Saturday, October 31, 2009

Are You Ready For Some Football?

Okay, I had a full night of sleep last night for the first time since last Sunday. Odd, but it took an entire week to recover the routine following Mother's tirade at the hospital. The main issue was trying to recoup the hours I lost at work on Monday, particularly when I lost more on Tuesday spending some time with Marissa, and then there was the extra preparation for a potluck luncheon and costume contest on Friday. I believe in those activities because they build a sense of camaraderie and teamwork, but the timing, as often happens in real life, was less than fortunate. I just felt like I was climbing up a very steep hill all week. When that happens, self pity tends to creep in and things get ugly.

The house looks like a tornado swept through it. There is mail just about every where, some of it opened, some of it not. I would just drop it on random surfaces. A lot of it is on the coffee table surrounding the lap top. Looking at the little piles, I worry that I'm becoming a clutter bug like my mother. But, not to worry, this is a bye week and we get that extra hour, so hopefully I will have time to right the ship. But, first, as I spent some brain cells wondering why I thought I could actually hold down a job under my current circumstances, I chewed over the vague guilt I had over leaving Mom in Greg's hands for a while last Sunday and marveling at how, through all the chaos of our lives, there haven't been more moral conundrums like it. Because there really have not been. Until last year that is. Last year was a challenge to watch every game while Mother was bouncing from one care arrangement to the next all through the fall. I faced it and overcame, but only with the aid of modern technology and the fact that the Steelers got a lot of national attention with their tough schedule. I worry that the streak won't last. There are too many potential obstacles, I'm afraid, and there will come some Sunday when I have to face up to the fact that my boys will have to carry the day without me. But, before that, even with both Kelsey and Marissa in full blown disarray, Sundays were not a particular issue. So, I wondered about that some this week.

For one thing, granting myself leave to watch the game every week is the one thing I can tell you I have no guilt over. Odd as that might sound given how much guilt I feel over my children's upbringing, and how incredibly selfish it must sound. But, while I believe sincerely that parents need to put their kids first because they made the choice to put them on the earth, and now have to own up to raising them to be responsible humans, they can't do that very well if they completely sublimate their own needs. Think of it as re-charging one's battery. And the kids never seemed to mind it. For one thing, it was a given since they were little and they really knew no other routine. They grew up, like I did, to the trappings of the game. That particular crowd noise on Saturdays and Sundays (listen to crowds of various sports without watching, you can tell what the sport is by the ebbs and flows of the spectator noise) was the background for whatever else was happening, good or bad. For Kelsey and Marissa, it was comfortable, as it had been for me. In all the wreckage, there was that modest amount of normalcy. On Saturday, there were the Longhorns, on Sunday there were the Steelers. Fall Sundays were family days and football was the centerpiece. Mother, until the big blow up in 2007, drove herself over every Sunday to watch with us, and either Greg or I would cook an early dinner. Granted, I know now that there were times when they used the fact that I would be distracted to get away with things, but once they got to the point where they genuinely were trying to recover, there was a comfort in knowing what every week would bring. I think that is born out by Marissa now, who came over last Sunday and sat playing Solitaire on the computer during most of the game. When she wasn't playing virtual cards, she was working on a research paper for school. She spent very little time actually watching the game, but there is something about the setting that is comfortable to her. She could have done both those things at her dorm or her boyfriend's apartment, but it wouldn't have been the same, and there are some traditions that are worth keeping. So, really, I never had to think much about it in the past. They played, we all watched.

A routine repeated in countless households all over the country. There is small wonder that major league sports are such big businesses. One can argue that we could have better spent our time together actually talking to one another, or doing an activity that didn't involve holding down the couch. I won't argue with that, but it was what we did and how we rolled. I still roll that way, and hope to roll all the way to a 7th Super Bowl title. But, we'll see about that.

(By the way, here's my little Kordell getting ready to rep the Steelers in Disney World. Ironically, her favorite player on the current roster wears 10. I'm hoping that her Karma extends to us reaching a 10th Super Bowl someday. Now that would be something!)

Monday, October 26, 2009

Observations from a Different Field

I should not have sat down. The lack of motion is causing the adrenaline to leave my body, and I can feel it leaking out through my toes. And I still have things to do. I hadn't planned on spending the last two days in a flurry of activity trying to juggle my life and work with Mother's care while she spent a miserable 36 hours in the hospital due to an elevated heart rate. She is back "home" now in her other hospital bed at her nursing home, which she could sporadically remember the name of throughout the day. But, she had to make sure she meted out her dose of grief and aggravation before she got back there, that's for sure. She is a notoriously awful patient in the best of times, and her mind has left those times long behind. The natural combativeness of her senility combines with her long held Bad Patient status to become almost a lethal dose of nastiness. At least it's lethal to me. I don't know how, but the nursing staff that was the victim of her constant haranguing ire, seemed to be able to slough it off like the proverbial water of the back of the proverbial duck. I know they receive training in this sort of thing, but when she actually means it to hurt personally, you wonder how it doesn't sting just a little. Maybe it does, but they never let it show.

I have learned some tips for successfully handling someone like my mother in the hospital. Allow me to share. The first thing she will always, always tell you if you're assigned to her is that she is a nurse, so she understands what is going on. Of course, with one look at her you understand that she has not practiced for a number of years, like maybe since the last Ice Age. The next thing you have to understand is that she wants you to address her, not anyone else in the room. Even if that other person is easier to speak to, both because they can hear you and then understand what they are hearing. That other person in the room is not in control of the decisions. She will make that very clear. If you ignore it, you will do so at your peril, and then later at the peril of the other poor schmuck who is stuck in the room. If you are good, you will look directly at her and address her, but then glance occasionally at the other person to verify what she is saying. Hopefully the person who is accompanying her has not tried to crawl under a chair in humiliation at what she is saying and can gesture, nod, shake the head, hold up fingers or whatever they need to do to paint the true picture. It would be better if you are white and from somewhere other than the south and speak with anything other than a midwestern accent. If you are not white, which, in all likelihood you are not, I pray your skin is very thick. Forget what you are taught about speaking softly so as not to alarm your patient. She can't hear a brass band playing right next to her, so shouting is the order of the day, and you will do better if you are leaning in to her while you do it. Be prepared, despite all that, to repeat yourself often. But, you'll be in good company, she will be repeating herself like a broken record. Or, as she says it, an "unbroken" record. She will tell you with conviction that she hates being in the hospital. You will believe that without any effort because she will make your shift completely miserable just to prove the point. And, finally, if you want her to do anything that resembles cooperation, make sure the companion in the room is not her daughter.

Because I learned something this particular trip, in part thanks to the Steelers. When I was not around, she was pliable. She might fuss and complain, but she would eventually do as she was told. With me present, she dug not only a line in the sand, but the line was a total ravine that absolutely no one could cross. I found that interesting. But, first, since I am sure you are curious, let me explain how the Steelers factor into all of this. Now, if I do that, do not tell Mother. She does not know I skipped out on her for this particular reason. My skipping out on her would not bother her really, but the fact that I got to do something she really wanted to do would.

