Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A Look Back

What a bizarre year.  For me anyway.  And it's all in your own personal perspective, isn't it?  If you've never been separated before, the first year after one probably seems crazy and traumatic.  If you've been married four times and the recent one is going down the tubes, it probably just seems more of the same (of course, here's a hint:  if you've been married that many times, the institution probably is not for you).  I'm not divorced, so it's just an example, but I am - for lack of a better word - separated, and just spent the first Christmas without Greg sitting at my side since we started dating in 1982 (holy crap!  I am really that old?!).  And, I really have to say, on balance, it was okay.  I mean, as I sit here, the main television in the Sports Cave is not working, having crapped out the day after the Steelers-Green Bay game (I think I have some Packer fan friends who will tell me that is karma coming to call), only to have the oven door come completely off on Christmas day.  Thanks to Marissa's boyfriend, the over door was put back on, but it really doesn't close right now so I'm afraid to use it.  So, I trudged over to Best Buy after a baby shower for our Lovely Philly Friend and buried myself in some more debt.  But, if not for those "little" issues and the fact that Ripley knocked me down the other night, so my knee is a bruised mess, and the fact that I'm waiting on the plumber to fix the new leak in the tub and I think he's forgotten about me, it would have been a delightful Christmas.  And even with all of those calamities, it was a pretty nice one (remember that Christmas took place before the Steelers Nation got screwed right on out of the playoffs).  Marissa and her boyfriend went out of their way to make it that way for me.  Hopefully I was able to return the favor to a degree.  Greg sent gifts for all, including the boyfriend, which I was touched by, so hopefully there was no one in this house on Christmas Day who didn't feel like they belonged to part of a family unit.  And that, I think, in the end analysis, is the best gift I could ask for.

So, as I sit here, pondering this climatic week to such a weird year, I am trying to work out the life lessons I'm supposed to take from everything that has happened.  For one thing, I won my fantasy football league.  That may seem sort of funny to list as a major accomplishment that teaches a life lesson, but bear with me.  It's a league through work, and they invited me to play the year Kelsey died.  I knew at the time it was a pity invitation - the core group of co-workers who gave me a spot knew I loved football, and I think believed it would be a fun distraction for me.  And it was, but I totally sucked at it (I drafted mainly all Steelers that first year because that was all I really knew about).  I've played ever since, but I've always dwelled in the basement.  This year, completely on my own with no input whatsoever from Greg, I won the whole thing!  I drafted the players, moved them around to form the best roster every week, and I nailed it (actually, I came in second during the regular season, but won the playoffs).  The sense of accomplishment I got from that was enormous.  Because the biggest issue I've had since Greg left this summer was trying to make major decisions without him.  Take the whole TV/oven thing.  I was almost paralyzed for a couple of days trying to figure out what to do.  I didn't have my sounding board.  At one point, I had Marissa cornered in my office trying to spell out the options and make her help decide.  She was not having it.  Truthfully, what sometimes happens is I talk to Greg about it and then do what I want anyway, but at least I get to work it out strategically with someone who has a vested interest.  It has been sort of frightening not to have that.  He's still around, of course, it's not like he went to Mars and doesn't get cell phone reception.  But he's busy.  He doesn't have time to fool with me.  No, it's on me to manage this house.  What I've learned is I can do it.  All by myself.  Fantasy football taught me that I've got the ability to pull it off and gave me the confidence to use it.

What I'm still working on is The Lonelies.  I can do without the physical contact really - I'm so tired most nights, that's the last thing on my mind anyway.  But some nights, if there is no hockey on in particular, the house seems sort of - not empty, not quiet, not stale - I'm not even sure what the right word is, but it's off somehow.  I've always got the dogs, the cats, my books, my music and the ability to catch up on all the episodes of Revolution and Mob City I miss when hockey is on, but some nights I just am really aware of being on my own.  Marissa has worked really, really hard to keep those moments minimal.  She's here every weekend and many weeknights.  But she's in her 20's.  The way it's supposed to work is the baby bird leaves the nest, not nurses the mother bird through her anxieties.  I watch the two widows who live next to me (in separate houses) because they are my inspiration - both strong and independent despite their advancing ages.  I can tell, and they will confess, that despite their having built a lifetime of relationships here and being still pretty socially active, they get The Lonelies still too.  I'm thinking then that it never goes away.  Some nights will just be like that.  I think as long as it's not most nights, then it's just the price you pay when you've been with someone for a really long time and then, suddenly, you're not.  I think that's an homage to the relationship.  If you never miss your spouse, he/she probably was a heel.

As you know, I often have a moral to the story, so here is this one: you have the inner strength to overcome the things you think will overwhelm you.  You have to believe it and believe in yourself first, but you can do it.  Then have patience with yourself on the days when you don't like the job you're doing.  Life is a lesson.  If you knew all about it already, then what would be the point in showing up to live it?

May we all have a wonderful 2014 that includes, for me anyway, a Stanley Cup.  In the meantime, here are some of my favorite photos from 2013 to cheer you on your way:

One of Greg's last evenings with Ripley
Charlie Batch, great Pittsburgher, great guy and a dog owner!  Wow!

Marissa Pearl graduates college!

Antonio Brown - and trust me, it's the subject, not the photographer that makes this a good photo

Ripley gets photo bombed by a big rubber ducky

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A Humbug's Holiday Wish to You

Well, it's almost here.  Christmas.  Again.  You know how I know?  My entire neighborhood looks like a Christian version of the Las Vegas Strip.  People who have had lights up and on for over a month now still continue to add to their displays, believe it or not.  As I walk the dogs around in the evening I'll see that someone added a nativity scene next to Santa's sleigh or added lights to their back or side yard now.  It's like a community full of Clark Griswald's.  Even the hippie-dippy neighbors across the street have crept into the season, first with nice little candles in the window, followed by big old neon things in the windows next to them.  I actually have a few less outdoor decorations up than I have had in the past, but I do have some, so I guess I'm like the small little casino on a side street - I'm there, but much more understated.  And that's all you're getting from me.  I'm content to watch everyone else go nuts and then figure out how they're going to pay the electric bill in a month.

I considered not putting much up in the way of decorations at all actually.  But I did, much like I do in every other year no matter what drama is going on because, for one thing, I figured I needed the routine:  keeping things as much the same as I could in a year when things were anything but normal.  And it wouldn't be fair to take a full Christmas away from Marissa.  And finally, I like the way this little house looks all dressed up for Christmas.  So here I sit in my decorated cottage waiting for the holiday to come and go like it does every year and then sort of wondering what the next year will bring.  About the only thing I know for sure so far is that it will have to bring a new TV since the big one in the Sports Cave crapped out yesterday, so in a week when I'm trying to figure out how I spent so much on the holidays while still worrying that people will be disappointed, that was the most unwelcome holiday surprise I could have gotten.  But for now, I'm trying to shake that off and get in the "season" as they say.  So, here is my holiday wish to all of you:

First of all, thank you to all my friends and family for being so supportive, kind and loving no matter what life or my own actions has hit our friendship with.  I never really know what I've done to deserve such wonderful people in my life, but I have been truly blessed with all of you, even if it is a virtual one with many of you now, trying to shrink the miles through Facebook and email.  So, I wish for all of you not only a happy holiday, but a content one.  And not only for tomorrow, but may that extend well past the New Year on until the end of your days.

I know not to wish us Peace on Earth or anything so impossible like that, so I'll wish that you have an inner peace.  Of course, maybe that's what contentment is.  Being at peace with who you are, where you are and what you are:  no matter what that is.  But I think there's a subtle difference too.  Finding an acceptance gives you peace, learning to be happy with who you are leads to contentment, I would hope.  So, long way to say, I wish both for you.

