What is love?

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I have always believed that people show love in different ways.  I love mailing greeting cards for every occasion possible…it is one way I let the people I care about know that I am thinking of them.

During the 41 days my father was in the hospital and nursing home and ever since he got home a week ago, my mother has been glued to his side.  Without knowing it, both my sister and I spoke to our respective therapists about my mother’s weird devotion to him.  He has treated her so badly for so many years, it is hard to understand why she even cares about what happens to him.

However, my sister and I were at the hospital and nursing home all the time, too- even when he had psychosis and was acting so horribly.  We brought him milkshakes and food he liked.  My sister brought her toddler to visit “Papa”.  We basically all put our lives on hold to take care of him.  Clearly this is learned behavior because I did the same thing when my exboyfriend was in the hospital for 28 days…I sat by his side, putting my life on hold.

I have never doubted that my father loved me (and my mother or sister).  I never doubted my exboyfriend loved me either.  They both just had such a hard time showing it because of their addictions to alcohol.

My dad showed me love by providing for our family, for making sure my sister and I had every opportunity possible, including going to college.  He showed love by making sure we had a beautiful home.  He showed love by buying my mother, sister and me matching bracelets for Christmas one year.  He showed love by building me a dollhouse that I can pass down to my niece. He showed love by crying when I told him I was miserable and getting divorced. He showed love by helping me with my mortgage for the summer so I wouldn’t have to worry about money after my boyfriend moved out abruptly.

My exboyfriend showed me love by supporting me working through my anxiety.  He showed me love by convincing me to give up a summer job that made me unhappy.  He showed me love by getting me “just because” flowers.  He showed me love by sending me cards, because he knows I love getting mail.  He showed me love by embracing my sister and loving our niece.  He showed me love by caring about my mother.

Neither of these two men loved me in the ways that I necessarily wanted or needed, but they showed me love in the way THEY knew how and I try to be appreciate of that.  I am very happy right now to be with someone who is able to show me love in the way that I need (physical affection, open communication, security) and who accepts my love in the way I give it.

‘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!

 

The year of firsts…

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Having a baby niece has been amazing for so many reasons.  These past few five months have been some of the best of my life.  I am so lucky to live so close to her and to be such a big part of her growing up.  It has been so fun to see all of her “firsts”, especially holidays.  In an alcoholic family, holidays can be dreadful and stressful.  I have definitely experienced my fair share of ruined holidays.  I jokingly said to someone the other day that I feel like my niece is the reward for having such a dysfunctional family.  She is just so sweet and innocent and happy.  And she makes my sister and my mother and me SO happy.  Tonight was her first Halloween and my mom made her costume.  I know this was such a wonderful experience for my mom- to make something special for her granddaughter.  It may seem silly that we all dressed up and made such a big deal about a baby going trick-or-treating that isn’t even able to eat candy yet, but it was just another of so many sweet memories with her.  I usually do not look forward to Thanksgiving and Christmas the same way other people do- I mean I still really like the holidays, but since they involve my family, they are usually stressful.  But this year feels really exciting and special and it is nice to actually be looking forward to the next few months!!

Auntie Bear

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Ever since my niece was born, I more clearly understand the concept of being a “Mama Bear”.  I do not have children of my own and she is the absolute best thing that has ever happened to me.  I would do ANYTHING to protect her.  She is only four months old, but it is already frightening to think about all the things in the world that could hurt her- both physically and emotionally.

Growing up, I was super protective of my younger sister.  It was always just the two of us and having an alcoholic father made us incredibly close.  She is only three and a half years younger than me, but a lot of the time I felt partly responsible for her.  And now she has this beautiful, innocent daughter of her own.  Our childhood was so painful and traumatic…I just want my niece’s childhood to be a happy one.  I want her to look forward to holidays instead of dreading them.  I want her to be excited to spend time with her family rather than hating every second of it.  I want her to be able to look back on her childhood as an adult and be full of happy, fun memories.