So, trusting you to keep my secret, here it is. There is a cadence to fall Sunday mornings for Greg and me. Maybe made more important by our loss, maybe it was always inviolate and we just never noticed because it was never tested before this past year, even during Kelsey and Marissa's worst days. Whatever the case, there is a routine to our mornings during the season that is comfortable, expected and not easily trifled with, and the day was just getting under way when I got a call from the nursing home. Mother was having chest pains and her heart rate was elevated. God help me, but the first thing I did was look at the clock. I know a thing or two about surviving an emergency room visit and Rule No. 1 is: don't be in a hurry to do anything else. At about 9:30 AM, I shuddered at what that did to my being set to watch a noontime start. But, no real worries. I had already checked and knew the local Fox station had us on the schedule. I'd just set the game to record. Now I knew the choice to show my game in a central Texas market had raised some eyebrows. The Texans, also playing an NFC team at home, were the default to be shown on Fox and there had been some talk radio chatter about the station planning on airing my game instead during the week. Well, I went to set the DVR, and what do I see? You guessed it. They had capitulated at Fox and were showing the Texans. We have Direct Ticket on satellite for this very crisis, but there is no recording of the games with that option. I stood there dumbfounded for a minute, my ten year plus record of never missing a game was in serious jeopardy. I was busy trying to find out a way to stream the game on my laptop when Greg offered to spell me so I could watch the game. This is not his fight, so I couldn't quite figure out why he would do something so unselfish, but he was seriously sincere in his offer. He would trade out for me at 11:30 so I could make the noon kickoff. I had a little debate with myself, the Good Daughter popped up on my right shoulder and told me that I needed to stay by her side, it was only a game. The Bad Daughter popped up, dressed in Black and Gold and her Terrible Towel, and reminded me that I hadn't missed a game this century, and with the unbeaten Vikings coming to town, this was not the one to start. Besides, Greg should know what he was getting into if he really wanted the responsibility of caring for her if something happens to me. The Good Daughter never stood a chance. With that settled, off I went to meet her in the emergency room. I actually beat her there. She had taken her time and eaten breakfast and been dressed (in Viking purple from head to toe, I might add) and then was brought over across the parking lot by ambulance, complaining the whole way that she had to be back before the game started. She continued that rant over and over, along with two or three other points until I thought I would go mad, but she consistently made it clear she had no intention of staying at the hospital. The ER doctor was still running tests when Greg showed up to take his shift, and the Good Daughter popped back up to try and get me to do the right thing again, but the Bad Daughter waved her Towel and off I went, leaving Greg to call me occasionally to ask me questions about her medical history. We told her I was going back to get her mail (which she had pointedly asked for earlier), and it just happened to take three and a half hours to fetch. In the interim, she allowed herself to be admitted to the hospital. I cannot even count on one hand the number of times I have spent excruciating hours in the emergency room with her over the last year since she was brought to Hearthstone, and every time they had wanted to admit her and every time she had refused. I definitely made note of it, but put it down to how much she adores my husband.

My husband, for his part, was more than glad to switch back and go home to watch his game, and then the fun really began. They wheeled her down for an MRI and something happened down there, because she was riled up but good when she came back. They had not been able to do the test because she had insisted they stop, but she had laid flat long enough that her back was hurting her severely. She refused the pain pill I asked for her, and she refused to eat. She began the litany of racist invectives and insisted that she be allowed to check herself out. In case you are wondering, I do not have Medical Power of Attorney, but even if I had, the patient, no matter how senile they may be, has the final say in their care as long as they are able to communicate, no matter how scrambled that may be. I was, in short, relatively powerless to stop her if she was indeed set to leave. On the other hand, if you check out of a hospital against medical advice, you get to find your own way home. In this case, that means me. Finally, at about 9:00 that night, I had taken just about enough of it and reminded her I had buried a daughter earlier this year, and I had all I could take of her games. Then I walked out. That broke her. She agreed to stay. I walked back in, and the nurses got her settled for the night. I was rattled by having to dredge up the memory of my poor lost daughter to shame her into doing what was in her own best interest and determined right then and there that I would not do it again.

Sleep was elusive that night, so I was ragged and tired the next morning as I arrived to a new day of her insisting she would participate in no further tests and insisted that she be taken home. She again refused a meal, meaning that she had not eaten in over 24 hours. The charge nurse worked on breaking her down for a while, using the same therapy inspired speech I'd paid thousands to learn. Nope. Then a female doctor came in, and I thought we were lost for certain. Not only was she Indian, but she was a she. Not a good thing for a doctor to be in Mother's eyes. She said the same things the nurse had said, and in the same good manner, knowing when to let something Mother said that was clearly untrue drop and repeating herself endlessly, while not becoming irritated that she was having the same cyclic conversation over and over and over again. Finally, she got Mother to agree to a stress test, but that was all. The test was scheduled for 1:00, so I gladly went to work for a few hours, admittedly staying there longer than I had originally intended. By the time I got back I found Mother not only happily eating more than I've seen her devour in a single sitting for more than a year, but also having allowed herself to endure not just the stress test, but three others with one more to go! She was flattering her nurse and just pleased as punch with all the attention. Now I knew it wasn't just Greg's charms that had worked on her. It was my absence!

Why, oh why, I asked myself, did she feel the need to be so abusive and stubborn when I was around, only to become pliant when I wasn't? The only answer that sprang to mind is that she feels compelled to show me how independent she still is, and make sure I know she's in charge of her own body. Maybe it's that simple, maybe it's something completely different, but one thing is for certain; we are still, at the end of the day, stuck with one another. There is no one else I can call in to reason with her. Greg went above and beyond, but he has less decision making authority than even I do, and it's not his task. This is a conundrum I have yet to ponder fully, I am way too tired still, but for now, she's back in her own room, safe enough, with three new medications added to the long roster. I have a bye week just in case something else comes up soon, but I'll need all my patience if it does, so I will ponder later and sleep now.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Competing Interests

Yesterday I had a Wardrobe Day. At least once a month for as long as I can remember, I've had one. It's the day when the outfit I had planned on wearing just looks awful, so then you're scrambling to find something else, and nothing fits right or looks right together, and then you can't get the right jewelry, shoes, hair, etc. In other words, absolutely everything about your appearance sucks. And the clock is ticking rapidly, threatening to make me late while I frantically scramble to pull something together. Ladies, please tell me you know what I'm talking about. Long ago, I realized it tied to my period. Not only was I a bit more manic, but I was retaining water, bloated, etc., etc., etc. and things really didn't fit quite the same. Well, I don't have periods any longer, but apparently I still will have to endure Wardrobe Days. There is absolutely no justice. But, as I rummaged frantically through my closet looking for a Plan B, it occurred to me how body image issues have held sway in this house for so, so long. However, I came at my own through a different lenses than my daughters. Either way, I wondered how exhausting all of it must have been for the only human male in the house, my poor husband.

About the time I hit forty some interesting things happened. That was the year that Kelsey really began to struggle and her father and I, as I have documented, were scrambling to understand what was happening and learn how to take the "dys" out of function to try and help her. But, strange things began to happen to me personally as well. I had been, as my mother would say, pleasantly plump during my childhood, but I was high strung enough as an adult to enjoy the ability to pretty much eat what I want and stay at a fairly stable weight. I wasn't thin, I wasn't fat. Almost in line with that big awful landmark birthday, that shifted, and I began to put on weight. I sat behind a desk a dozen or more hours a day, so maybe that's not that surprising, but it was not a happy event when I finally had to concede that I had moved up a dress size. I ate less, and I ate better, but I still gained the weight.

Then there were the breakdowns. Some really scary moments. I won't even go into them, but the worst of them nearly was the last of them. It was as if I was watching myself go completely nuts from someplace deep inside my own body, but could do nothing to stop it. They weren't pretty, and how Greg managed to hang on is really amazing in hindsight. Luckily, I noticed the timing before too much wreckage ensued. I would experience an episode about a week before my period an then another one the week after. I went through about three months of that before I noticed the pattern, but fortunately, once I picked up on it, I could steel myself for it and control it better (hint: one really important tool is to avoid sodium). All of this happened by the time I hit 42.

When I began waking up in the middle of the night drenched in my own sweat, I suspected I was beginning menopause. As it turns out, I was in what's known as a parimenopausal state. Early, granted, but not completely unheard of for women of my age. I was practically a textbook case. The worst part of it was that I still had periods. That seemed the most criminal aspect of it all. But, there's not much to be done about it other than to endure it and not use salt, cheese, chips or about a million other things that taste good. I suddenly had a new respect for women who use menopause as a justification for all manner of crimes.

But, all the things I would normally think to do to combat my situation seemed triggering to my daughter. I couldn't diet. Not in the Oprah sense of the word anyway. I ate smaller portions and tried to eat better, but I was surrounded by friends who were trying this diet or that one, or taking this diet pill or that one, but I didn't dare join in those efforts when we were trying to stop Kelsey from restricting. My father always used to say, "Do as I say, not as I do." Even without a lot of therapy, I knew that parenting philosophy didn't really fly. So, I tried not to obsess over my diet, secretly freaking out about how the less I ate, the more I gained.

As Greg often told me, no diet is truly effective without exercise, and I was quickly learning how true that was for someone hitting that slowing metabolism wall. Same conundrum I faced with any potential diet. Not that I had a lot of spare time to do much of anything, but I was aware that Kelsey's initial treatment program put her in contact with women whose disorder focused mainly around over-exercising. Yes, that is a form of eating disorder, and it can be a dangerous one. You can exercise yourself to death.