I am hoping that each of you will have a Cheyenne in your life.  Someone or something who loves you more than he or she loves themselves and whom you can in turn love that way too.  Because that is a powerful and empowering feeling.  And a comforting one on cold nights when the Penguins lose big and you're watching it on a crappy upstairs TV.  May you have someone like Marissa who will keep telling you that it'll all work out when you're nearly in tears because that's just one more crappy thing you don't need in your life right now.

But because I know that all your days will not be rosy, life just does not work that way, may you have the strength to carry on through dark and frightening times.  Many of you were my source of strength in just such times.  May I be that in return for you if need be.  But if it's not me, may you find what you need to act as a talisman to rise above whatever tries to bury you.  And I know you can do it:  one thing I can say about all the friends I have ever known, they are all very strong of character.

May your sports teams always be winners (unless you're in Boston or a Flyers fan, then you can go suck it), but if they are not, may you have the grace to know that there is always next year and that's why they call it a "game".

Finally, may each of you find your own Pittsburgh.  And whether that is a place or a state of mind, I can't really say.  But you will know when you get there.  And may you never be lost wherever it ends up being.

And if I've never ever met you and vice versa, and you just stumbled across this post, I still wish the same for you too.  As the Irish would say, "May you be as contented as Christmas finds you, all the year round."

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Mean Coping Skills

As you know if you've been reading for a while, our family therapist who is active in the ED community with a particular passion for working with male eating disorders, coined the term "Mean Season" in referencing the holidays.  That resonated with me.  Because, as I've said before, for someone struggling with an eating disorder in particular, it's a nightmare time of the year.  There are so many occasions which are centered around food, and not just food but really threatening stuff for someone with eating issues:  cookies, cakes, egg nog, rich casserole dishes smothered in cheese or whatever, gravy, breads, and so on.  Then there are the family members you don't see everyday who don't have a clue about what you're going through who come up to you with the best of intentions and inadvertently say the very worst of things!  And that's when they are sober.  Alcohol flows freely through all of this in many households. It can be a veritable nightmare.   For everyone.   I struggled to balance what my daughters needed with what their grandmothers needed and wanted, and the two very often were not compatible.  That meant life was pretty miserable for all of us.  And the societal pressure we feel to make nice and be happy on a particular day of the year just made it that much harder, I think.  As a result, I wrote a piece I was pretty passionate about a couple of years ago right before Thanksgiving that is probably worth dusting back off and looking at again:  Welcome to the Mean Season.  I was thinking about it yesterday because I was reading the posts by some of the moms in my support group.  I made a couple of suggestions here and there, but finally I had to just navigate away because it was just breaking my heart too much.  A lot of it was just all too familiar.  In a way there is a comfort in that because I can now tell you I'm not the only one who deals with this stuff.  Or, in my case, dealt with it.  But I just ache for all those mothers and their sons and daughters who struggle through this time of the year.

It's not easy for others out there either.  My daughter's boyfriend, for example, struggles with the holidays because his dad died around Thanksgiving a couple of years ago.  He hasn't even bounced back yet when he got more bad news this year, so the holidays are a poison for him.   I get that to an extent.  I miss my dad the most during the holidays.  I think I've told you before, for a seasoned war veteran, he had this child-like love of Christmas - any holiday really - and that was a pretty grand thing to grow up with, so I miss that around this time of the year.  But, on the other hand, I know that our parents don't want us wasting our lives mourning for us, because they would know that this is the natural order of things - we all hope our children outlive us, and we want their happiness above all else.  That's the way it's supposed to go.  So, I always hope for him he'll realize that life is too short to be this unhappy and let his grief relax more into fond memories.  But, for now, it hasn't.  Therefore, we'll all be together on Christmas potentially more or less feeling way sorry for ourselves.  I think I'd like to break the pattern for my family anyway.  And I've really worked to do that this year, with some mixed success, so I thought I'd share my top five coping skills.  They have absolutely no scientific basis, and I am not a professional (although I certainly have paid enough of them over the years), so take it for what it is worth, but if any of them help you even a little, then it will be my holiday gift to you:

5)  Cry a little when you need to.  I had a rough moment yesterday when I got a piece of junk mail addressed to Kelsey.  It's happened a couple of times in the last few months.  I can't figure out how companies - Pittsburgh based companies at that - get her name, but it's the height of insensitivity and really drives home the hole in our household.  That gets worse at the holidays.  Society tells us to celebrate the season.  Well, sometimes we're just not in sync with that.  And that's okay - don't make it worse by feeling guilty over it.

4)  Don't try and be perfect; prioritize and then accept the rest.  Always the biggest stressor for me long before the girls got sick was that normal life keeps going and the holidays just pile it on.  Shopping, wrapping, shipping all of that, addressing cards, functions to attend, great movies coming out because it's awards season.  If you try to be Super Mom you'll end up being super stressed.  And that's exactly what always happened to me.  And I'd end up having a little meltdown - okay, okay, a big meltdown - at some point.  Now I'm trying to tell myself if the house doesn't get cleaned to the max because I'm wrapping stuff, we'll all survive.  If cookies I always bake don't get baked, it's like Marissa told me on Sunday:  we'll bake them for another holiday.

3) Plan in advance.  It comes every year.  We all know it's coming, so it's always puzzled me a bit when people are scrambling at the last minute for Christmas gifts (and by people, I generally mean men).  I start shopping for Christmas in the spring and squirrel away things all year long.  So I was able to wrap the presents I needed to ship, which was almost everything, right after Thanksgiving and we made a run to the post office that took three of us to pull off two weeks ago.  People got their stuff absurdly early, but I'm done with the "heavy lifting", if you will, of the holidays and can concentrate a little more on Tip No. 2.  Plus I spread the expense out.

2)  Take the time to enjoy life a little.  I struggled how to list Tips 2 and 1 - they are almost neck and neck in importance for me.  So, maybe really this is Tip 1.5 because I am serious about this one.  At some point, I had to give myself permission to actually savor some of the things that do happen around the holidays.  And I said it that way very purposefully.  If you have suffered a loss, it's easy sometimes to feel like you are guilty of something because you're still alive.  As a parent in particular.  So, you feel unworthy of anything enjoyable in life.  Please don't.  I believe truly that there is a reason we remain.  So while we figure out what our purpose is, don't let the life you have pass you by.  Take a moment or two every day to relax.  For me, I take a few moments in the morning to read a few pages of my book.  Today I took a couple of minutes after I shoveled the snow to slide down the hill in our backyard.  Childish maybe, but the dogs and I had a lot of fun before we buckled down to work for the day.  But I've also taken in some events around town instead of addressing holiday cards or baking those cookies like part of me worries I should.  This is an amazing city.  Missing out on the wonders it presents doesn't bring Kelsey back to us.

1) Accept help.  None of these coping tips would have mattered, and I would be in a rubber room right now if Marissa had not helped as much as she has this year.  She's wrapped gifts, gone to the store for me, baked a couple batches of those cookies I keep fretting over, cleaned the house repeatedly, done my laundry for me, cooked for and fed me, and kept me company above all else.  I think the tendency is for people (and in this case I mean women) to think they have to do it all themselves to truly pull off a good holiday for their family.  I'm trying to accept that it's just not the case.  And as a matter of fact, your family members may enjoy helping.  I hope that's true for Marissa.  But, either way, she's the greatest Christmas gift of all.

I can't tell you this is the best holiday we'll ever have.  We're scattered across the country. Money was tight, so the gifts are modest.  But it's not going to be the worst.  And sometimes, after a year like this one, that's plenty good enough for me!

Saturday, December 7, 2013

The Alternative Holiday Letter

What Santa does on his off time
Every year I write a holiday letter to stick in with the Christmas cards.  I even managed to pull one together the year Kelsey died.  I'm not sure how, but I wanted to talk about her upcoming art exhibit, so I made myself do it.  And because of it, my friend Betty knew to come and that was the last time I really got to spend time with her, so...

