Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A New Member of the Family!

It all started when he turned eight. My hubby decided (without consulting me first!) that our oldest was old enough to get a pet. I'm not sure how the conversation started between them, but it was a rather unplanned and rash decision. All I know is that it was Sam's birthday and they were running errands. Upon their return, they had an extra body - an adorable black kitten. Rascal was his name.

Rascal became a part of our family. He also turned into a fierce warrior. I apologize if this offends any of you, but he was a lean, mean killing machine. He would bring home "presents" almost daily. Most of the time they were mice, but once he even brought home a jack rabbit! Yes, you read that right - a rabbit! I still have no idea how he managed to get it up? over? through? our fenced backyard.

Fast-forward three years to the middle guy's eighth birthday and now it's his turn to get a kitty. Being good dutiful parents, we schlep everyone down to the local rescue foundation and Danny picked out his new friend - Tucker. Before we brought Tucker home, we did the research on introductions and socialization between cats. I followed the rules and did everything just the way they said. Rascal was not happy. There was no acceptance. One day I opened the door to let him in, he paused just at the threshold, took a few sniffs and high-tailed it right out of there. That was the last time we ever saw Rascal.

After weeks of searching the neighborhood and countless trips to the animal shelter, we all came to understand, if not accept, that Rascal was never coming home. In our last and final trip to the shelter, I asked Sam if he wanted to get another cat, and he did. That day we brought home Daisy. Daisy was a two-year-old tabby and she was delightfully sweet, the perfect lap cat. And she provided comfort in a time of need, and we all were thankful for that.

About six months after getting Daisy, I noticed that she looked thin. I dismissed it at first thinking that it was just because summer had arrived and she was losing a bunch of hair. I kept a close watch and eventually I knew something was wrong, and so we took a trip to the vet. Several tests and several hundreds of dollars later, Daisy was diagnosed with an incurable disease. She was gone in a few months, just over a year from her arrival. Sam was crushed.

It was one of the worst experiences. I, of course, had my own grief. Daisy took her last breaths in my arms. But, to see my son's broken heart, that was worse. I was powerless to help; powerless to provide true comfort. I knew this was something only he could work through and only with time. He proclaimed that he would never get another pet again, and that made me sad to think that he had shut down his heart to the possibility of experiencing new love over fear of loss. I told him that was fine, I understood, but if he changed his mind, I would take him down to find another.

It was last month when he announced that he was ready and wanted to get another cat. For several weekends we drove all over the place visiting shelters and rescue foundations. He wanted a tabby, but we simply couldn't find one. On Saturday, he eventually relaxed his criteria and settled on a lovey, female dark gray kitten. We couldn't bring her home on Saturday because they still needed to spay her, so yesterday was pick-up day. She's home and her name is Jade.

I am excited and I am happy. I am excited to have a new kitten in the family. I am happy because my dear boy has finally worked through his grief and is learning to open up and love again. It is one of life's most important lessons and it is something I could not teach, but he has learned on his own.

Monday, June 28, 2010

How Do You Keep the Memory Alive?

Today happens to be my mother’s birthday, or should I say used to be? The past eight years have gone by without her, but my thoughts still turn to her on this day.

A few weeks ago I was putting Henry, the youngest, to bed and our conversation turned to my mother, his grandmother. I wish I could recall the circumstances and conversation a little better. I even took notes because I knew I would want to write about this. Unfortunatley, they are far too abbreviated to make much sense.

Be his grandmother
Choc chip pancakes
Did sam and dan know her?
Thinking it’s Nonna
Picture? Will you show me tomorrow?

He was curious. Who were these people called grandmother? He’s never known either of them – they both departed this world before he made his entrance. I found in trying answer his questions, there was very little to say and I struggled.

So from the notes, let’s see – “be his grandmother” I have no idea what that means. The chocolate chip pancakes reference is easy. My mom was the best cook ever. Sure, everyone says that about their own mother’s food. (Actually, maybe not everyone because I know my dad had no affinity for his own mother’s chow.) But in all seriousness, my mother excelled at cooking. It was her thing, especially baking. She taught me everything I know and it has proved a valuable skill with Danny’s celiac disease. One thing that she always did was make pancakes. They were easy and they were loved and they were always chocolate chip and awesome. I’m happy to say that my kids are the next generation in this tradition. Pancakes on the weekends – and chocolate chip if you so desire.

Sam and Dan did know her, but all too briefly. Danny was barely three when she died. Sam was six. Sam’s comment when my mom died – “Mom, everyone has to die.” Matter of fact. Unemotional. Like it was just part of life. I remember that comment and feeling betrayed. How could he not feel the hurt and sadness? Maybe in answer to Henry’s question, the answer should have been that they didn’t know her. Or maybe they were just too young.

There was one point in the conversation where Henry got confused. A few years ago my grandmother spent a few weeks at our house. Nonna was unable to fend for herself and was living up at my Uncle’s house in Sonora, but he was going on a trip or something and she couldn’t stay alone so she stayed with us. While it’s been a few years since then, Henry still remembers her. I think his memory of her is fresh from attending her burial late last summer. But no Henry, that’s not your grandmother – that’s your great grandmother.

And then Henry asked if we have any pictures, he wanted to see one. I said no problem…we have pictures out in the living room. Two to be exact from two weeks before her death. And the next morning, as soon as his eyes opened, he crawled out of bed and immediately asked to see the pictures. And I showed him.

Since then there have been no more questions. But it got me thinking. How much do I talk about my mom? Not much if at all, really. Why not? Well, let’s see, it’s still painful. It’s clear to me that I’ve become an expert at pushing all those sad feelings down. It’s been eight years and I can now talk without spontaneously crying, but it still hurts. What hurts most is that she’s gone. There’s now an empty hole – a part of my life has been extracted, ripped out. It simply doesn’t exist anymore. What’s there to say? With the suppression of all those sad feelings, it looks like I’ve inadvertently also suppressed everything!

But, I do want to keep my mom’s memory alive. I know she would want that too. I notice as time has passed by, I seem to be remembering less. Memories are fading. Maybe that’s how I control my emotions on the whole thing. But I think I don’t want to be here. I want to move to a place where I can share. What do I want to pass along to my kids? Will it really have any true meaning to them? Do I want to drag out the photo albums (none of which I have by the way)? Do I just bring it up in conversation? Family anecdotes? Stories of the past? I don’t know. But I think I need to start talking about it, or it won’t happen – that I do know.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Dear Dad

Dear Dad,

With Father's Day this weekend, I found my thoughts turning to you and reflecting on our relationship and how it's changed over the years.  As with all long-term relationships, there have been highs and there have been lows, but I thought I'd chronicle and highlight some of the key memories for me in our shared lives.

When I was young,  I proudly wore the title of "daddy's little girl".   We'd trip around together doing whatever chores or errands needed to be done.  If we were shoveling snow, you had a shovel just my size.  If we were raking leaves, again you had one just my size.  You even got me my own axe so I could help you cut the small branches off of the fallen trees.   Mom was always so focused on the first born, but you were my pal and my teacher.

You are a fix-it-yourself kind of guy and all the time we had together was a learning experience.  You taught me cool things - like how to change the engine in my VW Bug after I blew a rod through the block.  I was proud to say that I knew how to bleed my own brakes, change my oil, gas and air filters and how to protect my cracked distributor cap so that my bug would start in the rain.   I helped you rebuild the cam shaft on the Reliant K and other random automobile repairs.  And the teaching didn't stop there.  We soldered pipes (plumbing was your nemesis), fixed electrical things, fixed pool parts and repaired bathrooms.  It didn't really seem like work either, although you did most of the heavy lifting.

The teen years were a bit difficult.  Mom was sick all the time.  You were at work all the time.   I was up to no good, and you knew it.  You tried to call me out, but due to lack of evidence, there was nothing you could prove.  Mom with her naivete would force you to back down, and you did.  Fortunately, even though Mom was right, I managed to keep myself good enough to move forward, graduate high school and then college.  I found the right man and you quietly let me go.  Oh how I cried at my wedding when we danced.

Miles have separated us since then - you in Connecticut and myself in California.  Honestly I was glad to be away.  You know the stress we were all dealing with - can you blame me?  I didn't realize it at the time, but our relationship started to fade around then.  I'd come back for holidays but it was always a whirlwind tour.  I had to visit everyone so no one got very much of me.

Aside from lack of visiting time, I realize in hindsight that it was really because I used Mom as a crutch.  She was the intermediary.   I'd call her and she'd relay to you.  She'd, in turn, relay back to me.  We never spoke and I never realized it.  I still felt in touch with your life.  But then Mom died.

You tried to change.  You tried to reach out, but it just wasn't you.  Mom filled that role for too long.   It's almost like I lost two parents instead of just one, and now we are here.  Phone calls that are awkward and uncomfortable, and far too long in between.  We talk on holidays because I call.  You never call me.  There are no birthday wishes for me or the kids.  You've visited twice in nearly 18 years even though I've asked a million times.  My kids don't know you and it's a shame because they could learn so much. 

For a long time I was angry and upset, quite bitter actually.  Then I was sad and disappointed.  I'm not sure, but I think I'm almost at the point of acceptance.  I will take what I can and be thankful for that.   But Dad, there's still time.  There's still time to get to know your grandchildren.  There's still time to know the young woman (okay maybe not so young anymore) that I've become.  We'll always be here if you decide.

Love, Cathy

Saturday, June 12, 2010


64 blog posts sitting unread in my reader. 64. Really?

