RIP Tony

I babysat my little nieces the other day and I asked the four year old if she wanted to FaceTime her grandmother. She replied, “Mama’s dying”. I couldn’t help but laugh. My mother had a stomach virus, so I’m sure she FELT like she was dying, but she certainly is very alive. I had to explain “exaggeration” to my niece. We then got ready to FaceTime my mom to say hi. Before I could finish setting it up, my niece continues with this:

“My uncle is dead.” I know my sister talks about my exboyfriend/her uncle/her godfather with her a lot and has explained death in a child appropriate way to her. Her paternal grandfather died before she was born, so they talk about him often.

“I know. Unc did die,” I responded, not really thinking too much about it. But then she continued, “Do you want to know how?” That stopped me in my tracks. “How?”, I asked, having no idea what her response was going to be. She confidently replied, “he drank too much alcohol.”

Now, obviously she was repeating this from my sister. My niece is four and does not even know what alcohol is. I was very shocked at her response and didn’t know what to say, but luckily the FaceTime call connected and she started talking to my mom, the conversation already forgotten (by her).

When my sister got home from work I told her about the conversation and we talked about it. First she seemed surprised too and thought maybe my niece overheard an adult conversation, but later she said that she does try to tell her the truth about questions she asks. I wasn’t mad or anything, more just surprised I guess.

My sister and I have had discussions about eventually talking to my two nieces about alcoholism and how much to actually tell them about our father. They LOVE my dad. They only know their Papa as a sober man. And I hate to admit this, but one of the driving forces in my breakup with M. before he died was not wanting my nieces growing up with an active alcoholic in their lives. I am so close with them and spend so much time with them, I just do not want them exposed to alcoholism as children. I am relieved that they do not have anyone in their lives now that drinks.

But I also know that there is a genetic element to alcoholism and it is important for them to know the dangers of addiction. I don’t think they necessarily need to know everything from our own childhood or about my dad being abusive. I feel like that would just be so damaging to them. Growing up, my paternal grandfather was one of my very favorite people. He passed away when I was 12 years old. Many years later, my mother confessed to me that my grandpa was very much like my father- that he was an alcoholic and very, very mean. Obviously he was able to control that when I was around him because I had no idea. I felt so hurt, betrayed, and angry when I found out and I think it marred his memory some. I hated thinking about him in a negative way. I am very appreciative that my sister involves me in these decisions, although I would obviously support her and I know that as their mother she has the right to make all of her own decisions when it comes to the girls.

Last night my sister called me, whispering into the phone. “Tony’s dead! What should I do? Should I go get another fish to replace him or do I just tell her?” Tony is (was?) my niece’s blue and red betta fish. She said she was going to talk to her husband when he got home and they would decide what to do. I quickly googled an article from a psychologist about what to say to children when pets that pass away and sent it to her. It said that most children can handle the loss of their pet and it is important for them to talk about it, feel sad, etc. It is a part of the circle of life.

When asked my personal opinion, I half jokingly said, “well if you can tell her the truth about her Uncle dying, I think you can do the same about her fish.” I guess it kind of bothered me more than I thought that she knew the circumstances of M’s death. But I think more than anything, I just still feel so sad. It’s still SO hard. And I am glad that they still talk about him and loved him so much. I want his memory to stay alive and for everyone to remember him. It is coming up on the one year anniversary of his death and it still feels so raw.

❤️ This post is in memory of Tony 😆 He was a really cool little fish 🐟

There is always something to be thankful for

Dear M,

Happy Thanksgiving in heaven, love. I have been thinking about you SO much lately- more than usual. As you know, before you moved in with me, this time of year was always difficult. I had so many bad things happen in November- filing for divorce, my grandparents passing away, my dad having a stroke, my sister getting sick- I dreaded the month and Thanksgiving went from being one of my favorite holidays to just another day. Then, it became “our” holiday. Do you remember the first time we made a turkey? I can’t think about it without laughing. We must have watched 15 youtube videos and called my mom ten times! The best part was when I made the herb butter mix and you figured out how to get it under the skin. I was crying from laughing so hard. By the second year, we had a lot more confidence, but it was still a lot of work. After that, we were pros! And then, of course, there was the annual (and very epic) turkey leg photo. How that became a tradition, I have no idea, but those pictures are some of my favorite of you.

