood what my friends who have been impacted by racism were going through. I’m a liberal woman with friends of many ethnicities, gender identifications and other “I’m super not racist and totally understand what my friends are facing” categories. I question my thinking and ask other people to call me on bullshit if I say or do something that makes them feel badly or isn’t in line with how they know I want to live. I thought I got it.

And then I read a post by my friend, Amiyrah Martin that punched me in the gut. She was writing in response to the verdict in the George Zimmerman murder trial. I read her post and then couldn’t get it out of my head. Amiyrah and I have sons the same age. From her writing, I can tell that we are trying to raise them with an emphasis on respect, honor, empathy, good manners and laughter.

Here’s why Amiyrah’s post hit me the way others haven’t. I thought that the conversations about how to act when confronted by police were for the generations before ours. I didn’t think that a child born to a peer, born the same year as my son, would ever have to hear that warning. Because except for the respect for authority part of the conversation, I can’t imagine ever having to have that conversation with my children. The fact that someone who is so much like me in so many ways, who has a boy who could be my boy, has to teach her son how to avoid attracting the attention of police reduced me to tears. Amiyrah’s post made me connect with how big racism still is in a powerful way.

I have been listening to a lot of very smart people this last year, and I plan to continue to listen. Kelly Wickham has written so much that I’ve been listing to, but you should read this one especially. I’ve been grateful for our conversation and for the thousands of words she’s written on the topic of racism.

I’d rather talk about it here and now than to know that my friends are talking to their children about how to avoid getting harassed, arrested, or shot.

In addition to Kelly and Amiyrah, you should also listen to A’Driane Nieves who is wickedly smart and passionate about many things including racism, mental health, and access to excellent education for everyone.

I’m listening to these women, who else should I be listening to?

 

 

 

Martha Speaketh Weeketh! Talking Dogs Are the Best Dogs

We’re a PBS-loving family. We devour everything from documentaries, news programs, cooking shows, home improvement, and art to the kids programming. I love sharing favorites like Seasame Street with my kids, and discovering new-for-us shows like the Wild Krats and Martha Speaks. The week of June 16-20, 2014, is Martha Speaketh Week which culminates with Summer Learning Day on June 20th. To celebrate the week, PBS KIDS is airing three all-new episodes and launched a new online game called Martha’s Steaks!

The kids and I were excited to preview Monday’s new episodes, “Thou Callest Me a Dog,” and “Martha’s Paper Chase.”

Mom Likes

  • The thing I liked the most was that both episodes emphasized integrity even though that wasn’t the main topic of the show. In, “Thou Callest Me a Dog,” the kids rescued a really pompous actor from a locked closet (who arguably deserved to be locked in the closet for his rudeness) and in, “Martha’s Paper Chase,” the local paper didn’t print a story because it would have invaded the privacy of the story’s subject.
  • I also liked, from the adult-watching-a-kid-show point of view, that none of the lessons hit you over the head, they were just part of the story.
  • The boys, despite their almost five year age difference, could watch the show together and get different things from it.
  • Shout out to the writers of “Thou Callest Me a Dog,” for calling the actor in the episode “Burbage” after one of the original actors at and the owner of the Globe theater who performed many of Shakespeare’s plays.
  • When the boys played the game Martha’s Steaks, there were easy levels for Tobin and more advanced levels that Nicholas played.

Kids Likes

  • Tobin (4 years old): Martha is funny and smart and is nice to her friends. And she likes to tell stories.
  • Nicholas (9 years old): The stories are good, and she teaches interesting words. But she doesn’t just tell you the words over and over, she uses them throughout the story so you figure them out by what is going on during the story.

My favorite quote while watching the Shakespeare episode:

Me to boys: Is Martha talking crazy?

Nicholas: No, Mom, she’s talking Shakespeare.

