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Gratitude

I’ve been thinking about what I wanted to write here in the spirit of Thanksgiving.  For me, in my attempts to be the best person I can be (often falling short), it’s important to have a genuine awareness of all the things that add to my life positively, and to acknowledge those things regularly, whether to myself or outwardly.

I went back and read what I posted this time last year: Thankful.  This struck me:

“I don’t know what tomorrow will bring. I know now that nobody ever gets to say ‘I’ve paid my dues.’ I have no doubt that life probably still has a few more curve balls in store for me, and I hope I can weather them. And although I’m certainly not wishing for more hard times, I respect the lessons and opportunities the hard times have afforded me. Without rain, you can’t appreciate the sunshine.”

I didn’t know it at the time, but just around the corner from that writing things began to spiral downward into one of the darkest periods of my life.  From depression and PTSD following cancer treatment, to Michael’s emergency surgery and multiple hospitalizations earlier this year, to continued concerns about his health, to fallout with extended family, to the protracted battle with the school district over Finn’s educational placement, I can say with honesty that this past year has been, in some ways, far more difficult than the year Michael was battling cancer.  At least then we had a plan.  At least then there were Highly Trained Professionals dedicated to getting us to the other side.  Now we’re just left with the aftermath, free-falling.  And then top it all off by a surprise pregnancy.

So what is it I want to say about gratitude in the face of all this?  (Because the truth is, it’s hard – really hard – to not feel sorry for myself sometimes.)  Well, this is the rain I was talking about in that post last year.  The clouds are still swirling overhead, but I trust that one way or another, the sun will shine again.  It always does, eventually.

In the meantime,   I am thankful for the friends I have in my life who bring out the best in me by seeing the best in me; who I not only trust with my deepest and darkest, but who honor me by trusting me in the same way; who listen and support without judgment.

I am thankful for the reflection and introspection these hard times have afforded me; for the insights I’ve gained about myself, my marriage, and my family; for the strength I’ve discovered in myself yet again to make it through the hard times.  I know that in the end, I won’t be broken.

Another Year, Another Little Girls’ Birthday Bash

Today we celebrated Annabelle and Daisy’s 7th birthday (official birthday was a few days ago) and Lilah’s (upcoming) 5th birthday.

My friend/the twins’ teacher, Caryl, came to help.  Thank goodness!

A dozen little girls arrived and were served pizza and fruit for lunch.

This year’s party theme was: Cake Decorating.  Each partygoer got a personalized apron – these were super easy and fun.  I bought the children’s aprons in bulk (5 aprons for $20) at Michael’s and decorated them with iron-on patches (also bought in bulk from Michael’s) and wrote each child’s name in fabric marker.  Easy squeezy!

We started with Sara Lee pound cakes . . .

Each child got her own on a cake board and went to town:

You want some, don’t you?

Mmmmmm.

Yes, we will be picking sprinkles from the floor for the next two years.  That’s okay, it was worth it.

Each culinary artiste got to take her masterpiece home.

And then it was time for the real birthday cake -

Until next year!

Ashes to Ashes

This morning my ex-father-in-law died.  To say “my” in relation to him almost seems fraudulent, really, because I haven’t been in touch with my ex-in-laws for several years, and so can’t claim them as “my” anything.  There was a falling out, rooted mainly, as best as I can figure, in the fact that I moved on so thoroughly and completely with my life after their son, my first husband, died.

I was never especially close to my ex-father-in-law; he wasn’t a person many people got close to, and our relationship was sometimes contentious.  In the end, there was no relationship at all . . . and yet there was still the tie to Kevin: one of the last remaining blood ties Kevin has to his biological father.

I remember learning a year or so ago that he had been diagnosed with cancer.  I didn’t know what his prognosis was, only that he was already almost 80 at that time and had other chronic health issues that limited how aggressively his cancer could be treated.  I guess I knew on some level that he probably wasn’t long for this world, but I figured that when he died, I would be indifferent to it.  After all, so many hard feelings have been stored up over the years.

When I was told this morning that he had died, however – by Michael, who had received a call with the news while I was out grocery shopping – and I swear to god that when Michael took me into the bedroom and told me very gravely that we needed to talk, I thought he was going to tell me that his cancer was back and that he was dying; my heart felt like it was going to pound its way right out of my chest and I actually had a momentary thought of fainting – I started crying.  Pretty hard, actually.  The tears and the sudden feeling of loss hit me very unexpectedly.  Why did I find myself so sad over the passing of someone I had a mercurial relationship with in the best of times, and no relationship with in the end?

I think it just brings so much home: he was a vestige from a chapter of my life that I left behind a long time ago, and yet will never leave completely behind because of Kevin.  And there is Kevin’s loss in all of this, too.  It is a reminder to me, too, that our time here is finite; all of us, and everyone we know, whether we love them or hate them or are indifferent to them, will one day exhale our last breath, reverberate briefly with our last heartbeat, and our consciousness will sputter and be extinguished like a candle blown out.

And what is at the end – not after death, but just before?  Thoughts of going to be in a better place with people loved and lost?  An accounting, or recounting of one’s life? Regrets? Peace?

I hope that when the end of my life is upon me, I have an opportunity to take final stock, and I hope I will see mine as a life well lived.  I hope I die with a full heart.

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

Pass it on . . .

Another piece I submitted to Yahoo Associated Content was chosen for publication!  I’m feeling a little momentum here, and planning to crack down and get some real writing going when the kids return to school in a couple weeks.  In the meantime, please support me by clicking on the link below and passing it on!

Life As a Happiness Project

Published, Me

Have I ever confided in you, the world at large, that I have this aspiration, this . . . dream . . . of being a published writer?  Well, I do.  If you were to ask me what my passion is, writing would certainly be very near the top of my list.  But I usually feel ambivalent about saying outright, “I want to be a writer,” because, really, who doesn’t?  I have this sneaking suspicion that just about every blogger out there fancies him- or herself a bona fide writer, with fantasies of being discovered and seeing their name in bylines and on book covers.  And who am I but a harried stay-at-home mom with no college education, a lot of opinions and a good computer?  My point?  There are lots and lots of people out there who write, who write very well, and who write about compelling topics.  I’m a small fish in a big sea.

Still, I’m not going to just lie down and admit defeat without even trying.  So I occasionally submit things I write to different forums and venues.  And some of the things I’ve written have actually made it past the editors’ desks and into the public eye.  But this morning, to my surprise, I was greeted by an email notifying me that a piece I recently submitted was not only published, but that I will be paid for it (this is a first for me)!  How much I end up getting paid for it depends upon how much traffic the article gets, and that’s where you come in.  Please visit my article and pass a link onto your friends!   Feel free to share your thoughts with me, and maybe what I wrote will even encourage some meaningful thought and discussion among you and your circle of peeps.

Slow Suicide

Thanks so much for your support, you!

On Not Shaving And Other Acts of Marital Mutiny

The other evening Michael and I were sitting out on the front steps and he ran his hand up my leg and said, “So, how long is this?”  Meaning, “How long has it been since you shaved your legs?”  I was irked.  And hurt.  Yes, there was some stubble, but certainly not full-on fur.  It had probably been three days since I had shaved.

It turned into a bit of a heated . . . discussion (you know, to the extent that a discussion can remain a discussion when hurt feelings are involved).  It’s not the first time he has expressed in some way that he wishes I would shave my legs more often.  And it’s true, I used to be a little more vigilant about it; while I don’t think I’ve ever been an every-day-leg-shaver, I know there was a time, many moons ago, when I regularly shaved at least every other day.  But I don’t have dark, heavy growth, so cutting down to about twice a week hasn’t seemed like a big deal to me.  Not that I have any kind of schedule – it’s more like, when I get into the shower, I run my hand up a leg and ask myself, “Can I get away with one more day?”

As often happens in marriage, more is read into things than necessarily should be.  Why don’t I shave my legs as often as I used to?  Is it that I’ve become lazy?  Apathetic?  Do I just not care anymore about how my significant other sees me?

We managed to pick it apart and get to the heart of it pretty quickly, and thankfully came to an understanding without significant damage to either of our psyches, but it’s had me thinking.  It raises some interesting questions:

How hard do couples who have been together for any significant length of time still try to please the other, at least aesthetically?  How hard should they keep trying?  What does it really mean when little efforts slide a bit over time?