And, finally, I couldn't participate in the age old remedy for middle age body image woes, which is to whine and gripe about it. Basically, anything I did that called attention to my own body was a trigger to Kelsey and her struggles with hers. So, I resigned myself to a period of feeling frumpy, fat and miserable, scared to do anything that would make Kelsey's struggles any worse. Was that the right reaction? I don't know. I thought about how odd the timing of it was many times. I was at least ten years ahead of what I anticipated would happen to me as an aging woman. Not that I minded the idea of getting past it as fast as possible, but it was a nasty distraction to what other things were going on in my life. Then again, and I think we would all agree, the monthly visitor - or whatever other cute little name one may call it - is a nasty distraction at any time.

Ladies, we are the stronger gender. Let's just give ourselves a hand right now. I know of no man, even my most revered President Obama, who could have night sweats all night long, yet still manage to get up end stuff oneself into underwear designed to flatten every inch of flab down flat against our bodies, shove bloated feet into shoes that force your toes into unnatural positions and in every way dress ourselves up like a Christmas tree and function. Hear us roar is right! But, in the end analysis, we are also victims, almost all of us. Our appearance matters too much, and we are judged too much by it. How much different our lives would have been if I didn't have to worry about those extra pounds and the places they landed and if Kelsey didn't have images of Kate Moss constantly stuck in her head as the ideal female. Being happy with whatever our genes combined to make us just doesn't seem possible. We have to mess with it, try to truss it up, dye it, augment it, slim it down, make it taller, paint it, put jewels on it and generally modify it on an ongoing basis. I believe that as long as we are that way eating disorders will exist.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A Morality-Mortality Tale

Something happened a week ago that caused the thin ice I've been skating on to crack beneath me, and crack so deeply that I have been staring down into the deep, dark waters that have been threatening to suck me under. I have been trying to navigate through it and ignore it, or at least push it to the back of my mind until at last the fissure seals over. I have blogged a couple of times, I've watched football, I've mowed the lawn, I've gone to work like always, I've even driven to Houston and back to see U2, but really, nothing has helped. This event has overshadowed everything. Finally, last night as I tried to work on a draft post I had started the night before, I found I could not type a word, and I knew I would have to examine this event to be able to move past it.

So, here goes my tale: it actually begins well over a year ago when the banks began to pull back on loans and the economy began to teeter on the brink of whatever that is that happened to it - recession, depression, call it what you will. A business venture I am involved in began to feel the stress, and this once seemingly solid investment began to look more tenuous. Our managing partner tried to refinance the loan, with no success. Our long standing source of income fell away, and our potential buyer could not get financing. Things now look very dire. Our managing partner has lent the venture a considerable amount to keep it afloat while trying to navigate a way through this difficult period. I have lent it a small amount myself, and all of us have hoped and prayed a miracle would happen to see us through and salvage what we had all hoped would be a major source of income for our eventual retirement. I worry about it, but it has definitely been on the furthest back burner for me. Until last Monday that is when I received an e-mail asking me for a bridge loan. When I saw the amount, I felt that loud crack as the proverbial ice shattered beneath me. I thought I had misunderstood, so I re-read it. No, that really is the amount he was requesting. His reasoning was that I could access it through my mother's account.

Now, let me linger here for a moment. In this regard, I have been highly fortunate. My father left my mother financially secure. Since she became a widow in 1992, she has had been able to live comfortably and do just about what ever she pleased, which includes buying some really ridiculous, useless things that sat around her apartment, often never used. I wonder sometimes how much she actually squandered away on such dust gathering trinkets, but she was self sufficient, so I figured it was her own business. Now, of course, her business is my business, and like everyone else, her interests took a rather shocking hit last year. And, now it costs a lot more for her room and board, given that she requires constant care. While she is still secure for the moment, there is a bottom to the well, and I worry about what will happen when we reach it. I worry because I have to at least consider and plan that she will live another several years. And, I want to make sure she is comfortable and her needs are met to the very end of those years. That may or may not be able to happen. The national average cost for nursing home care is $188.00 per day. The median net wage earned in 2008 was approximately $108.00 per day. If our parents don't have their own retirement funds, then it falls to us to pay for their care, and then how are we to live? Well, hopefully, there are several people pitching in, but what about those of us who have no siblings? I had just finished taking the steps to protect her from herself and make sure she could not access her own funds, worrying that she would do something along the lines of purchasing another El Diablo-type nightmare (recall the possessed van sitting in my drive?). What I was asked to lend would involve me liquidating about 20% of her remaining assets. Granted it was a loan, but despite what my partners might try and say, I judged it to be a risky one, and, if she were of the mind to consult about it, she would not approve. So, I said no, and you might think, after fuming a bit over the moxie it took to ask for something like that, I would be able to let it go. But nothing has been the same since. Because for me it opened up a whole plethora of moral complexities.

I have supported the health care reform debate based on our personal experiences. I have told the story about how I had to look at my daughter and tell her I didn't have the money to help her any longer. I know that maybe all the money in the world wouldn't have helped her. But, maybe just one more time in treatment, and it would've all clicked. Maybe if she could have gone back to the specialist who helped her initially, that would have been enough. A lot of maybes, but I'm pretty sure I know one thing for certain. If I had enough money to send Kelsey off for one last month in residential treatment, she would be alive today. But, I didn't. Mother did. So, should I have taken it? Should I have risked bankrupting my mother to save my daughter? What lengths should I have gone to? My mother-in-law used to encourage me to ask Mother for financial help, but this disease is hard for most people to understand. For Mother's generation, the ones who clawed and scraped their way through Depression and war, it's unfathomable. Seeing through to the underlying factors that cause someone to become eating disordered is not something Mother, even before her dementia deepened, could do. Despite that, Mother did help initially. She lent me the initial payment to Kelsey's first eating disorder clinic. She continued to be very generous to Marissa. But, along the way, she grew to dislike Kelsey. She saw The Beast. She couldn't see the girl underneath anymore. She didn't see the pain. There was too much fog there. Even Kelsey never dared to suggest I dip into Mother's assets. It wasn't talked about, it wasn't thought about. It just wasn't a possibility. Now, thanks to that e-mail, I can think of very little else.

Only just this morning could I step back far enough to realize what it must have taken for my partner to ask, and to ponder why he believes he had to. I know he's afraid. He has a lot more at stake than the rest of us. I can, at last, make the case I think he would make to me about why it is a right and acceptable thing to do (he has tried to call since, but I won't even listen to the voice mail). I still won't do it, but I can at last stop being so angry. At him anyway. But, what about at myself?

I had two competing interests in my hands, both as fragile as though they were hummingbird eggs. Did I crush the one to protect the other? And do you protect a woman who is at the end of her journey at the expense of someone who has yet to begin hers? Is the choice I made tantamount to murder? And how do I live with that? I don't know. I really don't.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

And the Scary Thing Is!

There are some down sides to the fall. With the fall comes football (good thing) and the upcoming holiday season (bad thing). Already I am being assaulted with reminders of the holidays on the radio and by my mother-in-law. I didn't really need reminding. I knew what lay ahead from the beginning of this awful nightmare. I knew at some point I was going to have to face unwrapping the tree ornaments and finding the one Mother bought for Kelsey her first Christmas, and shaking off the mothballs for the stockings that Greg's mother had so carefully and elaborately embroidered for each of us and seeing Kelsey's there, like a silent accusation.

Candidly, if it were just Greg and I, we'd be off on a trip somewhere over the Christmas holiday. I would fully be planning on our running completely and utterly away from it. Maybe we can face it next year, or the year after that, but we've had enough reality for this year, so... But, it's not just the two of us, so we have to soldier on. This has been weighing heavily on my mind for a while now. But, first comes Halloween. Why is that an issue? This holiday designed for kids and/or adults who have a secret bit of Adam Lambert in them and get to indulge that once a year with no consequences? Well, nothing other than the inevitable march of time that draws us ever closer to the really hairy holidays where Kelsey's absence will be the elephant in the room. But, like a good little soldier, I bought my treats and actually plan on dressing up in costume for work that day to compete in the annual competition. And, it occurred to me when I bought my selections to hand out that I wouldn't have to hide them for the first time in a long while. In year's past when Kelsey was living at home, I would have to squirrel the Halloween treats away or she would binge on them. This year, my only worry was keeping them fresh and little four legged critters out of them. There was an odd sense of relief and sadness when I realized this. The scary thing is, life is in many ways easier without Kelsey around. Her bulimia was a monster that lived in the house with the rest of us and held her in its sway. And it was a hard housemate to live with. And an expensive one. As much as we miss and mourn her, we don't miss it.

