Happy Birthday, Jack!

It was a dilemma I had when my son Jack died and for a few years afterwards:  How to answer the question of how many children I have.  I tried to avoid the question whenever possible especially in those early years when the question made me cry.  I hate to cry. I’ve found it doesn’t help a damn thing when done in public.  Makes me feel embarrassed and whoever is with me uncomfortable.

I also found that it doesn’t help to suck it up and put on a happy face.  Those stupid tears come out sideways.  There is no way to short-circuit the grief.  I call it ninja grief; I’m not sure that’s original.  But it does sneak up on you and exact its toll when you least expect it.  Bob and I fought all day yesterday while we re-arranged the house preparing for his younger son, Drew, to move in with us.  Nothing was going as quickly or efficiently as I wanted.  When the meltdown came, it wasn’t as much about the work as about Jack’s impending birthday.

It was somewhat easier the first year after he died.  I pretended like he had gone off to school and would be home.  For some reason, I could trick myself at least most of the time.  It was in the second year that I knew that life without my son, without the laughter that he invited or the anger that he evoked, was a permanent condition.  One of the moms at a Compassionate Friends meeting said the 2nd year is harder than the first in some ways.  That was incomprehensible until I came upon the 2nd year.

I won’t bake a cake, but pictures his niece Nina posted on FB blessed the start of my day.  I can’t call him and tell him the story of  his birth day, but there was a rewind and replay this morning when I woke up as I remembered GE’s joy at her little brother’s birth and that his first baby visitor was his niece Nina, 4-1/2 months his senior.

Today I thought about Jack’s fourth birthday when he woke us with “Happy Birthday to ME!”  I put up a tree and used the old ornaments, the special ornaments, the ones made or picked out by my children.  When he died on January 15, 2009 they had just been packed in tissue and stored.  I haven’t been able to open the boxes where I stored them 6 years ago, but this year, it felt right.

Time eases the active pain.  Like a leg break, there’s always a tenderness.  The reality doesn’t go away, but it doesn’t shut me down today.  I see that one of his favorite movies is replaying and think about how he laughed when we watched it.  I hear a song he liked or run across a new book by an author he admired, and remembering his enthusiasm makes me smile.  Often over this past week, I’ve thought of angry words I said to him and regretted them.  Too late to take them back, but I defy you to name any mother who has lost a child and who doesn’t have those moments.  I can’t.

This is the 6th Christmas that our card has his face on it.  I know other moms who can’t look at pictures of their children after they’ve died.  I am not one of them. I started drawing him on our card because there is comfort in looking at his face.  I do it because he is a real presence in my life and in the lives of his sister and nieces and family and friends.  I don’t want him forgotten.

December 7 would be his 26th birthday.  IS his 26th birthday.  Time didn’t stop when he died.  I wished it had.  I resented it for continuing, for time to keep passing.  “Life goes on” is what I would have said before I realized how life can plod and stumble. But life can also leap and run and dance.  And that’s what the gift of Jack and time give me.

I have TWO children.  Georgie, who lives near Austin, and Jack, who lives in Heaven.

I have TWO children. Georgie, who lives near Austin, and Jack, who lives in Heaven.

I’m feeling thankful
For the small things, today
I’m feeling thankful
For the small things, today

Happy, Happy Birthday to me
Happy Birthday to me
And to you.
  —David Lowery

Posted in Family, Grief, Holidays, Sober Life | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

My inner 13 year old

I want HEB to put these signs up.

I want HEB to put these signs up.

On a bad day, I not only want my local grocery to post this sign, I would voluntarily enforce it.  Those are the days when I am certain the car traveling the speed limit is going to make me late.  (Don’t they realize that DPS never gives tickets for 5 mph over the limit.  Pick it up, people!)  