Online Games

The boys both liked the online game, Martha’s Steaks; but, it was more on the level of Tobin than Nicholas. Nicholas did give Tobin pointers while they were playing, so it was a good way for them to play together. Tobin got lost in the website with all of the word games and storytelling features. In fact, he woke up the next morning asking for Martha Speaks!

Martha Speaks Goodies!

When we got the DVD for review, it came with a fun package that included the Martha Speaks book, Perfectly Martha (Tobin loved this one), a graphic novel (Nicholas loved this one), pencils, temporary tattoos, stickers, and a flip book. The boys were over the moon with excitement to read the books and play with the stickers and tattoos.

I hope you get a chance to watch these episodes and the series with your kids. And if you’re a word nerd like me, you’ll love that your kids are getting even more exposure to words they may not hear every day! Check your local listings to see when you can catch this fun show!

 

Martha Speaks was fun for the whole family (Lemmon included!)

Martha Speaks was fun for the whole family (Lemmon included!)

 Disclosure: I was not compensated for this review, but I was provided a preview DVD of the new episodes along with the books, stickers, and tattoos.

My Life List

I like lists a lot. I like to mark items off my lists so much that if I do something that wasn’t on the list I will sometimes add it retroactively just so I can mark it off. It is possible I have a problem.

Anyway…I’ve been thinking of what I want to do in life and figured I’d make a list. Like you do. In no particular order…

  1. Write a book
  2. Collect Grandma’s stories
  3. Sell something I made
  4. Visit Oregon
  5. Take kids to Disney World
  6. Run a mile
  7. Organize Grandma’s pictures
  8. Host Thanksgiving dinner
  9. Donate money to my public library
  10. Donate money to PBS
  11. Donate money to NPR
  12. Say thank you
  13. Read Maya Angelou
  14. Dance every day, even if it’s in my chair
  15. Find my father
  16. Send birthday wishes
  17. Paint
  18. Volunteer for a political campaign
  19. Grow vegetables
  20. Write a letter a month for a year
  21. Own a home
  22. Pay off student loan
  23. Get out of credit card debt
  24. Take the kids to a concert
  25. Take the kids camping
  26. Do yoga
  27. Learn to meditate
  28. Take an art class
  29. Forgive
  30. Plant a cutting garden
  31. Visit North Carolina
  32. Learn to grill outside
  33. Learn/create/discover a signature dish
  34. Take the kids to a play
  35. Become a Librarian
  36. Learn to swim really well

There isn’t a “should” on the list. These are all wants and some needs, but not a single should.

Who Needs Hair Anyway?

Oh, wait, I do. If you’ve had a baby, you will know what I’m saying when I tell you that I’m in full-on, postpartum hair loss. If you haven’t had a baby…surprise! After you have a baby, you lose a significant chunk of hair. Of course everyone is different, but I get a real-life bald spot right on my hairline, and that sucker is making a comeback. It is The Time of The Clogged Drains in our home right now. My husband’s favorite!

The good news is the hair grows back. The bad news is, I feel like a baby bird with fuzzy bald spots right in front. Good thing Tesla is so cute and my hair grows so fast.

Did you lose hair after you had a baby? Were you surprised?

Best Laid Plans: Postpartum Edition

I was really prepared this time. I knew the signs of postpartum depression, I know my own triggers for anxiety, and I know how I deal with both. I had plans in place to stay healthy after I gave birth because I didn’t before. This time would be different. I took good care of myself during this pregnancy. I never had to take insulin and I lost about 20 pounds. I wasn’t dieting or anything, it was just a matter of eating well.

I had a good idea of how much I would weigh after I had Tesla, and I planned to use that as a spring board for getting even healthier. I was going to eat good food every day, like oatmeal, good proteins, raw veggies. I was going to prep it and have it ready in the fridge so that when I was nursing I could grab a healthy snack and take care of myself while I took care of her. I was going to have a bottle of water full at all times so that I could drink plenty of water. I was going to start walking with the baby as soon as I was cleared with the doctor. My goal wasn’t to lose weight right after I had the baby, but to take care of myself. I knew from when I had Tobin that I needed to be prepared or I wouldn’t make any of my plans a reality. I also knew that if I were doing everything I could to take care of myself, my postpartum depression/anxiety (if I got it this time) would be easier to deal with.