I know I am feeling nostalgic and not remembering everything. We definitely had some pretty bad arguments, my family always added a layer of stress, and I always worried if you were drinking before and during them being here. But I think for today, I just want to remember the good memories of all of our Thanksgivings together. It is still hard to believe that you are no longer here. After you got sick and we broke up, I made my sister start hosting Thanksgiving at her house. It was just too hard to do it without you and I was too sad. But there is a world of difference between us not being together and knowing you are with your family and I am with mine and you being gone.

It breaks my heart to know that you will never have another Thanksgiving. That there will never be another turkey leg photo to add to the collection. We aren’t having a traditional dinner this year, my sister wanted to do just appetizers and desserts (which would have been right up your alley) and I am secretly glad. I feel like I would have seen a turkey leg and cried. It is pretty weird and funny that something like a turkey leg can make me think of you.

I have so much to be thankful for this year (M, you should see our niece- she is amazing and you would love the baby!) Rather than being sad today, I am going to try to smile and think about you and the happy moments we shared together on this day.

The choice is yours

My sister had a baby girl one week ago. I am so excited to be an auntie again and my new niece is absolutely beautiful 🙂

Of course my parents are also very happy and have been spending a lot of time at my sister’s house. However, my father has been really upsetting and annoying both my sister and me. My mother swears up and down that he is sober. I have my doubts. But even if he is, he definitely has some of the characteristics of a dry drunk. He has a tendency to snap in anger, he calls us derogatory names, he says inappropriate things and he talks INCESSANTLY. Like a full minute cannot go by without him hearing his own voice. It is incredibly irritating.

When my first niece was born, my mother would come down almost every day alone. My father was drinking heavily at the time so he would stay home. It was such a wonderful time for my sister and mother and me. We really bonded and enjoyed every minute with the baby. This time, my mother brings my father every time she visits or babysits my niece. I understand why she does- he doesn’t want to be alone and she is afraid he will drink.

My sister is feeling very vulnerable after just giving birth. Her fiancé is at work all day and she is breastfeeding the baby. She confided in me that she feels uncomfortable doing so around my dad and wishes that my mom would just come visit on her own sometimes. It is not that we don’t ever want to see our father, but I know we both miss the time we used to have alone with my mom.

I mentioned this to my mother the other day and her reaction was kind of surprising. She basically stated that she can’t come down without inviting him (yet she goes shopping every Saturday with her friend while my father stays home alone). She basically said that they are a package deal.

I talked to my therapist about it and she suggested the reason this is so upsetting is because all throughout our childhood, my mother always “chose” my father over us. His needs always came first. And now she is doing that again. I understand that my sister is grown up, but she is still a girl who just wants her mom and my father cannot be adult enough to accept that. Instead, he would take it personally and be offended. Everything is always about him and revolves around his feelings.

Growing up, I never viewed my mom as part of the problem. I always thought about her as “one of us”…a victim of my father’s alcoholism and abuse. And although it is true she was, she was also the adult and we were just small children. We did not ever have a choice. Even if it would have been incredibly difficult, she did. And she still does, but now so do we. Last week my father called me a scumbag. Today he angrily called my mother a “bitch” in front of my three year old niece. My sister finally said to him that if he is going to get angry and use language like that, he shouldn’t come down anymore.

My sister and I are on the same page. We both do not trust my father. His sobriety is too new, too fragile. His past behavior proves that he cannot he trusted alone with a child. That makes me cringe just writing it, but it is true. Even if he physically does no harm, verbally he is constantly insulting people, mostly women. He is sexist and perverted and rude and misogynistic. My mother failed to protect us from him and although I do not carry the resentment I probably should for her, I will be damned before I let him repeat that cycle with my two innocent, precious nieces.