But anyway, it occurred to me this year that there is a certain narcissism inherent in writing holiday letters in a social media world.  Most of the people you know well enough to exchange cards or gifts with also connect with you on Facebook and can catch up with you online, via text or phone or even video chat.  Therefore, do the ones who don't know you well enough to do any of that even really care what you've been up to over the past year?

And then they have to have a certain tone to them, because they are, after all, holiday letters, so I always felt like I had to keep them light.  And they don't allow for a lot of room to delve into issues too deeply anyway, so they can only skim the surface of an individual's complex life in the course of a year.  Once the Beast entered our home, our lives were anything but light or simple, particularly during the holidays - the Mean Season.  But, I've always persisted in crafting something, no matter how much it didn't really represent what was truly happening to us, because we have friends and family who, believe it or not, aren't really on social media, and care enough to hear from us at least.  And so I did this year.  If you end up getting one from me, it's all true.  Just like all the others were.  But there's a lot I didn't say.  So, here's my alternative version where I get to say a little bit more:

"Dear Friends and Family,

So, here we are again.  It's the holidays.  Some of you love them, some of you hate them.  I want to love them, but I in fact tend to loathe them.  You probably think that's because of Kelsey.  And you'd be right, but I'm not a fan for other reasons too, which I'll explain.

First of all, who decided that the holidays should also be when you're expected to give to charities?  I know, I know, it's the end of the year, sliding in of the tax deductible contribution thing, plus the need is greater.  But, my theory is that kids who are hungry at Christmas are hungry in June too.  Let's give to them all year long, not just at the holidays.  As I write, I have a stack of mail on my kitchen counter from charities I've supported in the past:  Red Cross, Safeplace, Habitat for Humanity, The Carnegie Museums, the Pittsburgh Symphony (who keep telling me I pledged $100 and I keep telling them there's no way I would do that over the phone), and the Mario Lemieux Foundation.  That's just the last couple of days.  My email inbox is much worse.  I hate looking at them.  They're all deserving in their own ways (which is why I've supported them at some point in the past), but I can't possibly support them all now.  I HATE the guilt and the pressure.  I'm just trying to pay my bills here people.  Please, please leave me alone.

Then there's the whole gift giving thing.  I love buying presents for people.  I put a LOT of time and effort into it.  It doesn't always work out quite as well as I would hope.  And that hurts me more than you know.  Because I do want you to love what I get you, but if we've known one another for a long time, odds are that at some point, I'll misfire on the choice I make.  For example, last year I thought I just slayed it with the gift I got one family in particular.  The father didn't like his part and had his daughter ask me how he could return it.  Don't tell me that!  Just go exchange it for something you like.   Or at least thank me for the effort first.  I was crushed.  You know, my mom got me stuff often that I didn't care for because it was her tastes, not mine, but I always knew a lot of love and effort went into it, so I appreciated all of that useless crap for that reason.  I still have some of it because I look at it and it reminds me that someone loved me enough to do something for me (some of it I dumped like a hot potato as soon as I could, but the point is:  she never knew).  That's not to say you have to keep something I gave you that you don't want, but understand that the lack of appreciation for the effort cuts like a knife.  Think about that as you respond to your loved one's gifts this year.

And that's the other thing:  when did gift giving become such an obligation?  There are people who plan to send us gifts this year who really can't afford it, but feel like they have to.  No, you don't.  I have so much stuff already.  You can just tell me you can't do it.  Or pick one of those charities I listed and send them $10 in my name.  Lifting that weight of guilt off my shoulders would do more than you know.  If I send you something, then accept that it's because I want to and don't feel like there is a quid pro quo.  But please also know that I had my own challenges this year.  My gifts are not as elaborate as they have been in the past.  Please, please, don't be offended by that or feel slighted.  Honestly, I think we've all lost the whole point of the season in our material world.  And I include myself in that.  But, you know what I really, really want?  Just your friendship.  It's been a hard year.  I feel lonely sometimes and a little afraid about what my future will hold.  Sometimes I could use a shoulder - even if it's just virtual.  That doesn't cost you much.  Just be there for me when I need it.  That's the greatest gift of all.

For the first time in over 30 years, I will face the holidays without Greg by my side.  That's a little depressing.  I'll confess that I began this holiday season in a rotten, rotten mood as a result.  It's been hard to figure out what to write to you and give you any sense of holiday cheer.  But, I've been contemplating the life and death of Nelson Mandela since I heard the news and pondering how a white woman on another continent can best honor the great man's memory.  I've decided it's by trying to embody the lessons his life taught us.  There are many to choose from.  But for me, now, at this moment, it's not to give up on hope and give in to despair.  Therefore, I plan on squaring my shoulders, holding my head up high and being thankful for the things I do have:  my beautiful daughter Marissa, healthy now and sober, my pets, the roof over my head and the food in my pantry (tiny as it may be).  I am grateful that I am fortunate enough to have come to Pittsburgh and found the place where I truly belong.  I thank all of you for what you have been to me and my family over the years.  I am blessed in my friends.  And while I don't see them much, I am ever so grateful for my mom's family, who accept me as one of their own.  I will rejoice in Sidney Crosby's 3 assists and Marc Andre Fleury's 44 saves against one of the best teams in hockey and choose not to despair a football season in shambles.  I hope much the same for all of you.  Hug the family around you tight and realize that they are your real gift, not that material stuff under the tree.

Much love, Cheryl"

Tum Tum posed the question, "What?  You mean these aren't all mine?"

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Almost Home for the Holidays

I'll keep this brief.  For one thing, I've got a lot to do and only one more day in the long weekend to do it.  The holidays, as I've complained many times before, are relentless.  This, apparently, does not change even when you find yourself by yourself.  But, for most of the holiday weekend, the family was back together, so I know many readers have been waiting to hear how Greg is, so I knew I owed everyone an update on my husband's brief trip back up to Pittsburgh for the Thanksgiving holiday.

The short response is that everything went fine.  But of course, whenever there is a situation like this  - a long separation punctuated by brief visits here and there - the emotions surrounding the visit will be more complicated.  Or so I imagine it is in all cases, and so it was here.  First there was the preparation. Do you prepare the house as you would for a house guest?  Clean, polish and shine everything from top to bottom, lay out clean towels, put on clean sheets, and so on?  Or do you treat it like someone who was just away on a long business trip and is merely coming home now?  I chose a hybrid approach.  Cleaned everything, but let him get his own towels out of the closet.

And of course there is the worry that you'll look older, or things will have sagged a bit more in noticeable places.  Or that your spouse will just look at you with fresh eyes after a period of time and say to him or herself, "Really?  I am not attracted to that person at all anymore and not sure how I ever was."

Finally, for me, the creature of severe habit, there is the nagging sense that you'll find you've grown much too comfortable in the new routine - as much as a way to cope with the sudden change than anything else - to accommodate vestiges of the old one again.  That one didn't get a true test since the holidays are anti-routine by their very nature, and Greg's time here was pretty brief, but I think we did all see the same things about one another we find perplexing and realize we're still perplexed by them.  In short, we haven't changed as people in our months apart.  If I drove too timidly to suit Greg before and he drove WAY too aggressively to suit me, that's all still true.

But, for the most part, I think I'm safe in saying what we found is that we're still all a family.  We fell back into a comfort level of being together quickly.  There was a slight worry, I'll confess it now, that we'd find ourselves almost awkward strangers.  Which was a strange fret to have because I didn't stress over that when I came up here by myself for several months.  But the circumstances were different then, I guess.  And of course I was the one who had struck out on the journey, not the other way around.  I think that puts a little different spin on it.  But, it was a needless concern.  We've been together a long time and so it'll take a lot longer than four and a half months to make us all strangers.  Maybe ironically we went to see 12 Years a Slave on Friday. When Solomon is reunited with his family after more than a decade, to naturally find his children grown and even one of them married with a child, I reminded myself now that is what coming home to find yourself a virtual stranger must look like!  We're no where near that!