Bob says that I always estimate it takes 20 minutes to get to a destination.  Whether I am at the office or the grocery store, “about 20 minutes” is my answer to how long it will take to get home.  I am correct if everyone on the road cooperates.  When they don’t and my ISM pipes up, I become a demanding 13-year-old, muttering and shooting the finger at complete strangers.

My ISM (I-Self-Me) stayed with me after I got sober.  The alcohol left but not the ISM.  It gets quieter if I’m leading a sober life, keeping touch with a higher power, thinking of others before I think of myself.  Working with other alcoholics helps because I see how the ISM looks on others.  (Is that how appear!?  Oh lordy!)  That’s how it is for me, at least.

I started driving a 13-year-old neighbor to school in August.  It was one of those careless “If you ever need help getting her to school, just call” offers.   Thrown out to the air, one more intention with no muscle to back it.  Her mom was recently widowed, doesn’t drive, and jumped at the chance to get her child a safe ride to school.

Do you know how people say mice are more afraid of you than you are of them?  It’s the same thing with 13 year olds.  Just replace afraid with repulsed.  Pulling up to the driveway, her mom ran outside holding her thumb and forefinger slightly apart in the “just a minute” sign.  She coaxed The Grump out of the house.  I watched hissed exchanges between mother and daughter before Grump broke her mother’s hold on her arm and stomped down the driveway to the car.

Our first few weeks of driving consisted of dazzling exchanges.

Me:  How are you doing this morning?

Grump (muttering):  Fine

Me:  How’s school going?

Grump (eye roll, sighing):  Fine

I know how the weather is at their house by the way she walks down the driveway.  Partly cloudy is a slouchy shuffle and moderately loud car door slam, Mom smiling and waving.  Heavy weather is stiff posture and double time march with Mom’s hands stuffed into her pockets.

It was the day that I stopped trying to converse with her that things changed.  I started the Margaret Monologue, talking incessantly , telling her about our 3 dogs and the stray cats, about things Georgie and JD have said or done, about embarrassing things I do.  I told her that my dream job is being a school crossing guard with the vest, hat, and whistle.  I expounded about the freedom to abuse power with my whistle and ability to stop traffic for no good reason at all.  (Eye roll)

A month or two ago, she asked me if it were true that the school counsellor encouraged Georgie to go to smoking cessation classes because she thought GE smoked.  I’d told Grump that I smoked in the house and car and GE reeked of smoke which led teachers to believe she was a clandestine smoker.

(Mom’s started smoking again and one of my teachers asked if I smoked.  I thought about Georgie.)  And?  And??  She didn’t say whether I’d inspired her or encouraged her or helped her feel globally connected with others whose moms were inconsiderate smokers.

My 13 year old porcupine brain

My 13-year-old porcupine brain

Three months into the school year, I’m still driving her.  When the crossing guards change, she points out that “somebody got your job!”  She knows me well enough to know that she can flip radio channels from public radio to C-101 if I don’t give her the hairy eyeball.  I know her well enough to know not to ask “what’s the matter” when she slams into the car.

She isn’t one of my alkie tribe, but she’s a good reminder of the 13-year-old porcupine who resides in my brain.

Posted in Driving, Family, God, Gratitude, kids, Relationships, Sober Life | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Brain ramblings

I have to get my eyes checked yearly if I want to continue wearing contact lenses.  I am not a responsible caretaker of my ojos.  When I remove the last pair of contacts from the box, I make an appointment with an eye doctor.  First available and cheap like restaurant seating when I’m starving and broke.  Without vision insurance, I generally price shop since the cash price ranges from $75-$150.  Appointments at those $75 eye doctors go fast so I check the bank account and make the appointment for the week when the house payment isn’t due.

My lens prescription hasn’t changed in 7-8 years so my visit to the eye doctor consists of a quick glance at my eyes (Better 1. Or 2.  Better 2.  Or 3) and a couple of questions (What is your current prescription?  Are you happy with it?).  After giving the doctor the right answers, I get a prescription.

