Life gets in the way

It was a long year, last year.

Just when you think the wrinkles in the road have smoothed out, the roadblocks have been removed, life takes you off road into the gravel, into the bumps and ditches, and shakes things up. It tests your seatbelts and airbags and the road comes up at you.

Life gets in the way.

As often as I have a running commentary going on inside of my head, almost daily, writing down those thoughts has become just one more thing to take care of on my “to do” list. Another responsibility, another job, another thing that takes up space in my already busy and overfilled brain. It’s too much some days, most days really, to think about so many things that in the end aren’t helping you keep the car on the road.

The end of 2018 did not go out quietly or without a “to be continued” ending. (don’t you hate when that happens?)

No, 2018 ended with many loose ends and unfinished plot lines.

If I didn’t call or text you after August, I’m sorry.

If I didn’t send you a birthday/Christmas/anniversary card, I’m sorry.

If I missed your banging Halloween party, your housewarming, baby shower, bridal shower, gender reveal, art show, musical performance, divorce is finalized party, again I am sorry. So very sorry.

Life got in the way.

That was the theme of the last quarter of 2018 for me. I know, everyone is busy – I just read recently that being “busy” is the most overused response when we are asked how we are. And it shows a lack of consideration for the person asking about you too, because believe it or not, we’re all busy.

Good point.

So maybe I wasn’t constantly busy, physically. I will admit to that. I can definitely remember, more times than my usual practice, sitting on my couch – or any couch – completely giving in to a binge watching session of Master Chef, Top Chef…or Rick and Morty because I do have other interests, and just blowing off my to do list or any other non-lifesaving activities.

I also slept a lot, since October if I had to guess.

Sleeping in until the last possible moment, testing how much time I really needed in the mornings to be ready and functional, before I had to get up and tackle another day and it’s almost guaranteed new surprises. Sleeping in and ignoring the promise to myself to workout regularly, to lose the twenty pounds that are beginning to feel all too comfortable, even after a two week stint of “getting back on track”. I was even going to bed earlier than usual most nights, which most people would translate into not having enough to do, or just plain laziness, but I was feeling exhausted and worn out no matter how much sleep or how many lazy days I took on the weekends.

It’s not like I was training for a marathon, or an Ironman, or even a 5K. I wasn’t building a house, planning a life changing event (I won’t even pretend to pretend to plan another wedding in my lifetime, so don’t hold your breath!) I wasn’t taking classes for my masters, starting up my own business or even traveling for business or pleasure enough to keep me from living the normal life I used to have.

No, I was just living the life that the universe was handing to me.

And some days, the universe had high expectations of my mental stability and physical energy levels. Some days, I began to question if the universe had forgotten about other people in the same orbit, and had acquired some weird, imbalanced focus on me, for reasons unknown. Kind of like that time I thought my high school U.S. History teacher had it in for me, calling on me constantly to make me feel stupid or put me on edge, only to eventually be told (by him during an almost tearful conversation at 7:30 in the morning when I couldn’t take it anymore) that my seat was in his line of vision, nothing more than that.

Maybe I need to change seats?

My hopes for a somewhat normal existence were more of a wish for boring, uneventful, regular life stuff. I just wanted to have a routine. A get up and go to work, come home and make dinner and talk to my kids about their lives kind of routine. No earth shattering turn of events, no challenges, no new players in this game of life. I didn’t want to take on anything new, or anybody new for that matter. I wanted the challenges and craziness of the last couple of years to take a break, to stop coming at me, and give me a breather.

I just wanted to coast for awhile.

By the end of the summer, my two oldest boys had somewhat launched, one went off to college five states away, and the other moved out of state to begin his new career. Leaving me with one newly minted teenager under my roof, and I was cool with that idea.

Down from three to one, this should be a piece of cake!

There was a bit of excitement in this idea of my children going out into the world, further than a stones throw away from home. The thought that I may actually have the house (almost) to myself for a weekend or two, if I planned things right, made me almost giddy!

I love my kids, and I adore their friends, but let’s be honest – there are weekends when you just want to be alone in your own house to drink coffee, read the paper and putz around without having a basement full of video playing/Netflix binge watching teens coming in and out, throughout the day and night, eating you out of house and home while leaving a mess behind that looks like a cyclone went through your house.