Greg looks fine.  Much the same.  I also worried the cares and responsibilities he has taken on would tax him.  And maybe, with more time, they will indeed.  But not seemingly so just yet.  I'll have to press him to write the guest post he agreed to in order to really get his thoughts and feelings, but I think it was bizarre being here for him - and by here, I mean the city as a whole - because it felt both familiar and a little strange.  Home in a way, yet not where he lives.  Maybe we all get that when we go back to visit our parents if we've moved away.  I did a bit when I would go back to Bozeman.  But I spent my formative years there, so there is a bond with the town that won't break.  Greg was here only relatively briefly.  I think that all messed with his head a bit.

And then there is Ripley, currently laying quietly at my feet.  Everyone noticed how she brought Greg through his grief.  My neighbor even commented on it one day not too long ago!  Yet here Ripley stays without him.  He commented that he had been away from her a quarter of her life.  I think he found saying goodbye to her the hardest.  And I get it if that's true.  I'm also fine with it.  I'm a dog person after all.  But the things dogs do for you are hard to match over Skype.  You need their wet doggy kisses, the warmth of their fur as they snuggle against you on the couch.  You need their need for you sometimes to remind yourself why you have to get up in the morning.

For my part, I was initially stoic about his leaving again because I have, maybe not by blood, but by familiarity, my mother's Pennsylvania steel heart.  Yet when I got back home yesterday from dropping my husband at the airport so he could fly back to Texas and found things he had left lying around - a half consumed bottle of water, his Cowboys pajama bottoms in the laundry pile, his windbreaker casually draped across a chair - all as if he were coming home in just a few hours, I had some bad moments.  Later in the day when I was putting up Christmas decorations and came across his stocking on top of Kelsey's, I sat on the floor and sobbed.

I know he's where he has to be.  The job of caring for his brother is too taxing for just one person.  And I know that's not really anyone's fault.  Life simply isn't fair or easy much of the time.  And there I will leave it for now, since I've already violated my promise to keep it brief.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Ruminating on the Age of Lost Innocence

Like millions of people - well, females - I have one eye on the calendar waiting for November 22 so I can stand in really long lines and go see Catching Fire.  The difference from me and the others is that I'm probably on average three decades older than most of them, but let's just say I'm young at heart and let it go at that, shall we?  Personally, I "caught fire" if you will on the series after a dear friend of mine gave me a copy of The Hunger Games to read on the plane back to Pittsburgh after I had been in Austin for business.  I'm a slow reader because I have to visualize everything, and if I don't like the scene I create in my head, I'll re-read it and try again (a real bitch when reading A Song of Fire and Ice, trust me, because it's so richly detailed and it's easy to lose subtle plot points in the search to picture horrific scenes of torture, rape and battle), but in this case I, if you'll pardon the pun, devoured it.  I don't think I finished it on the plane, but I made a serious dent, and it was only days before I was trolling book stores for the other two of the series.  If anything, I read those faster.  I could not put them down.  But they are brutal reads.  The last one in particular made me feel like I had taken a serious punch to the gut.  I was emotionally, almost physically, spent as I closed it for the last time and I remember thinking, "That's meant for young adults?!"  There are some things that clue you in to that fact:  the author skims over tedious details, like a trial, that tweens wouldn't have the patience for, and then there is the love triangle that focuses more on the awakening of our innate sexuality and the confusing emotions that come along with it rather than actual sex.  But in terms of painting a bleak canvas of a savage and cruel existence, she doesn't pull any punches because her core audience is too young for a driver's license.  That got me to thinking about the other "young adult" series I've read both when I was actually young versus what has come out lately and I've concluded that there was a shift somewhere along the way in what we think we should expose our kids to, and currently it is that the world can be an ugly place and we might as well get our kids ready for that fact early.

Take the Harry Potter series v. The Chronicles of Narnia and The Hobbit for instance.  In the beginning little Harry Potter was facing adventure that had a tinge of danger like all the other series I had ever read, but it was still pretty light and fun stuff.  Boy, that changed by the end, didn't it?  Tell me true, did you cry when Dumbledore died?  If you didn't, then you're made of stouter stuff than me.  I sobbed.  I originally theorized that, as time went on, J. K. Rowling's own children got older and her writing got better, so the themes of the books developed with what her own children could emotionally handle and she could write, but maybe it was more than that.  So, looking at the The Chronicles of Narnia and The Hobbit, the biggies of fantasy literature in my young days, to compare the battles and the danger those heroes face one realizes it's all relatively tame.  As a matter of fact, when I re-read The Hobbit last year to get ready for the film, I was surprised by how glossed over the Battle of Five Armies was.  There was some sadness involved of course, but it was certainly not taken out and explored to the dark depths that Suzanne Collins did in her series.  Narnia for its part went through some tough times, but there was always a happy ending that involved mercy and goodness, and when creatures "died" they either came back to life or wandered off with Aslan.

If you want to trot out The Lord of the Rings to refute all this, let me remind you that it was not a children's series, we were just precocious children who read them anyway.  And really, think about how even that, as dark as that theme was, doesn't hold a candle to all the blood and gore we're rolling around now when we pick up a George R. R. Martin book.  Now, if you want to make the case that we were expected to use our imaginations more than we expect of our own children, that is a sustainable debate.  But the fact of the matter is, I still maintain that authors didn't spell out the world was an ugly place and heroes have to survive it somehow and make peace with that fact as best they can.  They put ugly things in it and then let the heroes defeat them.  In the end, I think that's the biggest difference.

But, here's the question I'm really asking.  Why?  What changed?

It's not a post 9-11 reaction.  Or maybe it is.  But, the world is no more evil of a place than it was when I was growing up.  Think about it.  My parents lived during the time the planet saw arguably the greatest evil ever unleashed in the Third Reich.  Fifty million people died during World War II, six million of them just because of their religion or sexual orientation.  And they didn't die pretty, easy deaths - not there is such a thing.  The world doesn't get any uglier than the global conflicts of the 20th century.  Then follow that up with the Cold War, and I was born into a time when we could not deny that life could be hard, unfair and tainted by true evil.  Yet, my parents sheltered me from all of that, as did many parents, and made me feel I lived in a secure world where, if I kept true and worked hard, all things would be alright.  My dad in particular certainly knew that wasn't necessarily true, but somehow seemed intent to shelter my childhood from that.  Did he do me a disservice that we're correcting in our own children?  Or did he give me, as best as he knew how, a happy childhood knowing that I would learn the hard lessons of life soon enough, so I should be allowed time to feel secure in the message I got from my books that right was might, not the other way around.

What do you think?

Thursday, November 7, 2013

The Six-Time Champion Elephant in the Room

Memories of better sports days
Okay, I'm back to the sports posts that aren't really about sports.  But I figured many of you are sort of wondering what my reaction to the Steelers worst season in half a century is, and in particular wondering how I'm handling the most points put up on them in their 81 year history by a team I absolutely hate.  Well.  I'll tell you.  I'm not happy about it.

But, really, it's not as catastrophic as I thought it would be.  There are a few reasons for that:  the Penguins are doing well (last night being an exception - they were killed by the Rangers, but that's the way it goes in hockey sometimes and the season is a long one, so a bad game here or there just doesn't ruin one's outlook).  Then there is truth to the concept that misery loves company.  It's easier to survive a down period like this in one sense while surrounded by others who are equally as shocked and dismayed, as opposed to having to deal with the teasing and chiding of Cowboys fans.  Of course, as I've said before, Steelers fans practice tough love with their team, so there is the aspect of having to deal with their complaining and armchair quarterbacking.  I've come to learn it's just part of the culture here to speak openly and frankly.  Someone from the outside would call it speaking without thinking maybe.  But, people here are just completely earnest and expect you to have the same thick skin they have adopted all their lives.  If they think you're a dumb ass, they'll tell you.  To your face.  Deal with it.  So there is a lot of that going on and everyone from Todd Haley to Ben Roethlisberger's wife seems to fall into the dumb ass category and share some responsibility for the current predicament depending upon whom you talk to, and I don't always, or even often, agree with it, but there is the sense that we're all going through it, not just the team.  Because one thing I will say:  they truly do bleed Black and Gold here.  And I didn't dilute that any of course; my blood runs as thick as any native.