There have been exceptions.  Six or seven years ago, I went to a young and cheap doctor who insisted that I have my eyes dilated.  She determined that I had anomalies and made an appointment with an ophthalmologist. I spent the weeks between appointments pricing braille lessons and wondering which of our dogs was trainable for guide service.

My seeing eye dogs candidates.  I think Scooter's out since she only has 2 operable legs.

My seeing eye dog candidates. I think Scooter’s out since she only has 2 operable legs.

After 6 hours of tests and a few hundred bucks, the specialist determined that my anomalies are normal for me.    My eyes and I are fine as long as we have some kind of corrective lenses.  When I went back to my young and cheap doctor the next year, I found that she had moved out-of-town.  So, I continued my price shopping optometrist ways.

Last year, my new cheap and young doctor proclaimed that I have anomalies and I told him they were a-normalies for me.  He didn’t laugh and added that I have an enlarged optic nerve and cataracts starting.  He suggested that I come back in 6 months to see if I need a referral to an ophthalmologist.  I responded  by ignoring calls from his office after 6 months.

The thought that I might have something really, really wrong drove me to Dr. Google to check enlarged optic nerve.  I don’t want to alarm anyone who might have one, but the possibilities are dire.  Brain tumor and MS were a couple of the causes that kept me awake.    I didn’t want to say anything to Bob because I knew he’d be faced with a blind, dying wife soon enough.

My best friend’s husband is an optometrist.  I really like the guy.  Despite being opposite me on the political spectrum, he cares about things that I care about:  the environment, right to privacy, my best friend.  He feels the same way I do about big chain stores that move into small towns like ours, crush small business, and then shut down, leaving an empty building and no alternative except driving to the next large town.

Knowing how precise he is tying fly-fishing flies, I was certain he’d be a meticulous doctor.  There are several reasons why I’ve never gone to see him for an eye appointment.  Because his practice is a couple of decades old and he has a loyal following, he’s booked well in advance of my 8-10 day window.  Also, I am not a good patient.  I follow doctor’s orders like they are well intended suggestions.  I wonder when they say “Take all the medicine in this bottle,” if they really mean “Take all the medicine in this bottle.”

Eye patchBecause of my impending blindness, I thought going to a real grown up doctor would be best.  I made an appointment with my BF’s husband.  Before yesterday, I’d never been checked for color blindness and depth perception or screened for macular degeneration.  It turns out that my lack of depth perception is not due to Alzheimer’s disease which I had attributed to it, but to my contact lens prescription.   (Didn’t anyone tell you that mono vision reduces depth perception?)  Not in the last 10 years or so.

He mentioned the enlarged optic nerve in passing.  I checked his knowledge of optic nerves by asking what causes that.  He knew more than Dr. Google.

I have a new prescription and a new eye doctor.

 

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Gratitude is not a simple emotion…

“…or an obvious attitude. It is a difficult discipline to constantly reclaim my whole past as the concrete way in which God has led me to this moment and is sending me into the future. It is hard precisely because it challenges me to face the painful moments – experiences of rejection and abandonment, feelings of loss and failure – and gradually to discover in them the pruning hands of God purifying my heart for deeper love, stronger hope, and broader faith.   Henri Noun

This week, I struggled with memories of painful moments.  The holidays loom like an iceberg threatening to rupture my facade of peace and joy.  I found myself yearning for our mother when the anniversary of her death dawned on November 3.  Normally, I think of her when something comes up with the kids or when a special memory surfaces.  I spent the day thinking “Suck it up” and “Shake it off” when I got teary all darn day long.

For the last 5 years since Jack died, I’ve drawn Christmas cards with his image.  He’s never far from my mind and this is my way to keep him in the holiday.  This year, it’s difficult to sit still, think of him, and start sketching.  My grief feels like the flu.  Achy, too tired to think.  I know that if I stay still and hang on to the sadness, it will linger.  Can my emotional well-being atrophy?  I struggle to get out of the wallow.