Last year, I hid the Halloween candy in my closet to keep it from her. Otherwise, she would have torn through the bags in the matter of a single night probably. At any given time, I had half a pantry tucked away in my bedroom somewhere. Even the coffee wasn't safe. I kept it hidden under the doggie steps next to the bed. If I didn't, she would make multiple pots a day, causing me to worry that her compromised heart would burst with the caffeine. But, I couldn't keep everything from her. I went to the store almost daily to try and replace staples she had sawed her way through. Peanut butter being the most precious commodity and the hardest to keep. On the positive side, it was a good source of protein for her. And that's the argument she used to try and keep it in stock, but the down side of it was that it was easy to throw back up. She put it on everything. Bananas, bread, rice cakes, bagels, crackers, or just straight off the spoon. Oatmeal was another favorite of hers, also easy to regurgitate. We went through at least two large containers of peanut butter a week and one of oatmeal, when I would agree to buy it.

And that's the thing with this particular disease. It is, and she would have agreed, just sort of disgusting. And it was stressful on all of us. Marissa would call me if I was out and beg me to come home, telling me how many times she'd watched her sister march into the kitchen. I would get up on many a morning to be greeted by a sink full of dirty dishes that had accumulated in the middle of the night while she was binging rather than sleeping. The entire upstairs had the acidic and rancid smell of human emesis. After she died, I found a grocery bag of vomit and candy wrappers hidden under her bed. I could tell when she had gone through a bad night when she would come down in the morning with red knuckles and red marks around her lips where she had stuffed her hand down her mouth to force herself to throw up. And why she had to do that, I'm not sure because her gag reflex was so acute, keeping food down was actually a chore. She was disgusted and embarrassed by her own actions, which is fairly typical, I am told, but it was also in complete and absolute control of her. I am reading a book by Ann Rice currently about a family of women who are in control of a spirit who in truth controls them and leads them to ultimate ruin. I couldn't handle reading traditional books on grief, but this book is perfect for me now because I relate completely to these ill fated ladies. Kelsey could have been one of them. At first, she reached out to it to have some control over one single thing in her life, and in the end it controlled her completely, and held us hostage at the same time. If you look closely at my kitchen, you'll see holes that have been patched over the wood frame next to the pantry. That's where Greg installed a latch so he could lock it. He wrapped a bicycle lock around the refrigerator too. We lived for a time in a fortress meant to keep Kelsey from binging. If you asked him why he did it, he would have responded that it was to save his daughter from being able to binge and purge. But, the truth of it is that all it did was alienate all of us. We resented having to make it so hard to access or own pantry, and she hated being treated like some criminal in her own home. I don't think locking cabinets and refrigerators is really the course to take, but I know the kind of frustration that causes a parent to do it. Ultimately, bulimia is a disease that will man handle everyone living under the same roof with it.

I literally have a mental image of it. It's a black, dirty, smelly beast with blood shot eyes and smelly breath from filthy, ill kept teeth. It's hair is black and matted and stinking. I called it The Beast, and it seemed to be the most dominant force in the house. The Beast died when Kelsey died. At last she was free of it, but so were we. I will see that weird mental image probably the rest of my days, but now I don't have to contend with it in my house. And it's hard to know how to think of that. Would I welcome it back if it meant I could have my daughter back with me? If I say no, does that mean I'm secretly glad she's dead? I miss my daughter. I don't miss The Beast. I refuse to believe they were one in the same. But it did live wherever she did, and I hated it. I don't miss it. I wanted it to die. I just wanted it to leave my child behind, like a soul exorcised of its devil. Marissa always believed that would eventually come to pass. The scary thing is, I wasn't sure anymore. What does that say about me?

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Blood and Water: Part Two

Water Goes With the Flow

I don't know how I did it, but I managed to amass a great group of friends. They come from all backgrounds, are young and old, male and female, conservative and liberal, loud and shy, tall and short, Yankees and Southerners. In some cases, the only thing they have in common is me. Some I haven't actually seen in years, but they reach out through Facebook, e-mail or the phone to let me know they are thinking of me. I am always a little amazed that I have any friends at all, let alone such a core group of really awesome people because over the last nine years as this thing enveloped us, I have been less than awesome in return. Yet, I have a faithful group who have patiently put up with my long silences, my standing them up for events, and being distracted when I am around. They have not only stuck with me through everything, I believe most sincerely I am still mostly sane and functioning because of them. Granted, some people I have known over the years have gradually faded out of my life, or vice-versa. Whatever drew us together gradually evaporated in some cases, in others, life just pulled us in different directions, but the door is open for us to pick up where we left off some day perhaps. I can only think of one real Drama Queen break where someone let me know in no uncertain terms that I had let her down as a friend, which, given the particular circumstances at the time made me upset, but also resigned to simply watching her not only shut the door, but slamming it. But, that's the beauty of friendship. You can do that. Maybe that sounds cold, but allow me to explain. All relationships are trial and error. Feeling the other person out to find out their likes and dislikes, their limits and what the penalties of crossing those limits are. For family, it's really not that much different, maybe just done more naturally and gradually. But couples certainly go through it. And sometimes you don't mesh. Then there's the messy breakup. Maybe your life changes, and the thing that brought you together; your job, your kids, your football team, isn't pertinent any longer for the two of you. So you stop e-mailing and calling. That's it. No lawyers, no tears. You'll chat casually if you run into the person at the grocery store, but life goes on. But, for me, I'm lucky that, of the ebbs and flows of my friendships, many, many of them have stayed with me through everything.

The other beautiful thing about friendships is you do choose one another. Even poor Mother who actually did pick me didn't really have any say. She adopted a bouncing baby girl who looked a lot like her and her husband, but she had no idea what kind of person I would become. If she had (or did) find out that it wasn't to her liking, that's too bad, she was stuck for life. For Greg's family, they just got handed me when we married. They had no choice. Along I came with all my baggage. I would say the reverse is true, but Mom adores Greg.

The other thing that has occurred to me from time to time over the last few years is that your friends know you better. Granted, in any thing I say on the subject, my realm of experience is limited to my memories of my father and the dynamic I've had with Mother over the years and therefore not a wide sampling, but I can tell you without a doubt that sometimes, even before she was in her current health condition and began thinking my name is Cheyenne, she didn't really have a clue what I was all about. What she knew is what she wanted me to be. She would make a comment about something that made me happy or that I liked that couldn't be further from the truth, and Greg and I would look at one another over top her head and smile and shrug. She also liked to project her own likes and dislikes onto me, which is why I have a cabinet full of glass bells in my dining room. The Damn Bells, as I lovingly refer to them, are a story in and of themselves that I will have to share someday. For now, suffice it to say, she was the one who actually wanted them, but convinced herself that I would just love them and that they were perfect for me. But, that's really a different pathology. What I see happening a lot with parents and their adult children is that the parents sometimes have a hard time accepting that the child ages and therefore evolves, and their tastes and convictions change, but we tend to have them captured like some Polaroid at an earlier time. I find myself struggling not to be that way with Marissa. During these college years, she'll probably be like clay, constantly being molded by the new ideas and concepts she is exposed to, so I have to be careful to keep up with what she's doing and thinking so I can effectively stay in touch. Otherwise she'll be making faces and shrugging over my head someday soon.

The variance between the two camps was made abundantly clear two years ago when we whisked Marissa off to Alldredge Academy. If you've been reading for a while, you know a bit about it, although it's hard to explain briefly. But, if you've heard of wilderness programs for troubled teens, then you know roughly what the first phase of the program is. And, generally speaking, the enrollees are not there by choice, so the program is designed with rapid intake in mind. I spoke to the director on a Sunday night, and he was trying to get her in the following Wednesday. We didn't make it that quickly, but we were in West Virginia the week after, following a frantic week of shopping for specific clothing and toiletry items we were instructed to bring. Marissa was actively participating in the decision to go there, so she was an exception to the rule, but it still went very quickly, and it was not an easy time. What had led up to the decision was a very dramatic and frightening couple of collapses where she wasn't breathing and we couldn't revive her. I took my first ride in the front seat of an ambulance accompanying her to the hospital, and literally began to recognize the emergency room staff. This was long after Sister Dorothea, and we had done everything she had told us to do, but finally Marissa admitted she wasn't going to get past her addiction on her own and asked for the help. To say I was distracted and not really thinking about anyone outside of our little circle was probably an understatement. In retrospect, since Marissa was a willing participant, we probably should have called a family meeting and explained what was going on, but we didn't. One day I just showed back up without her, and then we explained to everyone what was going on.