Lucky 21

Tomorrow begins my 21st year of teaching. I honestly do not know where the time went. This job is truly one of the loves of my life. I often say that it was more of a “calling” for me, because I never considered doing anything else. There have been A LOT of ups and downs throughout the years, but I love teaching as much as ever.

This is going to be a really difficult and unpredictable year. I pride myself on developing relationships with my students and it is going to be challenging to do so from behind a computer screen. I feel a lot of sadness…for the students who are missing out on a “normal” high school experience. For the kids who can’t play the sport they love or participate in the school musical. Several of my close teacher friends needed to work remotely from home, so it is depressing to think about going through a school day without seeing them, or really socializing with any of my colleagues. No more Friday night football games or happy hours or eating lunch in the teachers’ cafe or stopping in the office to chat with the secretaries. I feel like this is going to be a very isolating year. We are supposed to enter school, go directly to our classrooms, teach our classes and then go home.

On top of that, my niece is starting preschool and it is still kind of a shock every time I see a mask on her little face. It is so exciting that she is starting school, but I wish she was entering during a normal school year, so she could have recess and play and eat lunch with other kids her age.

No matter what, the show must go on and as a teacher one of the most important lessons I will teach this year is how to make the best of things. And I have a feeling I will be leaning a lot this year myself. Even on days where I might have to put in extra effort, I am going to try my hardest to be a positive influence on my new group of students. At the very minimum, they deserve that 🙂

Trying to be thankful…

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I can’t wait for 2019 to be over, especially November.  It has never been a particularly good month for me, but I always looked forward to Thanksgiving.  It became even more fun when my boyfriend moved in a few years ago.  We created a new tradition where we would prepare the turkey the night before.  I would make herb butter while he searched around inside the bird for the bag of giblets, which he seemed to always have a hard time locating.  He would then rub the butter on, making corny jokes and pretending to run after me with his disgusting hands.  We would spend the night together and the next morning, I would put the turkey in and start cooking.  My family arrived early.  Once we sat down to dinner, he would take an annual photo biting into a turkey leg.  My mom always sat next to him at the table and would always lean in to be in one of the pictures.  I have a picture of him from each year with a turkey leg.  The first Thanksgiving he ate with my family, my dad was looking all around the table for the oversized meat serving fork, only to realize my boyfriend was eating his meal with it.

When we broke up a few months ago, one of the first things I said to my sister was that I was not hosting Thanksgiving this year.  Luckily, she bought a house and so it seemed like a natural transition to move the holiday to her place.  I am just dreading it.  Everything about Thanksgiving reminds me of him.  And it is especially difficult because I keep imagining him alone.  I know that it is really his own fault that he is, but it still is really hard not to feel sad about it.

Each year, my sister and I attend a local craft show.  There is a woman who will personalize Christmas ornaments with names.  Each year, I bought a different one with his and my names on it.  Last year, it was two little wooden stockings hanging on a mantlepiece that said “and the stockings were hung…”.  The red and white stockings had our names written on them.  This year, I was looking at the ornaments and noticed the same ornament, but with a solitary stocking. “and the stocking was hung…”.  I wanted to get it, but my sister said it would just make me sad to see the ornament on the tree with only my name and a singular stocking.  It was just another reminder of everything I have lost this year and how alone I am now.

When I got home from the craft show, I pulled out the box with all of my Christmas ornaments in it and went through them.  I took out all of “our” ornaments, but he also had some ornaments of his own, two in particular that were from his godparents when he was a baby.  I am hoping to be able to enjoy Christmas more than Thanksgiving, so I decided to mail him the ornaments now, rather than letting them just wait for me to discover them again when I decorate the tree.  I packed them up carefully and went to the post office, where I proceeded to cry the entire time.  It was like another piece of him gone, another reminder that our relationship is permanently over.