There seem to be two schools of thought however:  the group who are mad and more intent on finding blame and gritching about it, to the group who are desperately trying to show that they remain loyal to the team, win or lose.  I fall into the latter category, intent on draping myself head to toe in black and gold whenever I'm out and about and still hanging out all my trappings every Sunday so that anyone driving down the street will know that a REALLY BIG STEELERS FAN lives here.  But, no matter what camp you're residing in, you're just sort of shell shocked.  There's really no other way to put it.  And there's no other way to be.  I mean there are reasons for the slide.  Back when I was writing the sports blog, I covered them in a couple of posts:  they've been playing shell games with the salary cap for years for one thing.  But, just like happens when you're carrying your personal finances on credit, the bill comes due eventually.  And then there's just the parity in the league thing where we've been on the top of the pile for a long time and eventually the pile just shifts.  For everyone but the damn Patriots, it would seem.  Yet, even though it was our time to languish a bit, no one - and I do mean no one - saw this coming.    I could not have imagined it, I can tell you.  And even if I could have, I couldn't have imagined that I could have survived it.  I need the team and their success, I would have told you.

But, here's the thing.  I do hate it.  I hate it for myself, I hate for all of the team, most of whom are good people who work hard.  I hate it for Coach Tomlin.  I hate it for the Rooney family.  And I hate it for all the fans.  Yet, I'm surviving.  The sun comes up.  I laugh about other things.  I cry about other things on occasion.  I walk the dogs twice a day.  I struggle to keep the leaves raked up.  A battle I'm losing by the way.  I work, I watch TV, I try to read when I can (still trying to get Arya away from Harrenhal), and I fit some sleep in there.  Just like I would if the Steelers were 6-2 instead of 2-6.  And I'm doing all of it with a relative calm.  Turns out, I don't need the Steelers to be my happiness.  I have more control of that myself than I knew.  They don't need to be my prop to shield me from grief or hardship.  Maybe I did need them in that first couple of seasons after Kelsey died and when my mom was sliding, but now I don't really.  And I don't know if I could have ever realized that if the Steelers hadn't taken a one way dive off a very steep cliff.  So maybe I ought to be grateful that I know I have that strength now.  But maybe I won't go so far as to say I'm happy to have learned the lesson this way.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Life Goes On

There is a rhythm that is returning to my life alone.  As much as there can be with dogs in the house anyway.  That routine that I talk so much about is more or less back, just a little different than it used to be, but I'm getting settled in to it and, for me, that is the key to being able to accept it.  I even had an interesting sensation last Saturday that I hadn't felt in a really long time:  I was completely free to do what I wanted with no one wondering where I was or waiting for me to get home.  Marissa was at her boyfriend's, the day was nice enough that the dogs could stay outside and be comfortable.  So, I was completely left to my own devices.  I could go where I wanted or do what I wanted for as long as I wanted.  What did I do?  I went Christmas shopping, got my oil changed and went grocery shopping.  Whoo-hoo, party animal!  But, despite the rather boring agenda, it was almost exhilarating in its own odd way to just be able to wander around for as long as I felt like it.

Later, as I sat at home and watched what I wanted (hockey), I began to fret a little.  Could it be that I would get so comfortable - or at least used to - living alone that it will derail us when my husband comes home in a couple of years?

I tried to research it.  I am a lazy researcher really, so when I didn't find just a plethora of data immediately, I got bored with it and gave it up.  But I did find a study done by Rand Corporation that proved out that the longer military personnel are deployed, the higher their divorce rate becomes.  I doubt anyone is reacting in shock over that little bit of news, but there was nothing but conjecture about why.  PTSD probably plays a role - how could it not, but one article I read speculated that people just grow apart.  But what does that mean?  Their interests change, their friends change and they get into different rhythms that don't gel any longer?  Makes sense.  But why is it that grown children can move away and get friends and have experiences their parents don't, yet still have a deep and meaningful relationship with their parents?  Maybe it's because they aren't living together.  Maybe that proximity just makes all the difference.  Like two now strangers trying to come back together.

I mean, for all of your readers who are married, think how interesting the first year of marriage was:  trying to mesh two different people's habits and routines.  There is the sorting out of what's mine, what's yours and now it's all ours.  Learning to remember to call if you're going to be late so the spouse doesn't worry.  Learning not to be upset when the spouse forgets to call.  Learning how to share the television schedule and not be jealous when the husband wants a poker night or the wife wants a Girl's Night Out.  And that's all when you're freshly in love, young and energetic and coming off a period of dating where, odds are, you were together.

Therefore, it stands to reason that after a period of time apart we all tend to go back to the coping skills we had as singles.  We get used to singular control of the remote control.  We get used to running around on a Saturday doing whatever it is we want to.  And we figure out how to cope with all those stressors that at first we thought would be our un-doing after our spouse was gone:  keeping up with the untold amounts of falling leaves, figuring out how to turn the outside faucet off for the winter, and simply being alone and lonely.  So once that life becomes comfortable, the spouse returns and shakes it all up again.  For both of them.  That's got to be a challenge.  It doesn't take an expensive study to tell you that a lot of couples can't handle that many major life-changing events.  The question is going to be whether we can.  But, that's for later.  For now, I've still got some sorting out of how my life will look and be in the meantime, and I've got to let go of worry over about things I can't control right now.  Leave it to me to overthink a pleasant Saturday afternoon.  For now, I hope for more of those, and I promise myself to just enjoy them with no guilt attached.  Because life goes on.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The View from Outside of Stepford

For some reason I had a Stepford Wives dream the other night.  I don't remember it very clearly, I just have a sense of it.  I remember being in the kitchen during the climatic scene where Katharine Ross' character finds that her friend, played by Paula Prentiss (photo), has been transformed.  But I don't know if I was one of the characters or just watching, but if it was the former, I don't know who I was - the robot or the real, independent thinking woman still.  I don't even know really what was rattling around in my head that caused my unconscious mind to pull a file from the "way back when" section of the memory banks.  I haven't seen the movie in decades, but that kitchen does make it into the occasional dream of mine because, as much as I was old enough to get and appreciate the cultural message the writers were putting out there, I was still in love with that kitchen and wanted one just like it when I grew up, no matter if that made me a wife-bot or not.  So, maybe I was dreaming about the movie simply because I was subconsciously railing against my teensy kitchen, or maybe there was a deeper issue I was trying to delve into and my mind dressed it up in a mid-70's horror flick to give it context.  I think it related somehow to the fact that I had recently seen one of my favorite X-Files episodes, Arcadia, so mass conformity was on my mind, but it still struck me as wildly random that I would have a dream about being any kind of wife at this particular point in my life, since I'm the furthest removed from being a spouse that I have been for over half my life.  Who knows, maybe that has something to do with it in and of itself.  But anyway, here I was, dreaming about a movie that was made when I was a teenager (not the 2004 remake - I never saw it for one thing) that centers around the "ideal" wife from a man's perspective.  Therefore, when I was pondering the dream and trying to work out what it was I was trying to work out, if you will, it occurred to me to ask the question:  what is it exactly that men do want in a woman?  Because I don't know that we as women have it figured out exactly.