I had so many plans on February 5th. Then Tesla was born on February 6th and the plans went out the window. Because I had the reality of the newborn and not the newborn in my head. Let me say how lucky I know we are because she’s a healthy baby. There is no reason, other than the logistics of having a newborn, that I couldn’t implement my plans. Except that I had a newborn. One who wasn’t a fan of being put down…and I’ll be honest, knowing she was my last newborn, I  *wanted* to hold her all the time. But, holding her all the time doesn’t leave much room for shopping or food prep.

I had planned to have an easy time breastfeeding. Nicholas was easy to nurse, Tobin was more challenging. Tesla had me in tears for two weeks. Nursing her was so hard the first few weeks, both physically and mentally. Physically I was hurting and my nipples were cracked and bleeding and I had thrush. She also wasn’t completely draining me so I was alternating between engorgement and feeling like I didn’t have enough milk.  Mentally, I was a mess because Tesla not only lost her birth weight, but also didn’t gain it back at a good pace. We had to supplement with formula, I had to pump, we had to give her bottles…you guys, none of that was in my Plan. My Plan had us surrounded by a soft light with me smiling down on my newborn as she nursed with a smile in her eyes and angels singing in the background as the baby let out a gentle burp and never spit up. That was my Plan. I cried while I pumped and watched William feeding Tesla formula. It broke my heart that I couldn’t do everything the baby needed. Because logic has no place in the mind of a woman with a newborn. We also spent time shuttling the baby back and forth to the pediatrician’s office for weigh-ins. It was hard, y’all. Really hard. William, my OB, and the pediatrician were all super helpful and supportive. My local La Leche League was also beyond helpful. And I can’t tell you how important my circle of friends was, thank goodness so many of them nursed their kids and could share their experiences with me. Tesla and I didn’t really get past the physical pain and in a good groove until Tesla was 7 weeks or so, and those were long-ass weeks.

Do I need to say that I wasn’t getting any sleep? Because I wasn’t (and still am not getting much, but it’s a lot better).

Despite all of this griping, Tesla has been a lot easier baby than Tobin was (because Tobin had wicked colic and Tesla hasn’t). And that made my mental and physical exhaustion even harder for me to deal with. Because I shouldn’t be so tired or have so much anxiety when my baby was a sweet easy-going baby. I *should* be hearing angels singing and enjoying my last-ever maternity leave. Instead, I was crying in the shower, trying not to yell at the older kids all the time, worrying about Tesla being kidnapped/turning into a zombie/dying in a freak accident, and walking around on egg shells with William so I wouldn’t lose my shit.

And then I lost my shit. It wasn’t anything dramatic. In fact, I knew I needed to talk with a counselor and visit with my OB about the possibility of medical intervention when I got my feelings hurt at work over an innocent event. Nothing that would have bothered me at all before sent me to my office in tears and thinking that everyone in the world hated me. Hated me. I work with amazing people who love me and would be sad to know how sad I was right at that moment. Anyway, it was the catalyst that finally made me contact a counselor and my doctor.

I also brushed up on the signs of PPD and anxiety. Shout out to Postpartum Progress!

I’m working on a different plan now. One that isn’t so rigid, one that cuts me a little slack. And one that allows me not to cry when I pick up a can of formula to supplement what I’m pumping during the day. I’ve gained back all the weight I lost during the pregnancy. It sounds great to say I’m two pounds lighter than I was before I got pregnant; but, it felt a lot better to say that I’d lost 20 pounds. My new plan cuts me some slack, right? So I have to just accept that I didn’t follow the plan, and all the weight’s back and now I need to get back on the bandwagon. Slack, I need some.

I feel better already.