Here’s where I’m coming from – and I only speak for myself:

I don’t shave my legs as often as I used to because it’s a hassle.  Not a big hassle, but a hassle.  I just don’t feel like doing it every day, or every other day, and I don’t think it’s a big deal.  I certainly don’t let it get to the point of being unsightly, and I don’t feel it’s at all a sign of apathy on my part.  No matter how many babies I’ve had, I’ve always managed to shower every day.  I cover the gray.  I wear a little makeup sometimes.  I try to stay reasonably fit.

However, I think I’ve just reached a point of self-assurance where I don’t feel like I have to bust my ass to try to look my best at all times.  There was a time in my life when I did not feel I could leave the house without full makeup, styled hair, and a coordinating outfit.  It takes a lot of work to try that hard, and for me, at least, it was really about insecurity.  Not that I don’t still have my body image issues!  But I’m comfortable enough with myself these days that I just don’t feel the need to try so hard all the time to look good (and whether I actually succeeded before is anyone’s opinion – the point was that it felt paramount to me that I always try my hardest).  I’m a busy, tired mom, and I think I deserve a little bit of a break in the self-grooming department.

If my husband doesn’t like my slightly unshaven legs, how must he really feel about the baggy skin on my belly?  Or the new crop of zits I get every single damn month, rain or shine?  Or is he able to overlook those things because I can’t do anything about them?  These are questions that go through my mind.

See how husband’s and wives can mess with each other’s heads?

Anyway, I guess, too, I would like to believe that any couple who has a lasting relationship can get to the point of being comfortable enough and safe enough with each other that they don’t feel like they always have to be on their best behavior – or look their best – all the time.  When a relationship is new and developing, that’s what it’s all about – presenting your best self all the time to woo the other one.  I’m not saying that trying should ever come to an end – of course, trying to be good people, trying to keep the marriage strong, trying to be good to each other – those things are always important.  But staying on top of the little things perpetually?  It would be exhausting, I think.

What’s a little stubble between lovers?

 

Duped By 3-Ply

I learned a very important lesson while we were vacationing in Cambria last week: 3-ply toilet paper isn’t what it’s cracked up to be.

At home, we go through an incredible amount of toilet paper.  In the main bathroom, which is used regularly by the four females in our household, we easily go through an entire roll of TP every day.  Then there are Kevin’s and Joey’s shared bathroom, and the downstairs bathroom, which are collectively used by the males of the family (sans Finn, who’s still in diapers).  All this time, I thought I was doing my family a favor by buying TP not only in bulk, but by buying the so-called “double rolls.”  Because, really, who doesn’t want more bang for their buck when it comes to toilet paper?

The house we rented in Cambria had two bathrooms, and each bathroom was stocked with three rolls of 1-ply toilet paper.  One-ply!  I laughed.  “There’s no way this measly toilet paper is going to stand up to my family,” I thought.

Well, guess what.  I was wrong.

My personal research project revealed that it is human nature to pull approximately the same length of TP from the roll, whether it’s 1-ply, 2-ply, or 19-ply.  By virtue of this fact, a roll of 3-ply (even a “double-roll” of 3-ply, which, I bet if you weighed it, would weigh the same as a regular roll of 1-ply) will be used up at a more rapid pace than a roll of 1-ply.  I would estimate that one roll of 1-ply in Cambria lasted at least twice as long as one roll of 3-ply here at home – and I don’t think it had anything to do with location!

I contend that the toilet paper companies are out to dupe people!  That’s right.  It’s all part of a huge conspiracy by TP companies to (a) make you think you’re getting a better deal by buying their trumped-up TP, and (b) actually get you to use/buy more TP in order to line their pockets!  What is the world coming to, I ask you?!

Well, let me tell you something, Mr. Big Toilet Paper Corporation: I won’t be duped anymore!

So I decided to shop for my family’s bathroom tissue needs with a more critical eye this past weekend.  Who knew there’s so much to choose from?

In the olden days, people used corn husks.  Or corn cobs.  No, really.