Today, my sister brought the baby to my parent’s house.  My dad has only seen his granddaughter a handful of times since she has been born, although my parents only live 45 minutes away.  My mom and sister were out together and my mom convinced my sister to bring the baby inside.  Dropping by my parent’s house unexpectedly has always been a wildcard and it is something that is generally always avoided.  It is just too much of a risk, not knowing if my father is going to be drunk or not.  Long story short, against her gut instincts, my sister reluctantly agreed to go inside and my dad was indeed drunk. While she was pregnant, my sister told my mom she was not going to have the baby around my father if he had been drinking.  My mom tried to convince my sister to stay and even wanted to placate my father by letting him hold the baby for a few minutes. Luckily, my sister did not have to stay at the house long and was able to make a quick escape before anything bad happened.  My dad was sloppy and yelled as she was leaving, but it obviously could have been worse.

On her way home she called me and was upset with herself that she allowed my dad to see the baby after he had been drinking.  We both agreed that my mom put her in an awkward spot, which made me recollect a lot of times my mother did that throughout our childhood.  Strangely, I have never really held a lot of resentment towards my mom and she, my sister and I are very close.  I think I always thought of my mother as a victim, too.  However, there are memories I have where she should have protected us more.  My sister has made the point that my mother “sacrificed” us- making us bring my dad dinner so she didn’t have to or forcing us to confront him about his drinking.

I hate thinking about my baby niece in that situation.  I don’t want her life being influenced in any way by alcoholism or addiction.  I also know that I can’t control that 100% or prevent other bad things from happening in her life.  I am just incredibly grateful that I am able to be a part of her life (and am able to spoil her!) and I will always do whatever I can to make sure her childhood is as happy as possible.

#aunt

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My sister had her baby in the middle of May and I. am. in. love!  My niece is only 6 weeks old and I think I have taken like 800 pictures and videos of her.  I am clearly biased, but she is the sweetest, most beautiful baby ever.  Luckily, my sister only lives 2 miles from me, so I have seen her almost every day since she was born.

My boyfriend has been very stressed out lately with work and has also been struggling with bad depression.  I am so happy that he is very taken with the baby too and is a great uncle to her.  Last week, after a particularly crazy work day for him, he saw the baby at night and was holding her and made a comment that he felt so much less stressed out just watching her sleep in his arms.  It was such a sweet thing to say, but it made me think about the effect that having her around has had on all of us.  I look at this little baby and I just want her to have the best life possible.  I teach The Great Gatsby to my 11th graders and in one scene Daisy says about her young daughter, “I hope she’ll be a fool- that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.”  I always thought this was a cruel wish for a mother to make, but now I sort of understand more what Daisy meant.  I certainly want my niece to be very smart and very well-educated, but what Daisy really meant is that she wanted her daughter’s life to be EASY.  I know things will not always be “easy” for my niece, that is unrealistic, but I want things to be better for her than they were for my sister and me growing up.  We suffered through so much trauma and I want my niece to have a wonderful, happy childhood.

A super embarrassing thing about me is that I still suck my thumb.  I am 38 years old.  It is my one true vice and I have done it all my life.  I saw my baby niece put her thumb in her mouth the other day and I was like, “noooooo!”  I know babies do that when they are hungry or for self-soothing, but I don’t want her to have that- or any- bad habit.

It will be amazing to watch her grow and learn and see the person she becomes and I hope to be a very positive influence in her life.  I don’t want her to be afraid of things the way I am.  I want her to be confident and strong…and maybe someday be a teacher (lol!).

Oh Baby!

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My sister is pregnant and is due in about a month.  It is really exciting, but also sort of hard to believe that in a few weeks, there will be a little baby girl in our family.  I am so happy to become an aunt and I can’t wait to meet my niece, but it has been a difficult pregnancy for her.  She has been very sick throughout almost all of it and it has been hard to see her suffer so much.  She has had a few complications that could result in the baby arriving earlier than expected and I think it is really hitting her- and me- how much things are going to change.

Even though this isn’t happening to me, I am very close with my sister, so it is having a big effect on my life.  We live a couple of miles apart and talk several times a day.  My anxiety has been peaked for a few different reasons lately, but I think her having the baby is part of it, because it is such a big change…and I am not a fan of change!  For most of our lives, it has always been the two of us.  Yes, we have had our individual friends and our boyfriends and we are both super close to our mother, but we have a uniquely special relationship.  I think because we really had to stick together when we grew up and lived with our dad, that we survived by having each other.  I cannot imagine going through the experiences of my dysfunctional family as an only child.  She is three and a half years younger than me and I was always very protective of her.  I guess it still a little hard to wrap my head around the fact that my little sister is about to become a mother!!