I was not expecting a response from him.  He had messaged me a few weeks ago saying he missed me and I did not respond.  I found out his grandfather died last week and he did not tell me.  It was difficult, but I decided not to send him a sympathy card.  We truly have had no contact.  However, he did text me and it was not to say thank you.  He demanded that I never mail him anything ever again and if I find something else of his in my house to discard it.  He also accused me of knowing that he was at 90 days of sobriety and that I was purposely trying to upset him.

I talked to my therapist and told her that my intentions were not the way he interpreted them, although I can see now from his perspective how it might have been difficult to open a package from me, not knowing what it was.  I truly thought he would want those childhood mementos and I also really wanted to get it over with as far as returning them.  After thinking about it for a while, I have to admit that maybe a subconscious part of me wanted to hurt him.  I certainly would never, ever do something on purpose to tempt him to drink and I find it unfathomable that he could even consider that.  But I am still hurting SO badly and I feel like I never had the opportunity to really be able to tell him that.  I know he knows he hurt me and I know he is sorry, but I do not think he really understands the degree to which I have been affected.  I doubt he knows that when I close my eyes at night, I picture his limp body on the hospital bed, with tubes and wires all over him.  I feel so traumatized by the experience.  I really don’t think he knows that.  I think he thinks that I am heartbroken by his unfaithfulness and hurt by how his family treated me and angry about his lies and those are all true, but he cannot possibly know what it was like for me to sit in that hospital room day and night for almost a month, not knowing if he would survive, but also knowing that if he did, our lives would never be the same and our relationship was over.

Growing up with a violent alcoholic father made holidays very unpredictable and often very volatile.  I could write ten different stories about ten different horrible things my father did to ruin holidays while I was growing up.  I am sure most children of alcoholics can do that.  When I took over Thanksgiving and started hosting it at my house, it became a holiday that I could control.  It became less about stress and more about the traditions that my ex and I created to prepare the meal.  There were never any issues (my father is usually well behaved when he is a guest in someone else’s home).  My family would arrive early and leave early and he and I would watch a movie or take a nap.  It was just…nice.  I feel like I am going to see the turkey leg this year and just bawl my eyes out.  I miss him so much.  It is so, so hard to not know what or how he is doing.  He lives so close, but I feel so far apart from him now.  Our lives have moved on separately and now there are things we don’t know about each other.  His grandpa died (which I only know because my best friend is his cousin), he started a new job (someone told me he posted on Instagram), I am sure there are things I don’t know about at all.  He doesn’t know about the problem I had with a student at school.  He doesn’t know that my sister had a miscarriage last week.  He is still the first person I want to call when something happens.  I just can’t.  It just all hurts so much still.

I bought a journal on Amazon at the recommendation of my psychiatrist.  It is a gratitude journal where each night you can write three things that happened that day that you are thankful for.  I plan to start using it because it is easy to slide down into the rabbit hole of sadness and self-despair and depression and only think about the bad things.  I know I need to start recognizing the wonderful, beautiful, happy moments that have been overshadowed for so long.

So, to practice…today I am thankful for:

  1. The hysterical “30 Rock”, which I binge watched all day while grading papers
  2. My sister’s house being a five minute drive away, so I can see my niece every day
  3. Nyquil (bc I am sick and I know it will help me sleep tonight lol)

 

 

‘Tis the season

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Normally, my boyfriend and I do not go to my parent’s house on Christmas Eve, because they come to our house on Christmas Day.  The past couple of years, my sister, her fiancee and now their baby still go up there…I think a lot of it is out of obligation on my sister’s part and so my mom is not alone with my dad on a holiday.  Over the years, I have opted out, mostly because my boyfriend doesn’t enjoy going there and because my dad is a wildcard when it comes to his drinking, although he usually stays sober on holidays and if he knows he is seeing family.

