Mum.

A visit to my beautiful home state of Virginia approaches and I’m part nervous, part warmly excited, part dreading the trip.  To friends, I make light of it with conspiratorial jokes about the five hour car ride alone with my children or the prospect of sleeping in a small room with both of them.  In truth, what should be a lovely trip is usually preceded by melancholia.  Whilst there I am the epitome of false light and bravado and upon leaving, I feel relieved and guilty.

It has nothing to do with my parents and yet, everything to do with them.  Even though I’m married with my own family, the three of us (my parents and I) are all we have and all we’ve ever been.  Even as a kid, as far apart as we could possibly be from each other, we were always a unit.  The unit is tremulous these days; things unspoken, fears go unreleased. We live in the day by day, hoping to make it through okay.

Four years ago I entered a hospital ICU room with my Dad and saw my mother like I’d never seen her before.   Her body purposely swelled with liquid during surgery and covered in long plastic tubes of warm air to keep her at an optimum temperature.  She wasn’t breathing except for the ventilator that was doing so for her.  She looked like my grandmother; her face puffy yet drained and old. Tubes and wires spiraled from her chest, stomach and arms like a sacrificial bloodletting.   She had been a snatch away from death.

A cry tried to escape but became stuck in my throat.  My Dad looked so dismayed.  We stood on either side of her bed, holding a cold knuckled hand not knowing what to say, or think, or do.  Stunned and silently weeping, were grateful just to still have her.

My mother has always been a fighter and two days later when we walked in, she was sitting upright although heavily propped with pillows and cushions.  The ventilator was still operating but the doctors were determined to have her begin breathing on her own.  She recognized me then and I could sense her embarrassment that I’d come all this way.  I don’t think she understood the enormity of the event that had just played out.  I stayed a while with her and suppressed so much in her presence that my heart was sore.  I watched and encouraged her to try to catch her breath, learning to find the life force that was continually out of reach.  Her eyes bulged with the effort of gasping.  I cracked jokes, listened to the doctors, and had quiet asides with my Dad.  But all through the time, I wanted to scream and cry and pound cushions.  Why did this happen?  Why her? What the fucking fuck?  And, oh my god, I know this is hereditary and will it happen to me or my children?  It was as if someone hit my heart with a crowbar and it wouldn’t stop reverberating.

She has been a paraplegic since that day.  The doctors told us it came down to life or limb, and limb it was.

My visits are once-yearly with the kids and once a year, my parents make the five hour drive North to us.  A couple of days away isn’t so bad for an able-bodied person but for a paraplegic there is back pain, skin sores, urine pouches, appropriate bed height, hotels that are equipped with adapted showers and ramps and doors wide enough.  There are medicines, medical supplies, towels, bowel training (which a trip will completely interfere with), and a host of other needs and necessities.  My Dad has become my mother’s caregiver, and at 68 I am concerned about his ability to continue beyond five, even ten years.

When I visit, I do what I can to help; I cook, I clean.  I make small talk with my Mum as if nothing ever happened.  We don’t talk about the depth of the situation.  We gloss over physical therapy, the trip to Mexico for stem cell treatment that seems to have made no difference.  My mum is eager to please the kids and I let her…she wants to buy them things to show her love.  They are nervous around the wheelchair so need some quiet explanation and encouragement alone.  My Dad, who has no-one else to talk to, sits down and vents to me in the evenings.  And I let him.  I sit and listen and nod and take it all in because everything not said during the day comes out in the night with him.

My heart aches for him the most.

And so I sit here with four days to go, pre-anguishing.  I’m preparing with food and money and supplies and things to occupy the kids with.  And I’m preparing myself emotionally and mentally for the onslaught of hidden emotions that always surface from now until the day we leave.

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all the small things

There are changes afoot in my life. Everyone has them. Mine are probably no different from yours. My husband starts a new job this week, the better of the two that he was offered but it’s not the one that called to his heart, it is the one that will bring home money and afford him time with his family. The decision had the familiar feel of being choiceless. Something we’ve experienced many times over the past seven years in our effort to find a way forward, like the strong undertow in a river; we have been swept this way and that without any control. Lately, we have had conversations about moving back to Virginia, specifically Charlottesville. It’s a place where our hearts feel they belong, where it truly feels like home. We’ve been away so long though and suffered much in that time that we fear we are idealizing it, creating beauty out of the commonplace. It cannot be denied (for us) though that we love it there. My gut says go and I’ve learned to trust my gut. His gut is like a frantic child, unsure of what it wants, feeling this and that, which leaves him confused about what to believe in. I give it up to source, I am able for the most part to let it be. This is how I feel and I believe that this is what I want. We will be happier there which can only be beneficial for our family. Of course, I think of the kids and how they’ll cope but I think they’ll enjoy it too, in the long run. My parents live there and they are getting older. My Mum is a paraplegic, my Dad her only caregiver and I want to help.

Anyway, lots of changes I imagine coming up in the next few years. In the meantime, I am reading but cannot seem to stick to one particular book; I want to read them all. On the heels of The Assassin piece I wrote for the Creative Writing Challenge, I have almost completed my first short story. I’m excited by the fulfillment of that but also critical of its content. It it just like so many others? Does it feel childlike or is that just my perception? Aaahhh!!

I am continuing to read “Living With Your Heart Wide Open” and practicing Mindfulness daily. It’s really an easy thing to do, even during the most mundane of things like cooking, washing up, cleaning up cat poo, flossing my kids’ teeth…I am aware that I’m not in the present and by being aware of that, I can bring myself back to mindfulness. I love that.