An array of power cords missing their plugs, single unmatched socks, drink rings on the coffee tables, debris of crushed pretzels and popcorn kernels across the carpet, assorted Nerf darts and Nerf balls strewn about and between the cushions, and always (always) an empty toilet paper roll in the bathroom with an actual eight roll package of paper sitting within reach.

And that’s just the basement..

No, the house would be quiet now, and tidy for the most part. There would be a new normal and I would go to my new job where people expected me to show up everyday. I would have new things to talk about, grownup worldly things, a new place to go that would pay me for being there. My days of volunteering, giving my skills away fro free, were closing down. This was going to be awesome!

But then…life got in the way.

My college son started off well enough, excited about his new school, and new state. We had a wonderful three day road trip together to move him out there. At the end of the week, I left him with a sense of accomplishment and proud to say, very few tears. I felt good about leaving him, certain that he would do well and flourish.

I even gave myself a “good job, mom” talk while boarding the plane.

Three weeks later I got a call that he had rolled his truck down the side of the mountain he was “off-roading” on with some friends. Luckily, he was fine, but the truck was basically totaled.

It wasn’t a luxury vehicle, it was a pickup truck that he fell in love with last spring. He had painted it, with the help of his aunt and uncle, the perfect color of flat military grey before leaving for school, and had added a lift kit making it nearly impossible for me (or his very petite girlfriend) to climb up into without a running jump. He drove it with two of the biggest American flags he could find hanging off of the back end. One American flag was a police support flag, with the blue line in the stripes, that one he loved the most. He loved everything about it, and drove it with the biggest smile on his face everyday.

And now it was gone.

Luckily we had already planned to go out to visit him before this happened, and his brothers and I were there a week after the accident to console him and check up on him. To say that it was shocking to see the crushed in cab of his truck is an understatement. He’s 6’3″, I still cannot explain how he walked away from it without snapping his neck or crushing his skull. God was watching out for him.

Before we could board the plane to get to him, my oldest called me to tell me that he’d finally gone to the doctor, for what we thought were swollen glands, believing it to be strep throat. He’d been sick for a couple of weeks, feeling exhausted and run down, running a temp off and on, and what we assumed were his glands that were swollen were the size of a golf ball. He’s my workhorse kid, he doesn’t stop for anything and he rarely gets sick, but this made him sick enough to take a day off of work just to sleep.

He called me that Thursday afternoon, when he knew I would be home, because he didn’t want to “bother” me at work. The doctor had just told him, over the phone that morning, that he believed he had lymphoma. He wanted to do a needle biopsy, an ultrasound and a CT scan – could he do that on Friday? It’s best to move quickly when treating cancer.

Lymphoma?

He had gotten that call at 10:30 in the morning, while at his relatively new job, and miles away from home and his family, but waited until I was home from work to call me because he didn’t want to “bother” me. He had been sitting at work when the doctor made that call, then he had gone home and sat there alone until he thought it would be a good time to call me with this earth shattering news.

I can’t even begin to explain how this broke my heart. And still does.

This was on the Thursday before we were all flying out on Friday morning. I was ready to cancel the entire trip and drive to him to begin the battle against this monster diagnosis, but he insisted that he still wanted to go.

He needed to go. The cancer would still be there on Monday.

The long story of this knee-jerk diagnosis, leading to the realization of the unbelievable misdiagnosis, is filled with many dark moments. Too many to name or write about, they’ve all been shared with friends and family as it was happening and it’s still to hard to believe.

I will say that I have never screamed so much into the emptiness, cried so hard alone, or made the deals that I was willing to make with God and the Devil in exchange for other people’s lives ever before. I was in full momma bear mode, and I was going to take people down, push them down even, if they got in my way or delayed us.

I was definitely channeling ‘Terms of Endearment’ Shirley Maclaine.

Two weeks of scheduling doctors appointments and waiting to be seen. Two weeks of trying to balance normal life, with a new job that barely knew me, while I went MIA to be with my son. Two weeks of questioning the medical professionals and health insurance providers, pushing for the tests and the answers to happen now, not later.

Two weeks feels like a lifetime when you’re told you have cancer, it feels even longer when you’re told your child does.

How could a twenty year old kid do this on his own? He can’t.

Suddenly all of the normal distractions we all have in our daily lives, melted away. All of the plans I had been making, all of the new beginnings I had begun, came to a screeching halt for the foreseeable future.

