Friday, May 31, 2013

The Cost of Living

If you've dealt with me this week and sensed that I seem a little thin skinned, you would be right.  I'll just apologize out of the gate.  This was the first time since 2009 that I had to work on what would have been Kelsey's birthday.  It's one of two Big Bad Days a year where it would probably be advisable if I just curled up in a corner and read a book or watched really sad and/or violent movies over and over and avoided other people.  June 20th would be the other one of course.  But real life doesn't work that way, so I geared up and powered through it.  The thing you realize when you expend that much mental energy to survive a situation is that there has to be a release on the other side, and for me it's manifested itself in an extreme irritation at everything.  And I'm exhausted.  I slept through the alarm this morning, just adding to my general sense of frustration because I am so routine driven.  As a matter of fact, right now I've got sports talk radio on in the background and am considering picking up the radio and tossing it out the window.  The very sound of their voices is making me want to scream.  I'm not sure why I'm still listening actually - they get a little off topic on Fridays anyway, so whatever it is they are talking about is only vaguely related to Pittsburgh sports.  Yet, they promise they will be talking Penguins-Bruins at some point soon, so I have stayed my hand and not done violence to the perfectly innocent radio.  Yet.

It is, however, the second time over Kelsey's birthday since 2010 (which has coincided with Memorial Day, which is why I've always managed to be off) that we've been embroiled in a financial crisis.   We were bailed out last time with a minor miracle when a commercial condominium I was partners in sold.  That financed the move here actually.  But, at some point there are no more rabbits one can pull out of the hat.  The only thing I own now is this little house and a couple of cars.  And taxes will come due on the house soon.  That should be interesting because I used the escrow to pay our income taxes, which I had under-estimated.  It's just one of the little shell games I've played for years now.

I used to think I was really bad with money.  I look back on it now and realize that the opposite is actually true.  I've managed to keep a roof over our heads and keep food on the table for both man and beasts (I always managed to feed the 30 head of deer even in the worst of times in what I look back on now as a fit of fiscal madness - but it speaks to a deep emotional need I had to nurture and "feed" something when my own children were starving themselves).  Above all, I've retired the mountain of debt we built up trying to care for our daughters.  But, any cushion I once had is now expended, so when this latest little issue arose, I couldn't absorb it easily and am not sure what's going to happen long term or how I'm going to get us through it.

I remember so vividly the strain on my father's face after he lost his position at the university and was trying to figure out how to support us.  That was a hard, hard couple of years for him as he had to shift career gears suddenly and unexpectedly and do whatever he had to do to keep us afloat.  I can see the physical toll it took on him in my mind's eye even now after all these years.  For me, it's been well over a decade of this.  And, as I've pointed out before, this was all the while when we were actually pulling in pretty decent salaries.  I feel the weight of the stress as a physical thing.  Ironically, it may not be the deep grief of losing my daughter that does me in, it may be the long term devastation of trying to pay for it that finally defeats me.  I'm just not sure I'm strong enough to deal with one more blow.  I am angry.  I am scared.  But most of all, I'm just really, really tired.  Down to my very bones.

But, really, this is not supposed to be a self-serving, sniveling post.  This is supposed to be a plea to anyone and everyone who might read this and have some power or influence to try and change the fate for future families who try to help a loved one defeat an eating disorder.  Recently Texas tried again to introduce legislation to expand insurance coverage for eating disorders.  Several people I know were active in lobbying for it and testifying.  I submitted written testimony.  But, at the end of the day, it was defeated.  Again.  In Pennsylvania, there was a bill introduced before I moved here which did not pass. I don't think they've even tried since.  A lovely young lady I know who lives in yet another state recently had to leave treatment early because she couldn't get long term insurance coverage.  She is a precious gift - a true delight of a human being who deserves every chance.  It's frustrating to me that she's denied that full chance by people crunching numbers who have never met her.  People who don't see the real human cost not just to the patient, but to the families.

What really kills me about all of this:  I am forever impacted by the costs we incurred.  If I get us through this latest issue, I'll always have to be braced for the next thing.  Yet, it wasn't enough.  I spent Kelsey's birthday not having a little midlife crisis because I've got a daughter who is nearing 30, but having a little crisis because I should have a daughter nearing 30 and instead have an urn in my living room.  So, please forgive me for being touchy these last few days.  They've been hard ones.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

The Bitter and the Sweet


We knew these days would come.  I am pretty sure we had all thought about it before.  We had likely all separately contemplated about how we would handle those days that are supposed to be so happy and such watershed moments in the history of a family: weddings, births, and graduations, among other lesser but happy moments.  As a parent, you hope you'll rise to the occasion.  You hope that you'll concentrate on the right things and not think about the wrong ones, and that you'll support your daughter (or son) to allow them to be happy for themselves only and not let in other distractions.  But you're not naive by now.  You know that there will be a big black hole in the room where others are supposed to be - maybe one above all others.

For us, we got some real life experience at it this past Monday.  I am not sure what grade someone else might give us for our performance, but in general, I think we got a C as a group.  As an individual, I give myself an F.  Hopefully Marissa will grade on a curve.  But, whatever she does, she'll be doing it with a BA in Communication.  My baby girl is a college graduate.  I am proud of her, but I don't think I could share the moment the way the moment - and Marissa - really deserved.