Demi Moore seems to think it's the eternal appearance and affect of youth.  Miley Cyrus seems to think it's sex.  Yet, last I knew anyway, neither of them are exactly scoring points in the committed relationship game right now.  I would hazard a guess that if you polled a random sampling of people, both men and women, they'd say "compatibility".  I would test that theory if I had a random group of people around to ask, but I don't, so take it for what it is:  just a guess.  But, I think it's probably the rote answer I would give someone and probably because it's what we think we're supposed to believe.  But, let's face it:  yes, we want our significant other to be compatible with us, but we also want a little wrapping and a bow on the package too.  Ideally, ladies, don't we want our compatible partner to look like a Wahlberg or a Crosby (okay, that's me that wants that - but you catch the drift)?  And, c'mon, straight fellows out there, tell me you haven't fantasized about the perfect mate looking suspiciously like J-Lo?  Nothing unnatural or wrong about that, particularly if you look at your mate and believe you see a bit of Donnie/Mark or Jennifer in there somewhere, if only - and maybe especially - because you love them and that's what colors your lenses.

Of course, then you might also want to add that you want someone to understand you, which is more than just liking the same things you do.  And that's a little more complicated.  Understanding that I like Steelers football and finding that attractive because you like football too is one thing.  Understanding why I actually cried a little when they beat the Ravens on Sunday is something else altogether.  And that's where the division between the sexes gets complicated really to my mind.  We're not the same.  We're just not.  When I hear my single friends talk about the perils of finding a rewarding relationship, I've been known to ponder whether being a lesbian would be easier because you don't have that whole gender gap thing to contend with.  I'll personally never know, however, and I know that because of the little jolt I got when Donnie Wahlberg came on screen wearing this adorable little tweed cap to promote the new season of Boston's Finest.  I was just born that way.  Just like my lesbian friends were born the way they were, so we're playing the hand we're dealt, and so is everyone else out there.  But, the thing is, the older we get the more baggage we bring to any relationship - hetero or otherwise - and that complicates that whole topic of understanding.  Maybe you can relate to being emotional because you're a female, but can you know all the background and life experiences that led to someone needing a team to beat another team SO badly that it would illicit tears of happiness when they did?  Not unless you were right along side of them as they went through it.  So, how does one meet someone who can truly "understand" them?  Seems pretty hard to me.

Your retort then might be that what you meant was someone who "accepts" you.  And ultimately, I think that's probably right.  It's the key ingredient, and it's a bigger part of the recipe the older we get and have more to accept, which is not necessarily a bad thing.

But, truly, what I was chewing on in light of the particular subject matter of my dream, was whether men really want women to be obedient.  Would any man in today's day and age really want to be partnered with a Stepford wife?  I don't know any women who are even close to being one, and for that I'm eternally grateful, but I do sort of wonder if that man is out there.  If perhaps not only is he out there, but if he is part of a large secret society.  Could it be that in point of fact all the men I know secretly want that sort of partner?  I don't know, so I guess I've gone a long way round to ask:  guys, do you?

Monday, October 14, 2013

Raisin' It!

I know I always start posts centering about sports by saying it's not really about the sports.  This one really is just about the sports.  Because, while baseball has never been my thing (hitting a ball I guess is just not as interesting as hitting one another), I have always loved baseball stories.  They seem to touch the best of us as a country.  What's the saying?  Mom, baseball and apple pie.  And while this is not a story about a baseball movie, it could be one.  Maybe it will be someday.  I would like to write the screenplay for it actually - I've even daydreamed about how I would begin it.  Unfortunately, it wouldn't have the ending I had wanted, but it's still a pretty good story.  Problem is, I would need a collaborator because baseball has a poetry that one can only release if one knows and loves the sport.  It's the song of a hundred summers, of the smell of hot dogs, sweet cotton candy, and fresh dirt and grass.  It's the memory of lazy summer afternoons spent at the ballpark.  And it's the story of the Pittsburgh Pirates and their city in 2013.

To really start at the beginning, you'd have to go back 21 years.  That's the last time the Pirates had a winning season, let alone made the playoffs.  But I wasn't around, so we'll skip ahead.  To 2011 when I first got here.  I knew about them of course.  I saw the t-shirts when I was here in 2007:  "Pittsburgh Pirates:  Re-building since 1992".  After the Pens and the Steelers both won championships in 2009, that was joined by "City of Champions...and the Pirates".  I actually liked that one a lot and considered getting it more than once.  I had heard the songs and listened to the grumbling about the ownership; it was hard not to know how bad they were.  But you noticed something as spring rolled around.  People started sporting their Pirates hats and shirts.  One night as I walked Cheyenne home right at dusk, I did a little survey.  Six out of eight houses (where I could see in their windows to know what they were watching) had the baseball game on.  It would seem that, sorry as they were, people were doggedly determined to stand by their team (although they were very vocal about letting the team know that the general school of thought was that a Little League team could beat them).

But I wasn't the only newbie in town.  Manager Clint Hurdle began his first year with the Pirates that spring.  And a funny thing happened.  They had a mid-season surge and actually battled briefly for first place in the division.  Then they collapsed.  But they got a taste of winning and began last year determined to finish what they started.  For a long while, it looked like they would.  The word playoff began being used with Pirates in the same sentence - and not as a butt of a joke.  Then they collapsed again and not only missed the playoffs, but tacked up yet another losing season.  Yet the fans stayed true.

They were slow to come to the ballpark, but the TV ratings were strong early this season.  Gradually, the momentum was just too much to ignore, and the fans returned to the stands.  For my part, the forced frugality of the season kept me from all but one game, but I watched.  A lot.  Half a century of holding baseball in the same esteem as watching paint dry had been chipped away over three seasons.  I get it now.  I get the connection the fans have with the players - because you know them better.  It's a 162 game season with players pitched (pardon the pun) in singular battle against an opposing pitcher.  You see their faces.  You learn their stories.  And the stories are often interesting.  Like every sport, some are good people.  Some aren't, but you fall a in love a little with the good ones and even sometimes with the bad boys.  And there were lots of good stories about the Pirates that deserved to be heard outside the city limits.

So I was there, glued to the TV when they secured the win that guaranteed they would at least avoid a losing season.  And I was there when they secured a winning season, then a playoff berth.  Then the wild atmosphere when they brought playoff baseball to PNC Park for the first time in its existence in a one game wildcard playoff against the Reds.  And I was watching or listening to all of the series with the Cardinals.  And I cheered when they won, and shared their disappointment when the Cardinals staved off first elimination and then took the series.  I teared up when I saw relief pitcher Jason Grilli, the hurt of the loss so clear on his face, when the Cardinals clinched the series.  But I was thankful.  Because they returned winning baseball to this city that I love so very much.  And they returned my respect for the sports fans here.  They proved to me that people here will stand by their team for as long as it takes.  No matter what.  A Pittsburgh sports fan/Star Wars nerd I follow on Twitter summed it up the best actually:

So I can't do it the poetic justice this season and this team deserves, but I would have been remiss not to address it at all.  I hope someone with a deeper love of the game is penning a great story of this season that captures all the magic of it.   Because it's not just the tale of mom, apple pie and baseball, but of redemption and renewed hope.  Somewhere Roberto Clemente must be smiling down on these guys.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Life: After ED and Other Things

I glance through these posts made by these moms on this online support group I belong to, and I realize that the world of eating disorder treatment has passed me by in a few short years.  They're mentioning different philosophies of treatment, debating them, asking one another questions about them and sometimes getting in some rather spirited debates about them, and I'm often left scratching my head because I have no idea what they're talking about.  I think back to some of the things that were accepted theories about the disease when Kelsey was first diagnosed versus what is being espoused now and think that we lived during the dark ages.  Of course, others who are a generation or two before Kelsey would then have the right to say their experience was positively prehistoric.  It's great news on the one hand because it speaks to time and attention being spent on a condition that kills people, but there is the other side of the coin that leaves people like me bereft because it didn't come fast enough for my loved one.  But, be that as it may, the real point here is I feel sort of "apart" from them.  I lived with this disease for nearly a decade.  Kelsey made the ultimate sacrifice to it.  I know ED.  Whatever you say about it and what causes it, I've been inside the belly of the beast.  I know what it does.  Yet, what I don't know about anymore are the tools in the arsenal to combat it.  And a lot of that is of my own doing.  I made a conscious choice to back away from the disease to an extent.  I've got a job, I've got multiple pets with multiple needs, I live in the city of my dreams near all my favorite sports teams, and I've got this little cottage to tend to.  My cup runneth over.  What do I need with The Beast who stole the life of a wonderful and talented young woman, and still monkeys around with the psyche of her equally wonderful and talented little sister?  Nothing, yet everything.