For the past few weeks, my boyfriend has had a tough time dealing with his depression and my mother has been very understanding and supportive of him.  I think to show his appreciation, he surprised me by suggesting we go to my parent’s house to surprise them on Christmas Eve.  I told my sister we would be there about an hour after them (we both live about 45 min away from my hometown) and to keep it a secret.  My boyfriend bought my mother a beautiful plant and I picked out a couple of special gifts to have my family open early.  I was actually looking forward to it- my parents have a beautiful home with a big fireplace and I knew how happy it would make my mom to have us all there together.

As my boyfriend and I were getting ready to walk out the door, my sister called me in tears. “Don’t come. Dad’s drunk.” I hung up with her and burst into tears.  I should not have been surprised, but I was really disappointed.  And I felt so bad for my sister, who tries so hard around the holidays to make everything festive (and we were supposed to celebrate her birthday, too- my sister said there was a homemade birthday cake for her on the counter). What made it 1,000 times worse was my mother was crying as my sister left (she literally walked in the house, my dad was yelling, she saw he was drunk and immediately left.)  My mother NEVER cries.  To know that she got everything all ready, made appetizers, baked my sister a birthday cake and waited anxiously to see her granddaughter, just to have my dad ruin it by drinking is so sad.  Even though I am sure she was heartbroken, she told my sister to leave and go home.  I called my mom to see what was going on and she kept choking back tears during our conversation.  But she also told me not to come- that my dad didn’t deserve to have his family around him if he was going to act the way he does.

My sister sat in her car in their neighborhood, unsure of what to do- she felt too guilty to leave my mom alone on Christmas Eve, but didn’t want her 18 month old daughter exposed to my father if he was belligerent.  After I finally called my dad and assessed that he did, in fact, drink, but was not “that” drunk, my sister decided to ignore my mother’s pleading and went back.  My boyfriend and I jumped in the car and got there as fast as we could.  I was definitely anxious on the ride there, imagining the possible outcomes in my head.  I guess we figured if my dad started acting up, we could all just leave.  Luckily, he behaved himself for the most part and the night was salvaged.

It just sucks.  I just wish I had more normal family and a dad that wasn’t an alcoholic and holidays could just be less drama-filled.  I know everyone has issues with their families and no one’s is perfect, but when I talk to my friends or look on social media, most people appear to have relatively normal families and holiday celebrations.  I am so grateful it turned out okay and that my mom was happy in the end, but I know in the back of my mind that night could have ended very differently and it definitely put a bit of a damper on Christmas.

Thankful

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It is SO easy to dwell on negative feelings and problems.  I have had a very difficult couple of weeks lately .  My dad’s drinking has been out of control, my boyfriend is severely depressed and I just found out my ex-husband is having a baby.  I really want to try to stay positive, so I decided to make a list of some of the things I am thankful for to remind myself of how lucky I am.  So in no particular order:

  1. My 18 month old niece…the love of my life
  2. My pets, who always make me so happy
  3. My job- I truly love teaching and feel like I make a difference
  4. My close relationships with my mom and sister
  5. My Hyundai Tucson- it’s my favorite car I have ever had
  6. My friends- who are always there for me, no matter what
  7. The Office…best show ever (“that’s what she said”)
  8. My house- I am proud of owning my own house
  9. Being financially stable and having a savings account
  10. My heated blanket- it’s so awesome
  11. Being able to spoil my niece as much as I want
  12. My boyfriend- we have stood by each other through thick and thin
  13. My health and being able to afford a personal trainer
  14. Being in therapy with a psychologist that I really trust
  15. Decorating my house for fall, Thanksgiving and Christmas
  16. Getting a card in the mail (or sending a card to a friend)
  17. Having a good relationship with my boyfriend’s parents
  18. Loving to read and having access to good books
  19. All of my cherished memories with my grandparents
  20. Cardigan sweaters- my wardrobe staple

Happy Thanksgiving 🙂

Time flies…

When my sister was pregnant, so many people gave her the advice to enjoy every minute of the experience of motherhood. She heard the quote over and over, “the days are long, but the days are short.” Even being an aunt, I can see the truth behind this- in the blink of an eye, my niece is already one!