I was in survival mode now. Life had gotten in the way.

By Thanksgiving, we had gotten through the truck accident, and the cancer scare, and even added in a bit of oral surgery for the youngest, because why not finish the trifecta? I’m finally feeling good, feeling blessed and lucky to have the life I have, where my kids are healthy and happy. The reality check of possibly losing it all is still fresh and vivid in my mind.

Like a wound that is slowly scarring over, you still protect it.

The holidays were around the corner, I was back to work, having a normal life again. I was making extra money now that could be squirreled away for “fun stuff”. I started planning a trip to Cuba in February and a spring break trip to Punta Cana with my youngest. How about doing something fun, as a family, next summer or over the Christmas holidays? Maybe even a new refrigerator?? Life is good!

Then, the floods came. Life got in the way.

Ankle deep water in the basement, a week before Thanksgiving – a week before I was cooking and hosting Thanksgiving dinner. Sure, why not?

It was a poltergeist. The water was just rising up from the center of the house, and nobody knew why or how.

After two months, three waterproofing companies, a cleaning company and multiple plumbers scratching their heads in confusion while drilling holes in my walls, the problem has been fixed and the basement is on it’s way back to being usable (fingers crossed)

Goodbye Cuba trip, goodbye Punta Cana, goodbye new refrigerator – one of the things on my list for a reason to go back to work in the first place.

Someday, just not today. Life got in the way.

As it was all happening – the accident, the cancer scare, the flooding – it was a never-ending story, a story that had the hook of “but wait, there’s more!”. Just when I thought I had made it through the darkest part, or the toughest challenges, there would be more. Testing me, pushing me, stretching me to my limits sometimes.

I lost a part of myself along the way. I just didn’t have the room, the time, to take care of myself and do the things that I know are good for me. I didn’t have the mental space, the energy, at the end of each day to push myself for me, because that energy needed to go out to my family, like the branches of a tree taking the energy from the roots and the trunk.

I am the roots, I am the trunk, and the last few months I have dug deep for nourishment to keep this tree alive. And it has been hard work. Exhausting work, some days. But so very worth it.

We make plans, we have dreams, and we do the best we can to make it all happen, all while attending to the details that define ours as a full life. We try to balance it all – friends, family, work, play, our health – but sometimes, life just gets in the way. It takes up too much space, too much brainpower and emotional weight, leaving us depleted and unable to attend to some of those details.

And that’s okay, it will be there when you’re ready.

If it’s not? Then maybe it was an unnecessary detail, an extra stone in your pocket that you can drop on the road and keep moving forward, knowing that you’re only taking with you what you truly need and love.

Those things will constantly change, sliding up and down, switching tracks and changing direction, causing you to recalibrate and reexamine your choices, and maybe even take a time out, because that’s what life does. It pushes back and takes up space. Life sneaks up on you, like a jealous lover needing attention, blocking the door so you can’t leave and demanding to be seen, to be heard, to be felt.

Maybe just appreciated.

While you’re busy making plans, life gets in the way.



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The hard stuff

I had a heart to heart talk with my son the other night. I didn’t start the day, or the night, with that intention but sometimes life presents a moment of opportunity and you take it. Run with it if you possibly can, these moments don’t come around very often and are fleeting at best.

He’s always been my well grounded, moral compass kid. I’ve always joked that he was born a forty year old man, his wisdom and insight always light years ahead of his biological age. The depth in his eyes reveals a sense of experience from beyond.

You just never know what your kids are absorbing during times of crisis and challenge. You don’t know how they see it all, what it looks like and sounds like, from their vantage point. And they usually aren’t very quick to open up and give you their inside view, choosing instead to keep it inside while they figure out how they feel – or how they “should” feel.

Or maybe they’re just afraid to voice how they feel, because nobody is asking.

Too often I have heard, and have been told, that kids are resilient. They adapt, they deal, they get over it all much faster than adults. They don’t have the same baggage or past experiences to layer onto whatever is being dealt out to them. And don’t forget, they are self-centered and really don’t give much thought to what is really going on in the grown up world of the adults/parents in their lives.

And to that, I say bullshit.

I can honestly say, from my own personal experience as a kid once, that we are kidding ourselves if we think it all runs off of their backs. We are choosing to accept this idea because it makes our load a little lighter, our guilt a little smaller.