Ouch, is all I can say.

And then, the old standby, pages torn from the Sears Roebuck catalogue.

We really are a spoiled society, aren’t we, with our endless supplies of cushy tissue with which to pamper our southern regions?

Modern toilet paper brands all have their supposed selling points.

Comfort and durability.  Right.  Or, you could just be more upfront about it:

Ummmm . . . ??  Wow.  I’m trying to picture the brainstorming around a conference table that went into that ad campaign.  And also, yeah, like I’m going to like toilet paper on Facebook.  Pfft.

Anyway, I went with plain old Scott brand.  Thirty rolls of 1-ply for $17.99.  I’m taking charge of the toilet paper situation in my house, and proud of it!

The Saga of Finn’s Foot

I don’t go looking for drama, I really don’t.  I could actually do with a whole lot less drama.

Nine days after Finn’s injury, we finally saw a pediatric orthopedist this afternoon (the same one who put Annabelle’s cast on a couple of months ago when she broke her wrist).  Last I wrote, I had taken him to the ER where x-rays were inconclusive and the ER doc said that based on Finn’s symptoms (obvious pain and unwillingness to bear weight on left leg), he was going to assume a growth plate fracture which wouldn’t necessarily show up on x-ray.  He put Finn’s lower leg and foot in a splint and told us to follow up with an orthopedist.

The next morning, I got a call from our pediatrician.  He said that a radiologist had reviewed Finn’s x-rays and concluded there was no fracture, he was fine, and we could take the splint off.  Michael and I were ambivalent – here we were getting two different opinions, and what if he did have a minor fracture that would be made worse by taking the splint off?  We took it off just to see how Finn would respond, and he still didn’t want to walk.  We were leaving for vacation the next morning, which made us all the more unsure of what to do.  We finally decided to put the splint back on and keep it on until Monday and then take it off again and see how he responded.  So we left for vacation Friday morning with Finn’s leg in a splint.

Saturday evening I took the splint off to give him a bath and discovered a pretty nasty blister on his heel from the splint.  I decided after that to just keep the splint off.  He did start to hobble around, but with an obvious limp.  By Monday, he was still crawling most of the time and limping when he did get up to walk.  I called our pediatrician’s office that day and explained what was going on and asked that they get us a referral to a pediatric orthopedist so we could have Finn seen as soon as we got back into town.

We got back into town late Wednesday afternoon, and our insurance carrier still had not authorized the referral.  By yesterday morning, Thursday, it still had not been authorized.  We called Anthem/Blue Cross directly and were told that, yes, a request for authorization marked “urgent” had been submitted by our pediatrician’s office, but they have FOUR DAYS to authorize (or reject) a request.  Four days to deal with something marked urgent!!  I was livid.  I called the orthopedist’s office just to try to secure an appointment pending the authorization from Anthem/Blue Cross, and they wouldn’t even deal with me.  I offered to pay out-of-pocket – still no dice.  I was told that since they are contracted with our medical group, they cannot make an appointment for us or accept an out-of-pocket payment without our insurance carrier’s authorization.  Seriously.

Okay . . . what the fuck??  Where are the patient’s best interests being looked after here?  I have a three-year old with an obvious injury, possibly a fracture, being left untreated and possibly being exacerbated – and nobody cares!  It was a very powerless and frustrating feeling.

Finally, after various phone calls, we got the authorization from Anthem/Blue Cross.  (Remember that name!  When you hear their commercials, don’t be fooled into believing that they actually give a flying crap about YOU or your wellbeing, it’s all about the bottom dollar, my friends!)  I called the orthopedist’s office to make an appointment, and now I was told that if I wanted to be seen Friday (today), I would have to go to their Mission Viejo office.  Mission Viejo is about 30 miles away, versus the 7 mile distance their Orange office is.

I kind of had a meltdown at this point.  And I hung up the phone, after saying, thanks but no thanks.  Seriously, I would have to take all six kids in that case, to drive to their MV office, in some of the worst traffic you can imagine.  It would have likely been an all-day affair.  I called our pediatrician’s office back to see if they could refer me to a different doctor.  “Yes, but you wouldn’t be seen for two weeks or more,” I was told.  I hung up the phone and cried.  God dammit!  I just wanted someone to see my little boy and figure out what’s wrong with his foot!