I can apply this to so many other parts of my life, too. Teaching, for one. This is the end of my 18th year being a teacher and it is hard to believe it! It seems like yesterday that I was finishing up my very first year. There are SO many days that feel endless, especially ones spent reading a novel with five classes filled with 28 teenagers, yet at the end of the year it always feels like it went so quickly. Here we are in June already- another graduation, another summer…

When I was a teenager myself I used to wish I was 30. In my mind, being a real grown up would mean having the ability to make my own choices. I would lie in bed at night listening to my parents argue and fantasize about having my own (very quiet) house and being “old”. And now I am almost 40…which is hard to wrap my head around. Of course the irony is that young people want to be older and older people miss being young.

When I was getting divorced, I lived minute my minute. The pain I felt seemed unending. I never thought I would get through it. Yet now, so many years later, it is like a distant memory. I guess time heals all wounds?

I already miss my niece being a little baby, but it is fun seeing her turn into a funny, happy (and sometimes stubborn!) toddler. I see her almost every day and marvel at all of the new things she learns. I wish it wouldn’t go so fast, but I remind myself it is better than it not happening at all!

Celebrate good times…come on!

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This past Sunday was my father’s birthday.  He had been in the hospital for the four days prior, so I was fairly confident that he would be sober (he had just been released the evening before).  I was very pleasantly surprised that we had SUCH a nice time.  It was just my sister, her 10 month old daughter, my parents and me.  It is rare these days that our whole family is together (all five of us lol).  It was really cute to see my dad with the baby- she’s their only grandchild.  My sister kept telling me to take videos and pictures of our father holding the baby and singing to her.  I think we always have the thought in the back of our minds that each time we see him could be the last.  I realize that is very morbid, but he is in bad health and still makes really bad choices.  Each time we have a day like this, we relish the new memories we made with him and the feeling of having a “normal family”. I know from lots and lots and lots of prior experiences not to take days like this for granted because my dad can easily erase the good feelings with one nasty email.

We have a lot of fun, celebratory events coming up, mostly all revolving around my niece…her Christening, her first birthday, her first birthday party.  My dad has always been able to keep it together for big events like this, which is always a relief.  However, he also has a tendency to cancel coming at the last minute. I never thought I would say this, but I really hope he comes to everything, because I am pretty sure they will be more good memories for our family, and we definitely could use more of those!

A Christmas Miracle

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For most of my life, I have been envious of other people’s families during Christmas.  Don’t get me wrong…even as dysfunctional as it is, I love my family, but there always felt like there was something missing.  I think it was a combination of having an alcoholic father and an incredibly small family.  Growing up, Christmas was always just my mom and dad, my younger sister and myself.  We had no relatives who lived anywhere near us and I have a grand total of three cousins spread across the country.  Many of my friends had big families, with their aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, etc. all living nearby.  Their holiday family gatherings seemed so lively and festive and I always wished I had that, too.

Now in my 30s, most of my friends have children.  I think for most families, many holidays really revolve around children…Easter bunny egg hunts, Trick or Treating on Halloween, Santa pictures for Christmas, etc.  Even though I was pretty sure I was not going to have kids of my own, I still felt a sadness when I would see all the fun things other families did for the holidays.  My small family of four had our traditions, but they were very low key, quiet and often stressful based on whether or not my dad would be drunk.

My sister had a baby girl this year who turned seven months old right before Christmas.  My niece is the sweetest, most adorable, happiest baby in the world (*slight bias!)  This year, the holidays were ALL about her…her first Halloween, where we all made matching costumes…her first Thanksgiving, when she had her very first bite of “real” food…and of course, her first Christmas.  It was awesome- my favorite Christmas ever!  This is the first year I didn’t look through my Facebook feed feeling that twinge of longing for what other people were doing with their families.  That actually just occurred to me for the first time as I am writing this!