Not everyone on Greg's side of the family took it well, but most did, or at least didn't make too big a fuss over it. Greg's mom was quietly supportive. I tend to think she may have had her doubts, but she was careful just to ask about Marissa and not really express anything. She remained calm, and I really appreciated that. Mother? Well, Mother went nuts. She was livid. Livid is actually much too mild a term for it. She was murderously angry with me. Marissa was clearly her favorite Veldman, so taking her away without a word was just inexcusable. To make matters worse, no one could have contact with Marissa for the first month. Her father and I had very limited contact with the counselor, and we were allowed to exchange one letter that was fairly well controlled in terms of content. For me, having developed a highly refined sense of co-dependency on Marissa since The Epiphany, it was not a good time. Mother calling me at all hours to berate me was not helping. Suddenly, everything about me set her off. She began making crazy accusations and threatened to move. She told my mother-in-law she had written me out of her will and left everything to Marissa. I have no idea what she was telling everybody else, but given the tone of a message my uncle left for me one night when he couldn't locate Mom, my guess is it wasn't good. (I refused to call him back.) Of course, now I realize that the dementia she is now diagnosed with probably had a lot to do with her reaction. That level of anger is common, I'm told. I don't know if it would have made it easier to know that or not, since I don't find her much easier to deal with now, but I at least could have not taken it so personally. And, once she got it in her head that she was angry with me, she stubbornly hung onto it. Even after Marissa came home, healthy and ready to resume a life nearly lost, Mother kept it up. I cannot describe succinctly the weight of it. My comment in the last post to family members at least not making it worse? Now you know its genesis. In trying to handle a hard situation, Mother's raving only made it so much worse. And then there was no getting away from it. One cannot divorce one's mother, particularly when she's elderly and truthfully needs your involvement.

My friends pulled me through. Notably my friends Val and Diane, although they were joined with an entire team of supporters. They picked me up, dusted me off, told me I was right to do what I did and were never flinching in their support. I don't even remember how Val learned of it. She is one of the friends whom I haven't actually seen in a long, long while. But, she was typically self-assured. Things are presented in a very black and white manner with Val, and she doesn't suffer fools gladly. She radiates that in her correspondence, buoying you up and convincing you that you've done the absolutely right thing, how could you doubt it? Diane's support is quieter. She is also dealing with the care of an aging mother, so she brings a lot of commiseration to the table. Where Val was the rock, Diane was the soft shoulder. My other friends kept the candles burning, if you will. No one chastised me for ignoring them. No one wrote me off their lists. And, around that time, I began to think that blood may be thicker than water, but one cannot survive without water.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Blood and Water, Part One

Is Blood Thicker Than Water?

My sister-in-law said something else in her e-mail. She wrote to me that she did not comprehend the extent of our family's trauma, but hoped that, if she had, she could have been there for us. I decided she opened a door to investigate a matter that I've mulled over for a long time, which is role of the extended family in times of illness or stress and which group supports you best, family or friends. It's a touchy subject, admittedly. Those of you who have followed the blog from the beginning know that I miss having the embrace of family. Having to go through this final phase with my mother by myself is at times simply gut wrenching. But, I've witnessed enough different families to know that "relative" does not necessarily equate to "love and support". Every family is different of course, as well as every situation being unique. I think what my sister-in-law wrote to me was true to a large extent, no one did know. Even though she and I worked together every day for years, and she was very close to Kelsey, saw her often and shared a unique rapport with her, I do believe that statement. For one thing, it comes back to the fact that eating disorders aren't readily understood. If we had announced to the family that Kelsey had cancer, I think that's something everyone could have sunk their teeth into, known what to do to some degree and fulfilled a supportive familial role. But, bulimia is harder to wrap your brain around. Is it just part of her rebellious phase gone too far out of control? Well, just get her to eat more or send her to treatment for a while and everything will be fine. When we professed that it was not nearly that simple, and when Kelsey was living proof of that, then it became awkward to know what to do, and I'm not sure anybody believed that this was a life and death struggle she was engaged in. And it's a slow disintegration. It's not as though one day she was a robust, beautiful teenage girl and the next she was skeletal. For the family who saw her often, I think it was harder to actually see what was happening and be aware of how truly serious it was. You can chronicle it now in laying out the family photos, mainly taken at holidays, and clearly point to the years and times she was doing better or worse, but in real time, it was sometimes harder to notice.

And, just because they are your family doesn't mean they don't have their own issues apart from yours. Actually, the past decade has been a markedly rough one for the Veldmans. Each sibling has had his or her own weights pressing on their shoulders. So, how much do you expect them to do for your family when they have their hands full with their own? I would imagine there were plenty of occasions when Greg's siblings wondered where the heck we were when they needed us.

I will admit I would have liked to have siblings to reach out to during these last nine years, but I would not have tapped into them to support us with our two girls like I would now with Mother. My children in crisis is wholly different than a group of siblings coming together to care for their parents. I knew that my children were my responsibility as long as I remained of sound mind and body to care for them. But, if I had a brother or sister, I would not hesitate to remind them that Mother was their parent too if I felt they weren't carrying their weight.

How I felt about the family involvement two years ago is dramatically different than I feel about it now. How I feel about it tomorrow may be different yet again. Family dynamics, I have learned, are amazingly complex. And my family and your family are different, even if we both come from similar socio-economic backgrounds. How a family interacts depends upon a million different variables. In the end, however, I can tell you a few things I have concluded and would share with both sides of any family in crisis.

To the person in need, I would say:

1) If you want your family's help, ask for it. Do not assume they will know that you need it or what to do even if they do.

2) If you don't ask for it and they don't just magically come forward to do what you think is right, then you need to let it go. It's not fair to them to assume they should just know what to do because they share some DNA with you. And if you don't ask, then how do you know but what they had something major going on in their own lives at the time that distracted them.

3) If you find you can't just let it go, at least don't let it fester. Talk to them about it (and I mean talk respectfully, no yelling, no crying, no accusatory whining). Hear what their side of the story is. Both of you may learn something about the other one that you'll be glad you know.

4) Be understanding if you do ask and they can't give it to you in the end, whatever "it" is. You are not your brother's keeper maybe, but he ain't yours either.

5) If they do reach out to help, be grateful, be appreciative, or at least be sweet. Because, they may do things that aren't always exactly what you wanted or thought you needed, but the intent was there, so reward it.

6) Help them understand what is going on. We were particularly bad at this. I think we thought we would be perceived as being needy or whiny, but we did not communicate clearly what was taking place with our children and what that meant. So, if we couldn't even manage to keep the family apprised of the girls' status, you can certainly guess that we weren't educating them as to what to do or not to do when they were around our girls. Maybe we subconsciously thought that would be presumptuous.

In my case, as it pertains to Mother, I told her very little at first. There was an element of wanting to protect her from the ugly reality of it all, but that was only a sliver of the pie. I assumed she would not understand and would pass judgment on the girls. And I wanted to protect them from the things I knew she would do and say that they would find hurtful or triggering. Ironically, she passed judgments anyway. She did not think much of Kelsey as a result of my keeping them as separate as I reasonably could. She saw her as aloof and uncaring, when in fact she was just cautious about being around Mother. Maybe that wasn't fair, and it certainly caused issues later on when things got really bad and she did have to know at least enough to explain where one or the other daughter was being whisked off to, but I have to give myself this much; I'm not sure how much she truly understood or was capable of understanding, even several years back.

I have this for the family of the person in need:

1) Ask what you can do. Don't wait to be asked. Trust me, sometimes the person in need is just too deep in crisis to even be able to ask for help. And they may say they don't need anything, but I bet you my bottom dollar they will appreciate that you thought enough to at least ask.

2) Be empathetic. How many people look at what our girls went through and immediately label us as bad parents? If they want to do that, well, there's not much I can say or do to change their minds. I'm too busy trying to get better at it to really worry, so I accept that we will never be friends with those people. I am, however, stuck with my family. I would like to think they would try to see things from my point of view and understand me.

3) If you do have a criticism or a concern, say it to the person's face. Griping about your siblings is a time honored rite of familyhood, I think. Or rather, I guess it is. I don't really know first hand, but I've heard all my friends over all my life complain about their brothers and sisters. That's not going to change, but I would ask that next time you really think they are doing something that is detrimental to themselves, to you, or to others, then tell them directly. I would suggest that you should especially not say it to an in-law (because I'm just here to tell you, it'll get back to the person anyway and generally with an ugly spin on it that will not shine you in a positive light). Do it respectfully and calmly. Expect the reaction to be potentially negative, but have the courage to say what you need to say. Who knows, the other person might even listen.