To be fair, there is a lot going on and a lot on my mind, but we all know as parents we always have a lot going on and have to be able to set that aside sometimes to support our children.  But, I've hardly got the strength left to be happy about anything, and I think that was apparent.  Nor did I have a lot of time to spare to plan a big day, which many parents across the city were doing.  Hardly fair to the one and only daughter I'll ever have to graduate college.

But the biggest sin was letting in all the others who weren't with us and letting them take over the day, because I think they did.  Maybe for all of us.  I thought about my mom, who in essence is the one who is responsible for getting all there.  Marissa did the work, but Mom's estate paid the bills.  Greg thought about his dad and how proud he would be.  We all thought about Kelsey.  All the time.   It's hard not to of course.  It always will be.  The balance has to be in allowing our love and memories of her enhance the occasion, not overwhelm it.  Kelsey loved her sister so much, she would have been the proudest one.  She would have yelled the loudest as she took the steps up to the stage a student and walked down the other side a graduate.  She would understand in a way that no one else really can what it took for Marissa to overcome everything she has to make that journey, so I sincerely think she would not have liked us moping at her absence.  She would have been royally pissed that we took our eyes off the real ball:  how proud we are of Marissa.  Some would tell us that she was there in spirit.  I will accept that is true as long as we hold her in our hearts.  But we can't let her be so large in our hearts that she breaks them because then we're not present for the other people we hold dear.  I'm not sure I can tell you I had that clearly and appropriately in mind.

All I can you now is that I am indeed proud of Marissa, and she deserves all the happiness and success there is.  Kelsey would tell you that too.  We didn't always agree on much.  We would definitely agree on this.

And Now

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Best Mother's Day Gift

Mother's Day is a tough occasion to buy for these days, I admit.  I enabled the husband early on, long before we were even married, by taking over the gift giving responsibilities.  Mistake.  Now, about a billion years later, when I've been buying his mom gifts for at least three events a year I've run out of good, unique ideas and could use a little collaboration.  But, no, I've trained him so well.  He's rarely got anything to bring to the table.  He's actually got a knack for gift giving:  he does great when he puts his mind to it, but getting him to put his mind to it is the trick.  Like I said, my fault all the way.  But Mother's Day is not a time to just send flowers and be done with it.  As a matter of fact, there probably ought to be two of them a year.  It's the hardest job out there.  Granted, some of us perform at it way better than others.  I have to accept that there is some grain of truth to what Kelsey's boyfriend wrote, and in my daughter's last moments she condemned my performance as a mother.  But, it was not out of lack of love or desire, and the hardest part for me is realizing that I'll never get the chance to say that to her.  Nor to explain that any failings I had stemmed from the very fact that I was and am human with human frailties, emotions and limitations.  Like all mothers have.  But most of us try as hard as we can, and live and breathe the role every waking moment, even when we are away from our children or when they are grown, and therefore have earned a day to be recognized and pampered a bit.

For better or worse, we are here because of our mother.  We survived into adulthood because someone cared for us before we could care for ourselves.  Now, before you get all hot and bothered, Dad's do much the same, but I'm not a father.  I have a better insight into the female psyche. And there is something about the fact that we grew a human within us that makes our gender unique.  It bestows upon us a greater mandate to protect and nurture that person whom we housed within us for nine months in my opinion.  When we betray that mandate I feel like it is a greater breach because we made a choice to bring a living being into the world that only we can truly make.  But, also, when we try and live up to it, it's something to acknowledge and be grateful for.  How many of us said at some point as angry children, our words like daggers, "I didn't ask to be born!"  But, really, how many of us are anxious to trade that status of being alive in?

I've expended a lot of words discussing my mom in this blog.  She was complex and, like most families can say, her impact on me trickled down to how I impacted my daughters and therefore, there will be an indirect influence on any children Marissa has.  Even when I specifically tried to change my style of parenting from the way my mother did it, that still smacked of her influence and impressions.  Of course, as I was discussing with a friend of mine the other day, what she and I both find is that we simply made different mistakes.  Idealism is a wonderful thing, but rarely actually ideal.

Greg's mom is very unlike my mother.  She is much more gregarious and nurturing.  Some of that is just native personality, but some of it is the different experiences she had growing up herself.  Younger than my mother, she was spared the impact of the Depression the way my mother experienced it, and as a child during World War II, she wasn't waiting every day for a soldier to come to the door with news of her husband.  Mother, herself raised by a woman who lacked, by all accounts, much solicitude, was steeled differently by the times she grew up in.  My mother-in-law had her own sorrows and trials to go through, as do we all, but the times she was shaped by were different, and she is softer around the edges, if you will.  Like a warm, soft blanket to my mom's sometimes scratchy more utilitarian one.  Yet, here my husband and I are, products of the two diverse upbringings, one not really any more successful or less successful than the other.  And, although they both had highly unique ways of showing it, both our mothers loved us and did the best job they could for us.  At the end of the day, we had to decide what kind of people we were going to be and what we were going to do with the life we were given.

So, this is a long way round to say that once more I made the decision on what to send my mother-in-law for Mother's Day, and I picked the card.  I hope she likes my choices.  Sometimes she probably does.  Over the years, there have undoubtedly been misfires too, but hopefully she knows the thought and intent are always sincere.  However, it occurs to me that maybe the greatest gift of all is just to forgive our mothers for being flawed, imperfect human beings and thank them for the effort they always showed to rise above that, no matter how successful they were at it.