I've been super busy with work. My big project that's been in the works for the past six and a half months is now in the last six weeks (hopefully) and it's crunch time. I'm not checking personal email or Facebook much at work, which I'm sure my employer is happy about. I'm certainly not posting much either, not as much as I'd like.

But 64 unread posts. When is it too many? When is it too much? I need to find that balance that folks like Kristen over at Motherese struggle with as well.

I am hesitant to give up any of them - blogs or friends. I connected with them for a reason. Regular or not, they are a part of my life. How would I choose? Who would stay and who would go? Most importantly to me, what would I miss? I don't mean miss as in the sense of loss.  I mean miss as in failed to experience - the little nuggets of goodness from the funny stories, the calls to think, the things that keep me connected.

Recently a friend of mine posted on her Facebook status, "I've just deleted 104 friends!" At first I was surprised. Why would anyone do that? But now that I've thought about it more, maybe I should prune too. It feels like pruning would equate with simplification. I like that concept. Prune my Facebook friends to those that are core; prune my blogs to only those I regularly read.  I want to see more of the people I truly like. I need to to disregard the rest so I can focus on them, to be more connected to them. 64 is too much.

Do you prune? Do you think pruning equates to simplification?

Monday, June 7, 2010

Kids Are Expensive

This evening was a pleasant one. Dinner was light and early. Everyone surprisingly was in a good mood. The boys were actually playing together nicely!

After pulling three dead mice and two live ones out of the pool (we suspect our cat has found a nest and is enjoying the torture), we decided to play a little wiffle ball. Round and round we rotated the pitches and at bats. Stealing bases, running around. Good times. Nothing but smiles.

Until Sam lost his balance and fell in the pool. With his phone and iPod Touch in his pocket.

He wasn't doing anything wrong. He simply was enjoying playing with all of us (a rare thing now that he's in high school and all) and didn't realize his foot was too close to the edge of the pool. Total accident. He bought the phone (because he lost his last one and I wouldn't buy another). He got the iPod for his 8th grade graduation.

My only silver lining in this story is that he feels as bad as I do. I'm gonna take that as a sign of maturity. Poor guy.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

You Have To Make The Time

The headline surprised me but the story made me sad.

We all know people separating or divorced. Sometimes it's for the best and I know that it's not my business to pass judgment.

Here is a couple that a lot of people believed had the real deal. Sure they were in the spotlight, but they were together. They endured family drama. They persevered through success and failures. And now, when they should be planning their twilight years, they instead are planning how to divide things up. I am not judging them. It's their lives. But I still feel sad for them. Their relationship died.

This particular quote tugged at me, "The Gores were telling friends they "grew apart" after 40 years of marriage and there was no affair involved..."

The snide comments and jokes about the cause of this break-up are flying about. And while I read constant barrages on him - suggestions of infidelity and the like, there were two people in that relationship and each bear responsibility for "growing apart". It happens all the time. Marriage, and really any type of relationship, requires work! Dual careers, children - they all create a stress on a relationship. They cause separation.

I see it with my friends and family. I've seen it in me. Two young people in love tie the knot. Kids happen. Stress happens. For plenty of varied reasons, husband and wife start pursuing interests without each other. For me, it was lack of an affordable babysitter. I'd go do my thing while hubby was home with the kids, and then he'd go do his, and I'd stay home. And slowly you grow apart. You don't even realize it's happened.

But one day I did. And life was rough for awhile, but that's a story for a different day. I realized the separateness needed to stop. It had to end, or our relationship would.

And so I've made a conscious effort to stay close, stay together. We DO things together - I make sure of it. We have fun together. We have fun together without the kids. We keep our relationship alive.

I never really had any desire to golf. Never grew up with any golfers in the family and had no appreciation for the sport. But, I knew that Mike enjoyed hanging out for hours without the kids, drinking beer with this buddies, enjoying good weather. Man was I jealous. I wanted a piece of that. And so - I learned how to golf. And now we golf together. Me and my best friend. It is so nice to be able to spend time with just the two of us. Having a kid old enough to be your babysitter really helps!

Then, when football suddenly became an interest in his life, sucking Sundays away, I first resisted. It was irritating. He never liked sports before; why now? Finally I wised up. If you can't beat 'em, might as well join 'em. And I did. I would go to a couple of games with him and I joined a fantasy football league to see what it was all about. It gave us something to talk about on Sundays while we watched all the games - together. I suggested to my sister that she do the same - and remarked how much it helped our relationship. She joined my league and by the end of the season, she was chirping about players and the game - and about how it helped her and her hubby get closer too.

To make a relationship work, you have to put yourself out there. You have to work at it You have to make the time. At times you may feel like you are making concessions. I don't look at it like that. I think learning golf and fantasy football has opened up new realms of entertainment and time together with my husband. How could that ever be perceived as a concession?