4) Understand the issue. I know I just told the other side of the family to educate you, but let's just assume they probably aren't going to do that well. Then, educate yourself. If you have a family member with an eating disorder, don't berate her for not eating your fattening mashed potatoes, don't talk about it at the dinner table, don't worry and fuss over her weight. Understanding that trying to stuff food down the throat of someone with eating issues will not get you the desired results. You want to help? Do a little research about the disease yourself so you know and understand what your relatives are going through. I intend this more for relatives that will have direct contact with the individual.

5) Do what's right. If you can't, at least don't do what is wrong. If your relative comes to you and says, "I'm an alcoholic, and I want to stop drinking," then I would say you should probably not drink in front of that person. At the very least, don't coax them to have "just one" (and, no, this is not based on actual incident, it just is an example).

To all family members, there is this:

1) Love one another. Be grateful you have family, warts and all.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Walking Away: A Journey Begins with a Step

Following my post concerning The Sister Dorothea Epiphany, I received an e-mail from my sister-in-law entitled "Hey" which gingerly indicated that I had struck a nerve with something I said. I looked at it again and thought to myself, "Wow, I would have entitled that e-mail, 'Hey you Mother[bleep]er'". So, I modified it a bit and added a clarifying comment, then went to bed. This morning I looked at it again and thought, "Yeah, that's still a little harsh." I sincerely do not think the two siblings did a poor job running the company, and what I meant to convey was that my own controlling nature made whatever they did suspect to me, irrespective of the reality. But, for some reason, I just couldn't make it come off my fingers that way. I thought about that during the day, thinking about the poor sap who has the job I turned down this past spring. Same thing. He can't walk down the hall without me looking him over with a critical eye, and I think he knows it. Why, however, am I that way when I left it all behind willingly? As a matter of fact, while I was talking to my friend and now boss, who sits outside that man's door, we overheard another staff member relating a rather whiny tale about something or other to him, and we both agreed that I would not want to be in his chair, at that moment or any other. But I still have a hard time watching someone else do a job I believe I'm capable of. I have continued to be wired that way. Nonetheless, I walked out on it. I marched into the office after Sister Dorothea was done with me and delivered a verbal notice to the first person I found, which happened to be the HR Director. That did not make me popular with anyone and with good reason. If I could have found a worse moment to walk away, I can't imagine what it would have been. We had cut over to the new software a few weeks before and, as with any brand new system, there were major glitches. The clients were nervous, the employees more so. But, I had to do it. I had a higher obligation. Unfortunately, did I make that bold move too late? I think, years later, we know the answer to that one.

Of course, the irony of walking out on a career path is that one also walks away from that income. And, try as you might not to set any fires close to any bridges, they seem to set themselves in a case like that. I mean, look at me now; I'm looking head on at the half century mark with an odd looking resume full of funky gaps, a mother who called me three times yesterday to argue that I needed to bring her a check so she could buy pecans. What does a woman in a nursing home need with pecans anyway? I'm just over three months out from putting my daughter up on the ledge over my stairs in a black and gold jar. Truly, who in their right mind would turn anything critical over to me? I not only set fire to my bridges, I blew them up with TNT. Would I do it again? In a heart beat.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

A Few Notes on Women's Liberation

One of the reasons Sister Dorothea struck such a chord with me is that what she said was so obvious. I immediately knew she was right. What shook me is that it took a woman who could never put herself in my place to tell me to do the right thing. Who in their right mind takes an hour and a half to leave to meet her family in the emergency room? You drop what you're doing and you go. Did I really need someone else to tell me that? I shouldn't have, but I had the weight of the women who had come before me on my shoulders.

From a pretty young age I knew my generation would be between a rock and a hard place. We grew up in the shadow of women like Gloria Steinem, Bella Abzug and Barbara Jordan. Women were burning bras and rallying in the streets in support of an equal rights amendment. Ladies, remember Helen Reddy's I Am Woman? I can still sing along. As a matter of fact, I heard it on the radio just the other day and shouted out the words right along with her. All those women scrapping and scraping so all of us could have the same opportunities as our male counterparts were constantly on our minds growing up. But, maybe aside from Dustin Hoffman, who starred in movies like Kramer v. Kramer and Tootsie and seemed to single-handedly be putting forth the notion that being in touch with your feminine side was okay, I don't recall a lot of movement on the other side of the gender gap. So, it didn't take a genius to figure out that while women were gaining the right to work outside the home, they would have to continue working within it too. In other words, all eyes would be on us to see if we could handle the balance, and not only would we have to handle it, we'd have to do it in heels and with kids tugging at our skirts. We would be the generation of women who would have to show those doubters who were watching that we were indeed capable. We would have to break through the door that had been cracked open and make a way for the generations to come after us. Problem with breaking through doors is that you tend to get bruised and full of splinters for your efforts.

Of my friends, I can think of only one who blatantly said she was going off to college to hunt for a husband. None of us were planning on being a homemaker as an occupation. We all dreamed of our respective careers, of being successful, and of living a fulfilling life doing something meaningful that also made a lot of money. But, at the same time, we also grew up listening to stories about Cinderella and Snow White. We all had dreamed of a Prince Charming, and played dress up wedding at some point. Maybe we didn't talk about it, but most of us would be lying if we didn't admit that we at least had a vague idea of what we wanted in a wedding, probably most of us before we had the actual groom to go along with it. I for one will admit here and now I picked the ring I wanted before I met Greg.

Add all that complexity to my father's work ethic, and it was almost a foregone certainty that I was not the best candidate for Mother of the Year. Only, on that particular point, I was too dense to see it. It's amazing to me now that I could have been prepared to struggle to find a life balance because of my gender, but not be smart enough to carry that thought over to how it would impact my children. My only conclusion is that I was too self-absorbed to see it.

I'm now about to say a very non-feminist thing: children change everything, and once you make the decision to have them, they should be your first priority. You put a life on this planet. Take responsibility for it. I don't mean give up your life entirely. My children would not have wanted that from me; it would have made me insufferably boring. But, they had a right to expect the best of me. And they should have been my primary job. Neither was true. For that reason, I support my younger friends waiting to have children. I worry that their families, many times parents who are my age, pressure them to have children almost before they finish walking back down the aisle. You want grandkids? Surely there's a Big Grandparent program out there somewhere. Let your adult children settle into their marriage and their careers and leave them alone until they are ready.

Finally, I think I need to say that I don't hold anyone responsible or to blame for the choices I made. Not my business partners, not my husband or his family, not the investors who bought our company. Not any of those feminists I watched growing up. They were influences to be sure, but I made my own choices. I owe people apologies, but not the other way around. Actually, I owe one person still living an apology. Marissa, I am very sorry I was not there for you. May you find your path as a woman in this world a little less complicated than mine, but however you find it, I will now be here to help you along.

Monday, October 5, 2009

The Sister Dorothea Epiphany

For some reason, it seems that it's people who practice the Catholic faith who seem to have the largest impact on my life. Mr. Rooney, as you learned, the Kennedys, and my neighbor growing up, Laura Myers, who gave me a Rosary, which I still keep by my bedside, and used to take me to mass with her (both of which made my dad spitting mad). But, it was my brief encounter with a social worker nun who made the most dramatic impact on my family as a whole. Her name is Sister Dorothea. I will never forget her, although I hope never to meet her again.