Nouwen’s words were welcome when they showed up in my email Inbox.  I need the reminder.  Grateful?  Not unless I re-direct my thinking toward gratitude.  My grieving thoughts are heavy as an 18 wheeler.  Hard to re-direct.

God’s pruning hands hurt.  Even though I know that this despair will pass, I hate walking though it.  Will I wake tomorrow or next week with some revelation as a result of this grief?  Will I just realize that I am no longer sad and not realize when the heartache left?  I hate the discipline of loss, but I don’t seem to learn and value that which I haven’t struggled to obtain.

 

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Making a haunted house

There are certain movies that I do not watch. I’m not a connoisseur, but I don’t like surprises so I won’t watch a movie where someone leaps out and startles me.  I wiki movies before I watch them because I hate it when the main character gets killed at the end.  And you will never catch me at a horror movie.

I’ve watched a few in my life.  It was easy to peer pressure me when I was younger.  The inability to say no caused me to go with friends on carnival rides that resulted in my throwing up on prospective boyfriend #1’s lap.  It was that same inability that landed me in the Rialto Theater watching The Legend of Hell House with my eyes closed and my ears plugged for the entire 95 minutes of show time.  My granddaughter Savanna loves to watch The Walking Dead when she’s visiting. I watch it with a book in my lap.  And no contact lenses in my eyes.

Zombie corral

Zombie corral made from pallets salvaged near my office

I avoid haunted houses for the same reason I won’t go to horror movies.  I don’t like terrifying looking people, creepy sounds, being spooked, or loud noises.  It doesn’t matter that they aren’t real.  They scare me.  I went to one a few year ago with Sophia when we were camping at Yogi Bear Campgrounds.  Don’t let images of Yogi and BooBoo mislead you.  The haunted house was scary.  I stood in line listening to screams, screeches, and roars, volunteering to take Sophia back to the campsite when she got cold feet.  It’s okay, Nana, said my ever helpful son-in-law.  We don’t want you to miss out on the fun.

That fact that I am participating in a haunted house as a fundraiser this year for our AA clubhouse surprises me more than anybody else.  Bob and I picked the garage which is a dirty and creepy enough place with no help from us.  We constructed zombie corral with pallets and severed arms and legs purchased from the Spirit store.  There’s all kinds of noise and things that pop out of the walls in that store.  By the end of our hunt for props, Bob had compression bruises on his hand.

I scared myself when I looked at this picture of zombie attacked me

I scared myself when I looked at this picture of zombie attacked me

We learned the anatomy of a successful haunted house:  distract and surprise.  Shortly after visitors enter and admonished to watch their step (distraction), strobe lights will come on as I, bleeding from zombie bites and screaming, get snatched back by Zombie Bob with a hatchet in his hand (surprise!).  I expected to make up Zombie Bob, but the realization that it takes 45 minutes to get him fully made up sent me to buy him a mask.  I shopped at the Family Thrift Store for clothes we could rip up somewhat and stomp in the mud.  For $10 we were fully outfitted.

I thought about 10-year-old GE who played a homeless orphan child for the Christmas play.  After looking at what I’d put together for her costume, she commented, “I am playing a poor orphan, but I don’t have to have bad taste.”  She selected her own things so she would be a fashionable homeless orphan.  Bob isn’t that much of a critic.

I mess up the effect since Zombie Bob makes me smile

I mess up the effect since Zombie Bob makes me smile

We had dress rehearsal last night and it was pretty normal for a dress rehearsal.  Nobody was sure of their cues so jumpers were leaping out before there was anyone to scare.  What we thought was spooky darkness was too dim to distinguish ghouls from vampires so we need to lighten up.  And Bob’s nose collided with his mask’s nose space and we did a retrofit so he can breathe.  His zombie gasp was a little too realistic.

In sobriety, I  face my ghosts of the past and exorcise them.  It’s a nice change to play with the ghosts of my present.  We have crossed fingers that our fundraiser is a fun-raiser.

