Thursday, November 21, 2013

Normality


Normality. This word can cause a safe feeling. It supports nothing strange or out of character, but instead, what is expected. Although this can be very different for each of us, it still makes us feel as if things are going as they should go or as planned. But when something happens outside the blanket of normality, it can be life changing.

This week my Uncle Tom came from New York for a short visit. He came to visit his sister, my mom. We have kept in touch and he reads my posts about her, so he had an idea of how she was doing, but through an outsider's perspective rather than through direct experience.

During his visit we really had only one day to visit Mom and get to spend some time with her. I was worried because you never know what kind of mood she will be in when you visit, and we had a one shot deal. A few days earlier, I went to visit her and she was agitated, yelling at the TV, and wouldn't talk to me. I tried and tried to approach her that day. I engaged and re-engaged her about seven different times, but to no avail. She was mad at the world, so I had to throw my hands up and retreat. I was hoping we wouldn't have that kind of day for Tom. I was worried, and I wanted things to be “ok” for him.

As luck would have it, we were blessed with what I would call a great day. We had a little bit of confusion when I first approached her, but after a little cajoling with some animal crackers, Mom perked up. I got her photo album out, and we all sat together to look through it. I had hoped that the pictures with Tom and my mom together as kids would perhaps create a spark in her memory. Alas, that flame may have been forever extinguished. She talked and responded, but she showed no recognition of what she was seeing. She rambled on incessantly as we looked through the photos. We looked at the pictures over and over and repeated ourselves, but our words made no impression on her. I felt Tom's pain as he wiped away his tears as he realized that his beloved sister was lost to him.

We decided to take her out to lunch, which she loves. Tom walked her to the car, the two of them arm in arm, smiling, talking. While driving there, Mom continued to talk and tell stories. I interrupted her to try again to help her recognize her brother. I said, “Mom, your brother Tom came to visit. He flew on a plane all the way from New York to visit you.” As Tom voiced his enthusiasm for being there, I could see that she was surprised to hear his voice. Where had it come from? She didn't realize that someone was in the back seat. She could only see me. She turned around and said jokingly, “Who is that man?!” Tom answered that he is her brother. Then she said something else that didn’t make sense, and followed up with, “Wow, there's a man back there. As the young ladies say, Woo woo!” And we laughed. We were able to take a painful situation and laugh about it because, honestly, it was funny.

On to lunch, where we all sat, talked, and did a lot of laughing. Because she has no filters, she would notice almost anyone who walked past and would comment on them. We had no worries about what she was saying though, unless the passerby could interpret what she meant by, “The guy with the boobidy boodley boos.” We were glad that we could find joy in a hard situation and yet sadness lingered. Tom held back the tears he could, and he wiped away those he couldn’t hide.

We followed lunch with a walk and more sitting and chatting, but finally it was time to go. Mom was tired. I wanted to make sure that Tom at least remembered his visit with his sister as a somewhat positive one. I didn't want him seeing her when she was tired and aggravated. That didn't need to be his new normal with her.

Throughout the day I realized that what my mom has become is now “normal” to me. The mood swings, the nonsensical talk, the confusion, and the lack of recognition of those who love her. All of this is also intertwined with her smiles, her love for dancing, the moments she calls me “hon,” or the times she actually has some clarity. All of this is my normal.

Although I was so very happy that Tom and I had such a good day with her, I know that this day was hard on him. This was not his normal. His normal was a sister who loved to take care of her baby brother. A sister who would be there for him whenever he needed her. He tried to prepare himself for what it would be like. Heck, I tried to prepare him for what the visit might be like, but you can never really be prepared for seeing someone you love be replaced by someone who is but a fragment of the person you once knew. An imposter.

We came into the day hoping for just a moment or two of clarity. There was no clarity, no spark of recognition, just a nice day spent with a nice man. As the day came to an end, we saw that the glimmer of hope for a little brother wanting his big sister to remember him was extinguished. And as he hugged her goodbye and told her he loved her, she hugged him and replied, “It was nice to meet you.”



Tuesday, November 5, 2013

My Calling


During the past 10 years, I have constantly doubted myself. This feeling comes from being just a mom. I wasn't bringing in household income on a consistent basis. Yes, I would do something here and there to bring in a little money, but it was never anything substantial.

As the years passed, the feeling that I “should” be doing something other than raising our two children and taking care of the house pulled at my heart strings. Then something magical happened. I let it all go.

Last week I pulled up one of the many videos that people post. This one hit home. This one registered in my heart and in my soul. A number of moms talked about what they viewed as their shortcomings in being mothers. Then they saw videos of their children talking about how their children viewed their mothers.

One of the mothers had expressed her feeling that she tended to focus on the negative, what she was doing wrong as a mom. This is so true for me. You may think that because I am not being assessed by someone in HR, that I don't evaluate my job performance. Wrong. I do it constantly. I reflect on situations and how I could have handled them better, worrying that because of my failure my child will be on Dr. Phil later in life. I constantly try to find a balance, not only for myself, but also for my children. I don't want their existence to be driving from one activity to another, although that sometimes does seem to happen.

As for the activities themselves, I constantly debate what they should be doing. Should it be lacrosse, dance, soccer, basketball, Boy Scouts, art, spanish, or some other club? I really don’t have the answer, and I really don't think that there is one. I just pick what they seem interested in and enjoy. And yes, I have had to quit some that my kids liked and enjoyed, for my own sanity. Boy Scouts got the proverbial boot this year, after I missed a gajillion emails and therefore we missed a gajillion meetings. My son liked it, but for some reason I could never seem to keep up with it. We are already balancing Brain Balance (a subject for a future blog entry or two) three times a week, Brazilian Jiujitsu twice a week, and basketball twice a week with the kids. Add any meetings that my husband and I have and we are a scheduling nightmare.

When there are too many activities, dinner can become an afterthought. I know some moms just drive up to the next fast food window they see, but I love to cook dinner. OK, let’s rephrase that to say, I enjoy cooking dinner when my family enjoys it. What I don't love is the face from my son if I serve zucchini or kale or by my daughter if I offer meat other than fish or London Broil.

Anyway, my point is that I love dinner time at our house. We actually all sit down together and talk. We all must say “What's the best thing that happened to you today?” because no matter how crappy your day, there is something good that happened. Then we all say, “I am awesome because (fill in the blank).” We are trying to teach our children to see new and unique things about themselves that are admirable. It is much easier to tell someone else why they rock, and sometimes harder for us to do this about ourselves. Just ask the grown-ups, many times our kids are calling out good stuff about my husband and me as we sit there not realizing our own true awesomeness.

Our own true awesomeness somehow gets lost in the shuffle of the day. If you watch the video that I was talking about, all of the mothers talk about what they needed to improve on as moms and all of the children talked about how amazing each one of their moms was and is. Since viewing this video, I have come to appreciate what I do every day for my family and my kids. I am raising our children to be personally strong. I am teaching them the responsibilityof being part of a family and eventually an adult.

Each day I am feeding their little bodies with healthful food so they learn about how to treat their bodies and that it does matter what you put in them. The other day, my daughter came in to our bedroom and said, “Momma, Daddy come here. Want to see me flex my muscles?! Look how strong I am!” She is strong in so many ways. And so is my son. The things that he has gone through, many kids would have given up by now, but not him. He continues on (mostly) smiling and continuing to conquer those things that he struggles with.

There is not a day that goes by that I don't tell them that I love them many times. I hug them and kiss them and reassure them when they need it because we all need it. And there are certainly times that I put them in their place when they try to take an attitude with me. I make them do chores. I make sure that they do their homework and help them with it as well. We break out in spontaneous dance parties because why not? It's fun! Sometimes we sing loudly in the car. Other times I have nothing on and simply listen to what they talk about.

I have learned that you can learn a lot by simply listening. Like that some of their top ten music artists are Bob Marley, Michael Martin Murphy, Lady Gaga, and ACDC (yes, there is a wide variety of music in their portfolios). I also learned what teachers they like and why. But sometimes I hear things that I could care less about, like some TV show that they like but I would rather stick forks in my eyes than watch. Even though I am not saying anything, I am taking it all in. I am there.

Being there means I get to be the first one to see their sleepy faces in the morning and hear about their
dreams. I get to watch my daughter as she waits for the bus. I give her our sign for “I love you” through the window and see her sing and dance on the driveway or kick stones until the bus pulls up. I get to be the one the school calls and go to the rescue because my little one has a fever and needs to come home. I am the one they see when they walk through the door after their schoolday. I get to hear about their days. I share the excitement of what they did at recess or wipe the tears after they have had a terrible day.

I am many things. I am a taxi driver, a cook, a maid, a teacher, and a counselor. I know now that all of this matters, truly matters. It matters more to me than a few dollars here and there (although, trust me, we could certainly use them). I can only hope that if my children were asked about their mom they would have positive things to say. And I know now that when someone asks me about my job as a mother, that I will not be embarrassed about it because it is my calling. It is one of many things that I was meant to do. And I do it so well. It means everything to me.