But, before I introduce you to her, allow me to set the scene. As you know, my two daughters went into crisis mode during a time when I was trying to build a career and grow a business in property management. After resisting having to step away from that, I had finally turned the day-to-day operations over to my sister-in-law and husband. I think my majority partner knew that wouldn't sit well with me in the end, being just a little too close to home to avoid having my natural competitiveness kick in, and that eventually I would come back. I did. I couldn't stand watching two other people muck around with what I had worked so hard to achieve. Not that they did a bad job, but they didn't do it the way I would have in many cases, and I was close enough to it still to be achingly aware of it. I was hyper-critical of everything because it just wasn't me in the position to make the decisions. I convinced myself that I learned how to balance life and work and the kids were doing well enough that I could go back to my old position, recoup some of the income I had given up and everything would be fine. In the meantime, my partners and I had sold the company to an investment group with the idea of taking the company national and building my partner's vision of a comprehensive software system that would allow us to more efficiently manage more communities with the same staff. Problem with dreams like that, they begin with a lot of sweat equity. As I stepped back into my old role, the first roll out of the newly designed software was on the horizon with all the requisite shake-ups and problems. In the meantime, somehow had to run the actual business we were in. My very first day back on the job, there was a major issue that took a lot of time and finesse to handle. The day after that, we had our first fatality at a common area facility in our company history, and it was my job to handle both the investigation and the inevitable fall out. But, within weeks, I became the anointed lazy one of the executive group because I would pack it up at 2:00 AM so I could get a few winks before coming back for a daily meeting at 8:00 AM. Despite all that, the first alarm bell that I had made a potentially fatal error didn't occur to me until a few months of this had passed, and I got a call on a Friday night from Greg. He wasn't home, but Marissa had called him, frantic. She was home alone with Kelsey, who had passed out. She wanted to know what to do, and he was asking me. My God! Seriously? I thought to myself, "You have to call me at work to ask me what to do here?" Call 9-1-1! Greg went home and got Kelsey and took her to the emergency room himself without having to call an ambulance, and I tried to wrap up what I had on my desk as time sensitive so I could meet them there. An hour and a half later I finally felt I was at a point where I could walk/run out the door. I think the original call came at about 7:00 PM. I made it to the emergency room at about 9:00. I knew at that point that things were not working out. But, I had a strong sense of responsibility to the people who worked for me and the clients we all served. I felt as though I owed it to them to see us all through a difficult transition from the small, locally owned company we once were to the vision of what we wanted to be. So, I stuck it out for a while. In the meantime, Kelsey began to show multiple signs of starvation. She grew a thin coating of fuzz on her back and her arms, which is the body's way of insulating itself when there is not enough body fat to do the job. She couldn't walk upstairs, and was sleeping in our bed. She could barely sit up, and couldn't hold a pencil. But, still, I made it to work every day. Then, on another Friday night, Greg called me again and told me to come home. Now.

This time, I wrapped it up quickly. Probably no more than a half hour passed before I left the office. I came home to find my husband badly shaken with our youngest daughter sitting there, waiting her fate, quiet and slightly defiant. He had caught her in the upstairs bathroom, door wide open, a tourniquet wrapped around her petite arm, about to inject herself. The next few days were a whirlwind. We had already made arrangements for Kelsey to enter her third residential treatment center in the next few days. We were busily stuffing her with Ensure and whatever other supplement we could to buoy her up enough to pass the physical so they would accept her. In the meantime, we checked Marissa into Shoal Creek, which you may recall as having housed her older sister in the past, to detox for three days.

And this was the family dynamic the day I met Sister Dorothea. The day I came to collect Marissa was the same day Greg and Kelsey flew out to Reno to check her into a residential eating disorder clinic. Really, given this chaos, there was small wonder the Shoal Creek administration insisted I meet with a social worker. So, I was ushered into a tiny room with no windows and made to wait. After a while, in came this stern looking woman with ugly, sensible shoes and no makeup, followed by a young, fairly clueless intern. I have never been to Catholic school, but I knew enough people who had, and I had heard the stories of the stern faced nuns. Over the years, I nearly have myself convinced she came replete with a ruler to use on my knuckles. She didn't, of course, but her manner was just as stern and as unforgiving with me, a full grown professional adult, as one would expect a school marm to treat a badly behaved student. She showed me no mercy, no empathy, and gave no ground. Her little shadow, the intern whose name I've long forgotten, got the bulk of my ire when she couldn't keep my daughters' names straight. I was just plain scared of the nun.

She was almost stereotypical. I remember her as being dressed in dark, monotone colors. Maybe a navy blue. She wore glasses, had short grey hair, cropped for efficiency, not vanity. She was pale, clearly not concerned with catching some sun to give herself any manner of natural radiance and, as I mentioned, not concerned with any cosmetic enhancements either. If she smiled, I have no memory of it. She could have been any where from 50 to 65 years old. Her stern countenance made it hard to judge, other than she had the authoritative manner of an individual who has been around the block more than a few times with the likes of me. She was not rude, but she was direct. Very direct. Whatever she thought of me it is hard to say, but it is a safe bet that it was not much. She had dealt with tougher customers than me, I would say without a doubt. If any of them got the better of her, I'd like to hear from them. I won't hold my breath for that call.

Marissa was ushered in not long after we began, and the stern interrogation continued. Her main message was simple. She made it clear I needed to re-think my life and re-think it now. Whatever I was doing was clearly not working. If I wanted my children to survive, they needed me to be present in their lives and by present, she meant really totally present.

Maybe there's a pent up frustration that comes with someone who has denied themselves secular gratifications for decades that makes them so forceful. Maybe it's simply, and less intriguingly, the belief that whatever they say carries the weight of God's word. Maybe she was just a dried up, bitter old prune of a woman what wanted to spread her misery. Whatever the case, I thought I might not ever make it out of that little room in one piece, and if I did, I was determined to do what she had counseled, or rather demanded, that I do rather than risk any more of her admonitions.

So, exactly what did I do? Stay tuned, dear reader. And I'll tell you.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Hail to the Chief

I want to switch gears this morning. As I do every time I meet a new group of people, I amuse many of them with my fervor for the Steelers. They laugh at my use of "we" when talking about the team (Greg hates that I do that), my superstitions (too many to list) and my general tendency to decorate any office environment as though I am about to tail gate at Heinz Field. So, with tomorrow's all important game with the Chargers (sporting my fantasy qb I am sad to say), I thought I would try and explain it. I don't think too many people know the whole story actually and it's worth telling in my opinion. Most people know the Reader's Digest version, the answer I can say in passing at the grocery store, or gas station, or movie theatre. Because that's the thing about being a member of the Steeler Nation, you are never outside its borders. We're every where. And for a naturally shy individual, I have found that wearing Steeler gear has done my introductions for me and generally in a good way. Occasionally I get the jerk Raider fan who says something caustic, but even that is fun. Invariably though, since I'm a long way from the Nation's capital, I get asked, "Are you from there?" Depending on the circumstances, I'll take the time to explain that, while I was raised in Montana, my parents were from just outside of there. Even that's not really the whole story. Dad, in fact, was from Harrisburg, but went to a little teacher's college in California, Pa. Mother's family is from Washington, Pa, which is between Pittsburgh and Morgantown, WV. If pressed for where they hail from, that's the spot I name because they met at a soda shop there while Mother was in nursing school. If I'm really rushed, I'll occasionally fudge and just say yes. But, if there's time, I'll go on to explain that Dad was a coach in Intermediate School (which I would know as Junior High, but Marissa would have called Middle School) before entering the military and he raised me to be a football fan. That part is true. He wanted me to know and love the game. I always remember my parents giving me a little Pocket Paperback that Mother picked up in line at the grocery store explaining referee signals. It seemed totally random to me at the time, I don't remember asking about referees before then, maybe I did. The thing is, it worked. I was sort of amused with it, and would sit on the couch with my little book and follow along with the games on Saturday and Sunday. But, Dad did not raise me to be a Steeler fan. His philosophy was that he didn't care who won, he just wanted a good game. And, he gravitated a little more toward college, I think, although he watched it all.

No, a series of events drew me finally and irrevocably to the Steelers. After I took my first tentative steps into football fandom, I professed my love for the Detroit Lions. Don't laugh, remember how old I am. Back then, they were actually good (or at least not as bad) and on a lot in our market. The thing about growing up in the 60's and 70's in a rural state is that our television feed came from somewhere else. We got stations from Provo, Denver and Chicago, home of the Bears. And, that was back in the day when you watched whatever game the network decided you were going to watch. The Lions played the Bears and both enjoyed a national following at the time. I was a Leo, and Mother had a brother who worked for Ford in Detroit, so it just seemed natural that I would gravitate to that team. I have to say, thank heavens something changed somewhere along the line to pull me away from that allegiance. I think the main thing that happened was that I was 9 at the time. I just got bored with them. Sitting for three hours at a stretch watching a bunch of men do something I didn't fully understand was just not for me at the time.