Because it's been on my mind lately that, try as I might to make it so, there is no life after ED actually.  It was, is and will always be a part of me.  It's an intricate thread that weaves the fabric of my life together.  I think the people who remain actively involved in combating the disease, much like cancer survivors who volunteer in cancer awareness programs later, have figured that out.  You can try and walk away, but it will follow.  So, why not take the experience and use it to help others?

I've kept my toe dangling in the pool by being a part of that group of mothers and being a peer grief counselor with NEDA (not that I've done much good there, but...), but I've never dove all the way in.  Even with the online group, I back away sometimes and refuse to read their posts for a while.  Not sure why, but then I'll go back to reading them every day and actively commenting.  Again, not sure why.  I mean, I realize it's because my strength to face the very familiar concerns they share ebbs and flows, but I'm sure not what triggers that.

The National NEDA Conference is in a few days in Washington DC which is not too far from here.  It's a really quick flight and a do-able drive, so why am I not there?  Well, work, dogs and - yes - sports are all reasons, but as I read a post by a woman from Austin whom I actually know who is getting ready to go, I think that I've been a slacker and turned my back on a cause I should be knee deep into.  If I were passionate enough, I would resolve all those conflicts and go.  Yet, I can't imagine doing it.   I am horribly conflicted at the moment.

I've always said not to commit to volunteering until you're ready, so why do I feel so bad?  I'd like to tell you it's because it's like a scab that itches before it heals.  Maybe I'm getting closer to being ready to dive in.  Maybe.  I want to make sure my motives aren't wrong first.  That I'm doing it because I'm committed to defeating a killer as opposed to wanting recognition and sympathy or trying to achieve a sense of self-importance.  I don't know that it's a bad thing to want people to know Kelsey's story so they don't forget her.  She shouldn't be forgotten.  Her pain and struggles should serve a purpose.  She would want that, I think.  But when I think of it, I become exhausted.  I am tired to the bone just writing this.  No, I don't think I'm there just yet.  They will need to carry on at this year's conference without me.  Maybe next year.  Maybe not.  I'm not sure.

But, as I chew over all of this, I do think maybe this is one of the last few things I have to struggle through before I can say that I'm fully ready to get on with life.  That might surprise you.  Maybe you thought I already was.  Sometimes I think so too.  But, I think there are a few benchmarks I can't hit yet, and maybe embracing the fight against the disease that ripped through our family is one.  Learning to have fun without a secret sense of self-loathing is another.  And finally, forgiving oneself.  That's a big one.  I may act like I've got all that together.  But, not quite.  Not quite.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Time! Stand Still!! (Seriously!)

"I turn my back to the wind
To catch my breath
Before I start off again.
Driven on without a moment to spend
To pass an evening with a drink and a friend

I let my skin get too thin
I'd like to pause
No matter what I pretend
Like some pilgrim
Who learns to transcend
Learns to live as if each step was the end"

- Time Stand Still, Rush

I know many of you are wondering how Greg is doing down there in San Antonio.  I've asked him to be a guest blogger and submit an article to tell all of you just that, which he's agreed to do, but not had the chance yet.  My guess is, he's finding "life in the single lane" about as hectic as I do.  Because, for all my bravado of wanting and intending to keep up with the things that drew me to this great city in the first place, I'm starting to break down under the weight of trying to manage my time.  I can tell you that right now, as I write this and watch football simultaneously, I feel horribly guilty and am clenching my jaw because I should be working, but it's almost 9:00 at night and I tell myself that's silly, let it go and write the damn blog.  But then I look at the basket of laundry sitting over to the side and think about the unwashed dishes in the sink upstairs and think that's how I should be spending my time.

And then there's poor Arya Stark, who's been stuck at Harrenhal for weeks and weeks because I can't manage to read more than a few pages of my book at a time.  Winter may be coming, but I'll be in my grave before I figure out when at this rate.

I know it's silly:  there are a lot of people in the world with real problems, and my time management issues are not among them.  And I also know I might be better at handling the big crises, but I fall to pieces over the small stuff, so some of my anxiety is just my particular neurosis.  Yet, for all of that, I can't even begin to imagine how partners of service personnel who are also trying to raise kids do it.  So when you thank someone for their service, make sure you also thank their partner for keeping it together back home, because it's hard.  Damn hard.

Here's a typical day:  I get up a little after 6:00 to scoot the oldest dog outside before I take the other two around the block for morning "walkie-walk" in the still dark of the morning.  Then I have to fill the bird feeders, clean the litter box, make the bed and tend to a couple of minor house cleaning duties before doing a half hour on the treadmill, then showering and grabbing a fast breakfast that I wolf down as I log in for work, checking Facebook as I wait for it to boot up.  Then it's work until 6:30 at night at least (with, I confess it, the occasional check-in on social media throughout the day) when it's time for night walkie-walk, then feeding the canines, feeding myself, dealing with whatever sports is on TV while I deal with more work or some chores.  My intentions are always good to log back in to work and really churn it out, but I just don't have the stamina I had when I was younger.  At some point, hours and hours earlier than I used to, I hit a wall and can't work anymore, so I'll sit and stare at the TV for a while like I'm a zombie until I gather up the energy to corral the dogs to go up to bed.  Then we get up the next morning and repeat the exact same routine four more times until the weekend.

Come the weekend I try to split my time:  one day is dedicated to errands, house cleaning, yard work and a visit to the dog park.  The other day is when I indulge us in the Pittsburgh lifestyle we came all this way to be a part of.  Last weekend it was a movie, this coming weekend it's the symphony.  And always the Steelers, no matter how badly they are doing.  Starting Wednesday, also the Penguins.  And, for the first time in over two decades. maybe I have to make some time for the Pirates at this time of year.  When the two weekend days have flown by, I'm more behind at work than I should be, and I haven't completed all the domestic stuff I should have.

I was doing okay though really until the change of seasons added some interesting elements, and I realized how I had built a house of cards that could easily be knocked down with the addition of just one more thing.  And I watch the leaves falling like rain, and realize that here it comes, the beginning of the one more thing I just can't quite handle.  I don't know how I'm going to keep up with it.  Plus there's the old house that needs attention before winter. (I cleaned the filters to the air cleaner yesterday, but could I get it all back together correctly tonight?  Not on your life!) 

And all of this brings to mind the untold numbers of people who face these same challenges everyday and do it without complaint, unlike me who just whined mightily for several paragraphs.  And then there are all of those people who meet the day with a smile instead of waking up stressed before they even let their feet hit the floor.  Yes, I can tell you now that all the people who've found a way to make life work without a partner may be my true modern day heroes, because I can also tell you truly that there just are not enough hours in the day, but there are more than enough leaves!

Monday, September 23, 2013

Looking for Peter Pan

All children, except one, grow up. They soon know that they will grow up, and the way Wendy knew was this. One day when she was two years old she was playing in a garden, and she plucked another flower and ran with it to her mother. I suppose she must have looked rather delightful, for Mrs Darling put her hand to her heart and cried, ‘Oh, why can’t you remain like this for ever!’ This was all that passed between them on the subject, but henceforth Wendy knew that she must grow up. You always know after you are two. Two is the beginning of the end.” 

This post is specifically for any teenager who may read this.  Because, I know how it is, I once was like you.  I know that you long for the time when you're an adult and believe you'll have the freedom to do what you want.  I just want to tell you what you'll eventually learn on your own anyway:  don't be in such a hurry to grow up and away.  Being an adult sucks.