I wanted this entry to be light and lovely so here are some things that make me smile:

1. I smile and wave to the guy at the bus stop on the way to school in the morning. I noticed that he did this first a few weeks ago. Sometimes it’s freezing out there but he stands there with his ear muffs on and little red lunch bag and he smiles and raises his hands to passing drivers. An action like that deserves to be acknowledged and I do so every morning that I see him. We both smile. He gets it, I think.

2. It’s corny but I love the way the sun’s rays power through morning clouds, like shiny ladders to earth.

3. My skinny kitty curls up on my right shoulder when I’m reading in bed at night. She stretches out her right paw and gently pats my face, tilts hers toward me, pleading with her big, round eyes so that I can’t help but stop reading and spend a moment loving her.

4. Connecting with strangers and making them laugh. I do it a lot. At the grocery store mainly.

5. I’ve discovered a radio station that plays a lot of 70’s music. I do like 70’s music. Disco. Yep.

6. Hugging trees, big and small.

7. Walking in my heeled boots.

8. Incorporating into my ‘going to sleep’ routine, ten things that I’m grateful for that day.

9. Understanding how to let things be. When it happens, it’s amazing.

10. Being in the story that I’m writing.

11. When my kids come to me for hugs.

12. Watching The Amazing Race with my husband. Also, moving my feet in time to the theme tune and finishing it with a flourish of raised hands.

13. My good, good friends who will always give me honest feedback and advice.

14. Hiking in nature.

15. No matter what I’ve experienced, what I’m working through, however unpleasant or joyful it is to do, I’m solid and sound and grateful and blessed.

Lisa…

Take it as it comes.

I’ve lived here…

plymouth2

Plymouth, England

and here…

cville

Charlottesville, VA

and many, many other places in between. Currently, I live here…

de

Delaware

It’s been a gypsy kind of life, minus the caravan. Although, I’d love to have one of these…

Gypsy Caravan

…in my back garden, all nestled in some tall overgrown grass with some hollyhocks and foxgloves. Imagine lounging on the steps during a warm fall evening with a glass of chilled white wine and some noshy things to nosh on. Mmmm…

Anyhoo…yes, I’ve been picking up my stakes and throwing them down all over England and the United States. Made such a mess, you could probably track me down in Borneo if you wanted to. Not going there though, too many creepy crawlies.

My Dad was a Navy man, you see. British Navy, if you please, which meant moving from one Naval married quarters to the next, until I grew out of the primary (elementary) school years and needed a place to buckle down with regularity. And that’s how we ended up in Plymouth, England. Actually, we’d lived there twice before during our early years (that was a fun time – leaving a school at the age of five only to return five years later? All the kids I knew had grown up and around each other. Nowhere else have I ever felt quite like the outsider as I did during the final year in that school.)

Anyway, yes, during my secondary school (middle) years, I lived in that house in Plymouth for six years.

And here’s where I just blew my own mind across the desk. That is the longest I’ve ever lived in a house. From the age of twelve to eighteen. I’m forty-three now and the most I’ve stuck down roots in a house, not a town – a house or apartment…would be three years. Sometimes, I know my up-and-moves came from possessing a restless spirit. Sometimes it was circumstance; a broken relationship here, a job loss there, eviction notice or a condemned house (yes, that happened) – they all necessitated a move.

Just to backtrack a second, it’s probably safe to say that in my entire life, I’ve never settled down. My Mum’s marriage fell apart around the time that I was born (fabulous!), so was forced to find where she could in terms of housing. As a single, working mother in the early 70’s, I’m sure it was no easy feat. She’s told me over the years how she met my Dad (not my “step dad”, because he actually went one step further and adopted me) at a Halloween party when he was docked in Norfolk, VA and how she was sort of her friend’s wing girl, except it was my Mum who met her “One.”

So, at two and a half, I moved from the States to England. New Dad. New family. New environment. A lot to adjust to, right? Even as a toddler. These days, there would be much care taken for the well-being of the toddler and the family as a whole. But back then, there were no outreaches, no helping hands, no sympathetic groups. You had to get on with it. Stop yer grumblin’ and get to work!

Here I am now with two kids of my own; both in elementary school and one not far from the middle. I was adamant before the oldest started school that they would not be shifted and shipped around like me. That they would have a stable education and that they would grow up in one house. Images of my son bounding in after some extra-curricular activity, of my daughter standing on the beautiful butterfly staircase before going to prom…

stairs

…Yes, these very stairs. This was our house, the one we dreamed of living in until the kids went to college. Buuuuut….circumstances outside of our control forced us to move, and move, and move again. And, quite frankly, that gorgeous house should never have been ours. It was out of our league.

I know kids move around all the time. And kids are resilient. Kids bounce back. That’s what everyone kept telling me when mine had to bear the brunt of switching schools. They took the changes in stride, shed a few tears, balked a little in the mornings but on the whole, seven months in, they’re doing just fine.

I turned out fine too, despite the lack of concern for my true well being as a toddler and the subsequent trauma that occurred which might be a bit too personal for sharing. That, and I’ve recovered quite nicely from it so why dredge it all up again, right?

We have more house moves on the cards, I know for a fact and with each one, I become more weary; I wanted to plant those roots and watch them grow (excuse the French Kiss line) a long time ago. I actually really like where we are; it’s the first time in a long time that a place feels like home.

So, circumstance might have some control over the situation but how I deal with it and how my family sees me dealing with it is the most important thing. I just wish I hadn’t unpacked ALL the boxes in a fit of “Goddamn it, I’m fed up with living my life in boxes, I’m going to open up everything and put everything in its place,” when we moved in.

Lisa…