After pulling myself together, I called the orthopedist’s office back, prepared to take the appointment in MV.  What choice did I have?  Fortunately, the angels were smiling on me at that very instant (snicker), and I got a different receptionist on the phone who went ahead and squeezed us in for an appointment in their Orange office.

So I took Finn in early this afternoon.  The same doc who put Annabelle’s cast on examined Finn’s foot and leg.  He noted obvious tenderness in Finn’s shin area.  He said he would take another set of x-rays (the ER only x-rayed his ankle and foot) and expected to see a fractured tibia (!!).  I was furious all over again, thinking, great, Finn’s probably been hobbling around all this time with a broken leg and nobody has wanted to do anything about it!

He took x-rays of Finn’s leg and the x-rays showed . . . nothing.  Zip.  Zilch.  Nada.

Sigh.

The ortho doc was very surprised.

He concluded that there could be a tiny hairline fracture somewhere that’s just not showing up on the x-rays.  Or it could be a bruised bone.  Or it could be some sort of strain.  Whatever it is, he didn’t seem to think it warrants a cast or splint at this point.  He predicts that Finn will limp for another week or two, and that whatever it is will gradually get better.

And they all lived happily ever after.

The end.

Finn’s Transition to School District – Part VI

No IEP in today’s mail.  Michael called the school district again.  Program Coordinator not in today.  He was able to track down someone else who told him that Finn’s IEP went out in today’s mail via certified mail.  Nobody will be here to sign for it tomorrow.  Nice.

I still don’t understand.  They were in such a rush to conduct the IEP meeting, and somehow were able to organize it, with a half-dozen people in attendance (minus us), but nobody got around to dropping the paperwork in the mail until today – a week later?  Paperwork that had to have already been drafted and sitting there on the table at the IEP meeting.

Talked to a special ed attorney today.  The thing about hiring a special ed attorney is it costs money, and we’re not exactly rolling in dough.  Michael was able to talk to him on the phone for about twenty minutes, though, and the guy said that in actuality, it’s not just that they’re supposed to conduct the IEP meeting by the child’s third birthday, they are supposed to “make an offer of services” by the child’s third birthday.  An offer of services, in this case, is the written, proposed IEP.  So the fact that they held the IEP meeting before Finn’s third birthday didn’t do a whole lot to cover the school district’s ass since they still, a week after his third birthday, have not gotten the written, proposed IEP to us.

But it all boils down to damages.  Do we have any actual damages?  If so, what are they?  Like this attorney said, the school district can make a thousand procedural screw-ups, but if, in the end, the child is not harmed, then it’s kind of moot.  So we can’t make a determination until we see the IEP they are proposing for Finn.  Which, did I mention, we have not yet received?

I am lately having fantasies of Michael changing his professional focus to special education.  We could open our own law practice.  I could dust off my old paralegal skills.  I never thought I’d want to be involved in the legal field again, but if it were something I was personally passionate about . . .

And Finn could work there one day!

Inked Again

It starts with a flittering thought at the back of your mind . . . a wish to have a mark placed on your body.  What drives this wish?  Any number of things: a genuine appreciation for something that can be beautiful and artistic; the wish to have something symbolic and personally meaningful commemorated in a permanent way.  It can be a statement: I am my own person; I don’t follow the rules of who you think I should be.  This is my life and my body and I am in control of both.

I was 32 when I got my first tattoo. When I got that first tattoo, the tattoo artist said to me, “You’ll be back.”  I scoffed.  I had only ever intended to get one tattoo.  And yet, just a few weeks later, I was back.

There is something about getting another tattoo.  Slightly rebellious, a little anti-establishment.  There is something about being willing to make that permanent committment to having a mark on your body.  There is the slightly nervous buzz as you enter the tattoo parlor, the rush as the sting of the needle enters your skin and you know that there’s no turning back.  The cringing through the pain, and running your fingers lightly over the raised, swollen skin afterwards, knowing the mark is a part of you now, forever.

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