From as early as middle school I would be out in the courtyard with my friends and watch the cars driving to and from on Main Street with a sense of envy.  There were all those adults going where they wanted and doing what they wanted.  I had no concept that in point of fact very few of the people behind the wheel were actually going where they wanted to.  Rather, they were going to and from work, maybe to appointments.  Some were running errands, but they'd probably rather be on the slopes or at home watching soap operas.  I had no idea that the reality for most of those people was that they were looking over at us as they drove by, yearning for the days when their lives had been so carefree.

However, I did catch a clue that being an adult had its drawbacks around tax season every year.  Dad would bring out all his records and spread them out on the dining room table and sort through them all to organize them for his accountant.  The process would take a few weeks every year, and it got a little worse after he became a real estate agent.  So about the time I was 13, I looked at the table, completely buried beneath receipts and legal pads full of lists and calculations and announced with conviction that I didn't want to become an adult because it seemed really complicated.  I remember the amused looks on my parents' faces when I proclaimed that.  I think they agreed with me.  Of course that sentiment didn't last.

Soon enough, I was dreaming of what it would be like to have my own place.  Whenever my dad told me to turn my music down or made me give up Mork and Mindy so he could watch some dumb old western, I would think to myself that when I lived on my own I could listen to whatever I wanted at 2:00 in the morning if I wanted to.  For some reason it didn't seem to occur to me that I would be too tired from working to be up very often at 2:00 in the morning, and if I was for some reason, I always had neighbors who wouldn't appreciate Tom Sawyer blaring full blast in the middle of the night.

I had these visions of what my dream house would look like - for the record, it was this spacious log cabin built right up against a mountainside, and I always had about five rough collies there - but I never pictured myself cleaning it or worrying over broken pipes or septic tanks backing up, or for that matter wondering how I would afford all of that (because I never really pictured myself with a significant other and assumed I would be a writer or some sort and work when I wanted to).  It's nice to have dreams and visions for yourself, but you have to ground them in reality and realize that it's not just going to get handed to you - you'll have to work for it somehow.

And then there's the whole relationship thing.  Granted, teenage love is full of drama and angst, which is exhausting and potentially painful.  But when you break-up with your high school sweetheart (or whatever it is you call yourselves these days), there aren't custody battles to deal with (hopefully) or lawyers involved (again, hopefully).  There may be some tears, and you may feel like your life is ending, but, trust me, it's so much easier to bounce back at 17.  For one thing, you're just more resilient, but also because there are more fish in the sea.  These days, the fish are all married.  Or their hairline is receding in pace with their waistline growing.  Or both.  Most likely both.  And the men this age want women not too much older than you.  Not that I'm in the marketplace, but I'm no prize either.  There's the advancing grey hair to battle, the slowing metabolism and - you think you hate having periods? - try hot flashes and night sweats!

No, being an adult is not all it's cracked up to be.  And sometimes it's the most lonely state of being there is.

I got an email from a friend from home (real home, i.e. Montana) the other day telling me my long time next door neighbor had passed away.  I loved her growing up.  For lots of reasons - she always had Mars bars in her kitchen pantry, and her door was always unlocked so I could just wander over there and get one.  She let me play dress up with her tulle dresses from the 50's.  She gave me my first Rosary and took me to mass with her (I'm not Catholic - so it pissed my dad off something fierce, which secretly sort of thrilled me - my first little rebellion).  She taught me to listen to Irish music, and how to stand straight and hold my stomach in, and she had this wicked Irish sense of humor.  I was deeply saddened by her loss even though I hadn't actually seen her in literally decades.  I wanted my mom at that moment.  I wanted someone who knew her and I could share stories about the "good old days".  There was no one else in my life who also knew her except the woman who shared the news, and her hands are very full currently with caring for aging parents - she doesn't have time to babysit me as I work my way into acceptance.  Maybe more than a trip down memory lane I just wanted someone to give me a hug because I was sad.   But my mom is gone.  

But, alas, we all grow up.  It's inevitable and there's nothing we can do about it.  Just don't be in such a hurry to do it because sometimes, whether you're 5 or 50, you just want your mommy.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Living la Poco Vida Loca

I believe that every region has its season.  The season when it is showcased at its best.  At least that holds true for the places I've lived.  In Texas, and therefore I presume much of the south, it's springtime.  Spring is when the fields and all along the roadways are a riot of bluebonnets and other wild flowers, and the temperatures are mild enough to allow the inhabitants to sit out in their backyards at night and watch fireflies dance among the oaks.  Spring storms occasionally light up the sky, regaling those below with a dazzling light show and precious rain.  Alas, spring in Texas gives way to summer, but for a brief time, it is a lovely place to be.

For Montana I would have to say it is winter, although summer and fall are none too shabby.  But for many people who brave the cold to live there, they do it to be able to ski, snowboard or take part in the many other winter sports.  There is ice skating on open ponds, tobogganing down local hills, snowmobiling across frozen hills, and hunters delight in stalking big game through winter fields, just to list a few of the things Montanans brave the cold to do.  And there is nothing really like waking up to a fresh blanket of snow covering the Rockies in full view out your picture window.  Winter can be harsh and inconvenient, it is true.  It's a different lifestyle you have to adapt to:  calculating into your commute time the effort to snow blow your driveway, scrape off your car, pull on boots and heavy winter clothing.  But the reward of the majesty of the mountains cloaked in snow is more than worth it for the people who choose to call it home.


For the northeast, it has to be the fall.  The trees explode into vibrant colors and the air turns crisp and cool.  On Friday evenings I can hear the sounds of high school football as I walk the dogs; the sound of marching bands ushering in the weekends, which are crowded with outdoor events like 5k charity runs, arts and craft fairs in the various parks and sports:  lots and lots of sports.  The hardest part of the fall is trying to decide what events one has to sacrifice in order to tend to the errands and the house.  But sometimes cleaning just has to get set aside in favor of some of the offerings the city and surrounding area lay before us.  Sometimes we begrudgingly tend to the chores as quickly as we can so we turn our attention back to everything going on around us.  And for Marissa and me, that of course means a lot of those sporting events.  As everyone knows, Pittsburgh is a sports town, and for the first time in a long time, that also includes baseball at this late time of the year.  Hockey season will begin early in deference to the Winter Olympics, so excitement is growing to see the Penguins back on the ice with a healthy Sidney Crosby.  Only the Steelers seem to be trying to rain on the parade, already riddled with injuries in key positions, but the season is young yet, so there is hope they can right the ship before its too late.

We've got another few weeks before the leaves truly turn and the blazing colors regale us, but the temperatures have become temperate and the fall festivals are in full swing.  The symphony season is beginning, hockey training camp is open and preseason has begun.  The Pirates are in the midst of their final home stand and are legitimately preparing for the playoffs.  The Steelers, such as their year may be, have kicked off the season.  So, Marissa and I have to have that chores versus play debate often.  We've balanced it pretty well by working together.  She helps me with the house cleaning so I can tend to the yard and then there is time to play a bit.  Vaguely as we go about this autumn ritual I will find myself feeling guilty because we're enjoying this bounty as best we can without the father and husband.  I think of Greg in the blast furnace heat of September in Texas, taking care of his brother, away from Ripley, who even my neighbor noticed and commented he clearly loves so much, and wonder if I should be sitting 20 rows up from the blue line watching hockey practice without him.  But what good would it do any of us if I missed it?

Life is a hard game.  No one survives it without some injuries.  I've sat on the sideline for a lot of it due to the little challenges that life hands you:  migraines, money issues, the need to wash clothes and scrub toilets.  And then the bigger issues:  my career, caring for my daughters, and finally, wrestling with extreme grief.  At some point before you know it the season's over and you have to pack up your gear and go home.  So, I finally tell myself that while I still can get in the game, I've got to do it.  I can't waste these clear sunny mid-70's days or I'll regret it and, worse still, resent it.  So I have to set aside those feelings of worry and guilt.  And what I really hope is that Greg has his own magic moments in Texas as well.