But, football was always the background in our house in the fall and early winter. My parents had large gatherings centered around the big game days; Thanksgiving, the New Year's Day bowls. For me, the sound of football is like no other. It's reminiscent of friendly gatherings, crisp days with a fire crackling in the fireplace and good hot food. Since I was generally the only child in the group, I would hang around those big gatherings and try to pay attention to what they were paying attention to so they would include me. Gradually, just by osmosis, I began to pick up the basics. And then along came the Steelers of the 70's and that Steel Curtain defense. I'm here to tell you that defense is the easier side of the ball to understand. And I understood the Steel Curtain well enough. Be physical. Stuff the other team face first into the turf. I got that as a kid. I liked how they attacked the ball, like it was a magnet, piling onto it and whatever poor sap who happened to have it. Then I became aware that these guys represented the area where my parents had come from and most of their relatives still were. That seemed like a good reason to keep watching them. And, by that time, they were often on. They won their first Super Bowl by the time I was a teenager, with a slightly more developed attention span, so I began to notice their offense too. Lynn Swan, graceful like his name. John Stallworth with those amazing ballet-like catches along the sideline. Terry Bradshaw, with his awshucks country twang and easy going manner that made him a national star. Franco, handsome and quiet and really powerful. And then, Rocky Bleier, who's last name was just one letter off from mine. Yeah, I liked these guys, but I was still just a casual fan. Then, something sort of odd happened.

Which was, that I actually went to Sunday School one day. That was odd because I hated Sunday School. Dad insisted I go, but he never went to church, except on the occasional Easter when Mother forced him to. It seemed hypocritical. I had been going for years, so I'd heard all the same stories about Noah and the flood, the whole Moses saga, Jesus in the marketplace, Jesus feeding the masses, Jesus turning water into wine. The thing about the Prodigal Son got a lot of play. There are only so many stories Protestants tell, and I had heard them all. I didn't click with the group. We all knew one another, of course. There was only one high school in town, but, they weren't my friends, and I wasn't theirs, so I sat by myself and was lonely. I leaned toward Old Testament stories, which set me apart even further, because that was in the day when Joseph and the Technical Color Dreamcoat and Jesus Christ Superstar were popular. Jesus was a rock star, and I liked old dusty stories like Elijah. It was miserable. So, Dad would drop me off, I would walk inside to the foyer, watch out the window until he drove off and then walk around the historic neighborhood for the next hour and look at large, graceful old houses. Why I didn't that day, I have no idea. Maybe it was too cold or snowing too hard, but I went upstairs, took my seat and listened to the day's lesson.

Which was about Rocky Bleier. My ears perked up. For those of you who don't know, he actually is a inspirational character. He was the Steeler running back during those glory years and has four rings to show for it. But, the fact that he was able to walk on the field at all is amazing. He was seriously wounded in Vietnam after being drafted following his rookie year and had to fight to learn to walk again, selling insurance to make ends meet while he re-habbed until he miraculously not only learned to walk but played again for the Steelers when they powered there way to all those Super Bowls. On that Sunday, the lesson was to take his experience and teach us perseverance and faith in the face of incredible odds. I took something else away from it though. For me, maybe because I already knew Rocky's basic story, was what Art Rooney did for him. Mr. Rooney, beloved, cigar chomping owner of the Steelers since 1932, stood by him during all of that. He left him a spot on the squad when he didn't have to. There are other stories like that. Hundreds of them. The one I remember was when Gabe Rivera, a back out of Baylor, was paralyzed in an auto accident after his rookie season in the late 80's, Mr. Rooney paid out his contract. He had no obligation to do so, but it was the right thing to do, so he did it. Anyway, not to make a long post longer, suffice it to say, as I sat and listened to the teacher tell the story of Rocky, I was struck more by the fact that none of it would have happened without the simple support of his team owner. I'm not even sure Rocky realizes that fully. I was old enough by then to know what big business football was. What he did was amazing, I thought, and I drowned out the rest and sat there contemplating that fact. I walked out of that room curious about Art Rooney, and what I've learned has made me a Steeler fan for life. I'm not actually sure if I ever went back to Sunday School, but I learned the one lesson I think I was meant to learn.

I love The Chief, as he was known (but I don't think very much to his face). He is the kind of man I want to emulate. Hard living and fun loving, he never lost sight of what made him successful, and that was in the details, from the grounds crew to the very city that gave him a home. He loved and was loyal to all of it. And he was rewarded in kind. We all love him. He deserves my love, he's earned it. I don't want to see my team do anything but win, but I'll stand by them no matter what (cussing as I do it probably) because of what they represent. The Rooney family, although recently having to dilute ownership a bit, still own the team and son Dan Rooney and now grandson Art Rooney, Jr. have run it as much as they can like The Chief would have. It's a old school ownership in a Jerry Jones world. But, they hang on to those values. The team is like family. And we are members. It's not like Green Bay where the fans really are owners, but Art Rooney, Sr. is up there somewhere happy that I say "we". He smiles whenever I do it.

Learn more about my beloved Mr. Rooney, you'll love him too:

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Facing the Music

Tomorrow marks the beginning of an annual Big Deal in Austin. Every year there is a three day music festival in Zilker Park called the Austin City Limits Music Festival. I went, courtesy of my staff, one day last year primarily so I could see the Foo Fighters (who were awesome, by the way). They pooled together to get me the pass for my birthday. I was overwhelmed. I cried when they presented it to me.

In general, it is hot still in Austin in early October and dusty, really dusty, down on the hard, dry turf of the south Austin park it is held in. People come armed with bandannas to wear over their faces to shield themselves from the dust, unsuccessfully I might add. But, the music is more than worth it. There are acts all day long on, as I recall, five different stages, culminating with the major acts to close the evening. But, the day time acts aren't half bad, including names like Iron and Wine (last year), the Yeah Yeah Yeah's, Bon Iver, Coheed and Cambria, Phoenix, well - you get the picture. It's huge. I met people from all over last year. I went by myself, but that wasn't a problem because the great advantage to being an only child of older parents is that doing things on my own is a normal function. But, I went decked in a combination of Obama for President and Steeler gear, and by virtue of my wardrobe, I was not lacking for friends. So, the only problem was Kelsey. She was not happy I went to see the band she introduced me to (although I had taken her to a Foo Fighters concert twice before) without her. Her revenge: she had a three day pass this year. She was very excited. Music was always a balm for her. And she had a wide variety of tastes. It made my head spin really, but it showed the many facets of her personality. She listened to everything from God Awful Metal (which is not an actual brand of Metal, but should be) like The Sword to Sigur Ross and Andrew Bird, Justin Timberlake and Jay-Z. She had an appreciation for classical and loved to go with my to the symphony, but then listened to stuff like "Circle of Demons" (yeah, I have no idea...) She lived her life, as I had raised her to do, with a constant soundtrack playing in the background. Her wide variety of tastes and knowledge was actually something she took pride in and, although I don't think she knew it, I was proud of her for. She could be snobbish about her musical knowledge and tastes, which was off-putting, but it was true that there wasn't really an act worth noting that she didn't know about and usually in great detail. She often spotted up and coming talent, would call our attention to them and then, as they gained the national recognition that she predicted they would, she would deem them to be sell-outs and forsake them. I would sigh and continue to listening to them regardless. But, bottom line is, a festival like this one was custom made for a person like my daughter, and here it is being held in her very own home town.

Nonetheless, I had forgotten all about her supposed attendance as I've been listening to nothing but radio chatter about it for weeks now. For some reason, something tonight made me realize it. I don't know why. I mean, I was watching the West Virginia-Colorado game for crying out loud. But, there it was. The fact of it. How excited she was that she had that opportunity, followed by my runaway imagination of how excited she would be tonight in preparation for it. She would no doubt be making us totally crazy, as she could do, by chattering away incessantly, trying to impress us with her knowledge of music and the acts she would be seeing. We would probably try and nod in the appropriate places while trying to actually pay more attention to the game. That aspect of her personality could come off as haughty and was hard to take, even for us, so the best way to endure was just to pay only cursory attention. Now, I am faced with the hollow silence of the house. Even the sound of the game, rather exciting in and of itself because neither team can seem to maintain possession of the football, cannot drown out the lack of her voice and her footfalls scurrying around getting ready. I have this aching vision of her excited face, the little shine in her eyes, the spring in her step, despite how sick as she was all the time. I cannot describe the pain to you that this vision, this very crisp vision, is to me. But, now that I have it, I think the next three days are going to be hard to endure. I think, despite the excitement of having Dave Grohl back in town to promote his side project, I will be curling up with the dogs and trying to think about anything and everything but music and what is going on under my very nose. I want to remember ACL as the great gift the most awesome staff in the world gave to me a year ago as opposed to the missing spectator from this year's festival. Now. can I do it?