 

 

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Vote early and vote often

I am a bleeding heart liberal and proud of it.  I don’t say that so you will try to change my mind or agree with me.  I can’t change the fact that I’m left-handed and I won’t likely change my opinion over the issues that are important to me.

Since I’ve known him, Bob hasn’t had a voter ID; he has, however, espoused political opinions that make my hair stand on end and cause hives to appear.  I think he got tired of my saying, “If you feel that way, you should vote.”  His answer to that was “It doesn’t make any difference anyway.”  And my answer to that was “Well, you’ll never know because you don’t vote.”

This year Bob registered to vote.

Dang it.  I can’t slide on my voting rights.  My vote is necessary to cancel Bob’s.  For Texas registered voters, early voting starts today.  If you don’t know where to early vote in Texas, the state has a website that lists most Texas counties:  http://www.sos.state.tx.us/elections/voter/links.shtml#County

San Patricio County isn’t listed so, Bob, here’s the list of Early Polling Sites near us–http://tools.cira.state.tx.us/users/0137/docs/Elections/Nov.%204,%202014%20EARLY%20VOTING%20LOCATIONS.pdf.

10155051_287206601475205_8886555406390966401_nI’ll race you to the polls.

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Things I do for fun

My definition of fun has changed over the years.

There was a time when it involved Strawberry Hill and psilocybin.  I am too old to use ‘shrooms to describe cow patty mushrooms found off South Texas country roads.  Later, fun involved anything with country music and beer.  Lots of beer.  Or wine.

It’s been many years when “just add alcohol” were the directions necessary to change regular Margaret into party Margaret.  Today, family and friends are usually involved and the memories are in clear focus.

Part of our walking team on Sunday's Walk to End Alzheimer's

Part of our walking team on Sunday’s Walk to End Alzheimer’s

I spent last week-end participating in the Walk to End Alzheimer’s.  We couldn’t have had better weather.  Even the misty rain that fell for 5-10 minutes didn’t dampen our spirits; it cooled us off instead.  I had time to visit with my sisters and when asked, “What’s new?” reported that I’d enrolled in the H & R Block tax course.  And that it was fun.

“Fun?” my younger sister asked.  (Fun.  Really, really fun.)  

I am truly enjoying my class.  I have been doing the same kind of work that I do for 30 years.  It’s rare for me to meet someone new who has lived in the south Texas area and worked in civil construction.   I’ve known most folks for many years.  It isn’t that large of a community.

So maybe it’s the chance to do something new and meet different folks.  There’s a mix of people in our class.  We started out with 15 students and have 7 survivors as we pass the halfway mark of class time.  Our instructor predicted that we would become friends by the end of class and I thought, “I don’t think so.”  The truth?  I look forward to seeing everybody in the class.

My companion on most days recently

My companion on most days recently

It might be the fact that accounting work has a beginning and an end and everything comes into balance.  With estimating there’s a certain amount of guess-work.  Who am I kidding?  There’s a reason why we call it “guestimation.”  Those tax returns aren’t like that.   In fact, I understand that the IRS frowns on guessing on tax returns.  They taught that on the 1st night.

It doesn’t hurt that Bob and I started a business this year.  RM Weaponry provides an outlet for Bob to sell the rifles he makes and perhaps provide us with a side income when we retire in a few years.  I am getting some good information about self employment and what we can and can’t write off.

RM Weaponry is a partnership which would normally require us to file a Form 1065 (U. S. Return of Partnership Income).   I learned last week that since Bob and I married and live in a community property state, we can file as a sole proprietorship and just add our income or loss to our standard income tax form.  The two of us count as 1 entity.

Interesting.  When we married, Bob and I became 1 in the eyes of God AND the IRS.

 

Posted in Family, H & R Block, Humor, Relationships, Sober Life, Texas, volunteerism | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment