Friday, August 15, 2014

Half of Nothing is Everything

There's an essay circulating around Facebook called "16 Things Only Half-Siblings Understand."  I've tried not to use that term, which I despise, half brother, with my boys. To me they are brothers, even though they have different last names and different dads. I realize because of the almost five year age difference, some people don't know Adam is related to Eli and Cal, or that the younger boys even have an older brother, and vice versa.

The realization that Adam had a different dad and would go off with him periodically when they were little, I believe led Eli to invent "my dad with the monkeys" who was his imaginary dad who owned an ice cream store, and a castle and an amusement park. He must have found it quite mysterious and wondrous that Adam had another life outside of our family, so much that he created his own make-believe world away from us. This prompted Cal to chime in with what cool stuff he got to do with "my dad with the giraffes."  Later we were all able to spend time with Adam's paternal grandparents going to Nebraska football games and chilling at the lake.

One incident really gave me pause in how I portrayed our family.  A friend pointed out to me that my answering machine message said, "Please leave a message for Pat, Susan, Eli or Cal," excluding Adam completely. I don't know why I did this (he had his own cell phone?), and I was floored when it was pointed out to me. After that I became hypersensitive to making sure Adam was included in pictures, messages, letters, cards, etc.

I feel a lot of shame at what I just wrote. The truth is, Adam has been the longest term relationship of my adult life. He has been with me longer than my marriage, or any other friendships. I know we are bonded by that, however awkward different stages have been.  I can't tell you how pissed off I was when an ignorant clergy once suggested that I hadn't raised Adam, because somehow his faulty memory or the fact that he didn't want to attend his f---ing stupid services drew him to the conclusion I had abdicated my responsibility as a parent.  *probably need to let go of that resentment*

Adam actually helped me attract my current spouse, helped keep us together in ways he may not even know, and was even a chick magnet for his Uncle Chris. Yes, he was a pretty cute, awesome and precocious tyke. I've always called him my "best boy" and I want him to know he is 1/3 of my Everything.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

I had to use three times for this Post

I thought I was doing fine. I was excited for and proud of Cal for his financial intelligence, organizing skills, and ebullience over finally getting out of Macomb.  I wasn't even cranky with him the last few days. He took off today with a van not too full of stuff.  But on the way home from work it hit me.  I started bawling a couple blocks out of the parking lot.  I almost caused an accident crossing Washington Street in front of an oncoming car.  I remembered his first day of Kindergarten, and never having a problem with the older boys, balked at the idea of this being any kind of emotional milestone.  More like wrecking ball (thank you Miley Cyrus).  That day and today, the day he left for college.

Maybe it was the pressure I am putting on myself at work, which has caught the attention of my supervisor and a trusted colleague, just today, and is not assuaged by any amount of reassurance.  Maybe it's menopause. Maybe I feel bad that my former co-workers are picketing 24/7  for a fair teaching contract. Full moon, Mercury in Retrograde?

Whatever the confluence of events, the empty nest is a real emotional minefield, whether or not I expected it. Luckily Eli and I are driving over tomorrow and switching vehicles. I'm looking forward to getting out of town and making sure they both have what they need in their apartments, maybe even grab a cup of coffee in a cute shop in Uptown. But right now I just want to veg out with a book and a plate of No Bake Cookies. And a box of tissues.

Monday, August 11, 2014


My friend Rob Porter said, "I had to get up early and run away, otherwise I wouldn't have been able to leave. Endless Mountains, East and West branch Susquehanna Valley, Genesee Valley. Those streams and mountains, shrouded in fog this morning with mist rising from the forests. They are my soul."

I imagine it looking something like this:

I thought that was really beautiful, but it's not my soul (home).  This is my soul:

Yeah, Eli took this picture last summer.  He told me on the way home from his summer in New Jersey, on the train between Chicago and Macomb, he felt that pull and that he was home and it was a great feeling. I don't think he'd ever been gone from the Central Illinois area long enough to appreciate that before.

I remember having that for the first time when I lived in Colorado and driving back, being overwhelmed by the cornfields and the small but rolling hills and knowing that I was home.  Yes, the mountains were beautiful and I still dream of them a lot, but the flatness, the endless fields, the silos and the pungent odor of pigs is my heart, my soul, my home.

I think Forrest Robinson said it beautifully (and I can't believe I just found this poem I have saved for many years):
                                              Western Illinois Country

This is the land of the dropping sky
where stars sparkle flat out east and west,
north and south, where you ride at night
on top of the world; and dawn sets fire
to waterbeads along roadsides, cornstalks
spider-webby and silver in the fields, running
forever. No one growing up in hills can know
the origin of thunderclouds, the slow demise
of days in blinding , pink haze or clear azure,
fielding that single star we realize is meant
for us-fresh hope rising in deluge, drought,
and snow to pierce the sky like a church spire,
watchful as a windmill waiting for wind.
This land, flat and haunted by wagonwheels,
washes into the soul like an inland sea,
its tide singing in the summer night air,
calling us forever on our passage home.

Published in Eureka Literary Magazine

Monday, August 04, 2014

The Art of Humility (and Frugality)

My parents always set a good example of humility. At a young age I was taught, however unconsciously, not to be prideful or boast. The message seemed to be that it is best to lower yourself in relation to another person, so as not to embarrass or make them feel bad; their feelings are more important than your own.  This took the form of deflecting and not being able to accept a sincere compliment, not talking about myself unless asked specific questions, always being careful not to flaunt material possessions or accomplishments, and to be sure to let everyone know how thrifty and parsimonious I am, eg. wearing the same clothes for 15 or 20 years, making do with rusty old appliances and utensils, using the public library, riding a bike or walking as transportation.  I remember growing up with the same thread bare bath towels (which are still knocking around my mother's rag bag), which were barely big enough to reach around me, stiff from drying on the line, and secretly longing for just one plush bath sheet that was warm and fluffy when pulled from the dryer.  I later learned these take forever to dry, and have the weird ability to actually repel water...a total waste.  There were certain things I rejected as an adult (reusing paper towels and baggies *although my husband would argue that point*, clothes lines, turning plastic bags into rugs *I kid you not* and thin, cheap towels ) and others I retained  (generally cooking and eating at home, doing without fancy cars or jewelry, saving and reusing paper, rubberbands, etc.) and even exceeded my parents on (thrift shop and yard sale clothes, trash picking, couponing, driving late model cars).  A few things I tried (coloring my own hair, making my own paper out of dryer lint) and decided it's just not worth it. 

More recently I have learned that humility doesn't have to be lowering myself or being ashamed of myself. It is the clear perspective of one's self, as neither above or below another person.  That has been one lesson that is harder to unlearn. I don't really like talking about myself, which is maybe why I prefer writing.  I can pretend no one is reading, and essentially this is true.   

With all that said, here are some things I am proud of (I have worked for them, but I can't say Divine intervention has not played a role, too):

  • My three healthy, smart, talented, funny and unique sons.  They are all different, but I am equally proud of them.
  • Being married for 22 years, though Pat has made it pretty easy.
  • Having a 30 year career that allows me to connect with people, not so much things or ideas, and volunteering my time to help others.
  • Maintaining 15 years of continuous sobriety.
  • Earning my master's degree.
  • Helping my children through college without taking on a debt load.
  • I have been loved.