It’s really just self protection if we’re honest.

And that makes sense, because during a time of crisis we need to be the strongest we have ever been, for our kids. We try our hardest to shield them from the ugly truths, the struggles and the conflicts, because it’s not “kid stuff”. We’re really trying to protect them, we’re really trying our best and that means we keep as much of it from them as possible hopefully.

At least that’s what we believe, and are told to do. But maybe they don’t see it that way.

Maybe, they are waiting for us to tell them exactly what is going on and where we think it will lead. The good, the bad and the ugly. Maybe they would feel better just knowing. It’s often said that most of our fears come from not knowing, not being able to see the problem or hear the back story.

So we make up our own story, which can be a lot worse.

But, they’re kids and they aren’t in the position to ask for this information, much less demand it, because it’s adult stuff. And it’s personal. It’s really not about them, we assure them, they didn’t create this situation and it’s not theirs to take on or carry. We’re supposed to carry it all for them, while we struggle just to carry what is ours.

That’s parenting, isn’t it?

But maybe while we are busy struggling to carry it all they’ve actually picked up a few pieces along the way, like rocks on a trail – some bigger than others – and they’re carrying them in their pocket, unseen everyday. They don’t show them to us because they can see we have enough to deal with, and our load is already heavy, but those rocks are getting heavier and growing in numbers.

Too hard to ignore any longer.

He surprised me when he asked “what really happened?” My heart broke when he told me, with tears in his eyes, “you left me out of it all and that’s not right”. He had been waiting for me to include him, to include all of them, in what I thought was only my struggle. But it wasn’t.

It was all of ours.

I knew this on a basic level, but I wasn’t ready to admit it before. From all appearances, they were dealing with everything well enough, adapting to our new life as a divorced family. Sure we had some bumps along the way, a few incidents of acting out and the wheels coming off, but we hadn’t fallen apart. Maybe we weren’t quite a well-oiled machine, but we were definitely a machine with a purpose and a drive to keep working – even with missing pieces.

What do you tell them when they ask? How many details do you include, how far back do you go? Do I give him the verbal transcript of that ugly night when it all blew up? The tirade of describing the resentment and the unhappiness that had been simmering, for years I was informed that night, that went unspoken. The harsh judgements spit at me about my character, my integrity, my worth – all coming from someone who swore to love and honor me for the rest of our lives.

Do I admit to the questions that still swirl in my head, that will go unanswered forever. The shadows of memories when I should have “known” something wasn’t quite right, but chose instead to look away to keep the peace. To believe in us and our family.

How do I explain the jagged path, that lead to this place, to my son?

I answered him the best way I knew how, that was the only way I could think of. I asked him what he wanted to know, and I answered his questions, but I did not elaborate with too many details. Broad strokes, the highlight reel. And that was enough, that’s all he really needed to feel included. To feel seen, to feel heard.

To let go of a few of those small rocks he had been carrying around in his pockets.

That night I realized that I work too hard to shield my kids from the “bad stuff”, which is doing more harm than good sometimes. They are on the outside trying to look in and I keep shutting the curtains. Leaving them to wonder, to worry, to write their own story of what is going on and most times not the best story.

How will they learn to deal with the hard stuff, when it comes their way some day, without some idea that it even exists? What tools will they have if I never admit that life is work, not just marriage, but life in general. It doesn’t just come to you warm and cozy without any challenges or tests of your strength and integrity.

Sometimes you have to have grit and determination to push through to the other side of the darkness. Sometimes, you need a flashlight or you need someone to give you a flashlight even if you don’t ask for one. You need help, you need support, you need answers whether they’re the ones you hoped for or not.

You need someone to take on some of the weight of those challenges, to take some of those rocks that weigh you down out of your pockets and carry them for you. Or toss them to the side of the path, out of your way. But in most cases, you have to have the idea that it’s okay to ask for help, to ask the hard questions and to give the hard answers.

You will survive. It will suck sometimes, but you will survive.

I’ve tried to be better with this idea now that I realize how hard it can be on my kids. I push a little more to have those hard conversations and to be more forthcoming with those sometimes ugly answers. I want them to trust in me that I will always be honest with them, and not just because they had to ask.

Hopefully I won’t need to worry about it so much going forward. Life is running much smoother now for the most part, but then again, life has a way of surprising us doesn’t it?