Friday, May 25, 2012

Once upon a time, I was very, very wrong.

A few days ago, my 21 year old niece announced she was dropping out of college.  This post is about why I am not disappointed with her.

My family is not very prolific.  Wednesday is my older brother's daughter and my only niece.  She is the light of our lives.  Tall and beautiful, and very smart, she seemed to have ambitions far beyond that of her parents, neither of whom were interested in higher education.  The older she gets, the more she reminds me of myself at that age.  She has a mind of her own and once she sets her mind to doing something, she never, ever quits.  And like me, she has higher expectations for herself than others have for her.  When she decided she was going to be a doctor and had been accepted to a prestigious university for her undergraduate work, we were all going around high-fiving each other, even though none of us deserved the credit.

So it was quite a surprise that the week she finished her junior year she announced that she was not going back in the Fall.

So what happened?  Frankly, she was miserable at her large school.  But more importantly, she knew after three years in premed that she was never going to be happy in medicine.  After three years with her head in the books, she didn't have any idea what she was going to do next. 

My husband, who isn't related to her but has known her since she was in diapers, was the maddest of them all.  Her mom and dad, my brother and sister-in-law, were just happy to have her home.  My parents, who were footing the bill for her education, were mixed.  I didn't know what to think, so I picked up the phone and called her.

All I had to do was hear the sound of her voice to know that she is going to be fine.  She wasn't defensive, and she didn't even sound indecisive.  She just said that she knew what she didn't want, and was going to take some time to figure out what she did want.  Her plan is to live with her folks for a while, take a few courses over the Summer at the community college, and maybe spend some time abroad over the next year.

I told her I was proud of her and to let me know if she needs anything.

Oh, I know what you're thinking...the title of my post.  This isn't the time I was very, very wrong.  That one happened back in the Dark Ages, when I was a freshman in high school and had a friend who made what I thought at the time was a bad decision.

Scotty was so cute.  He was a few years older than me, so of course I had a little bit of a crush on him, even though he was about as geeky as they come.  He was going to be an architect, but he was a really talented musician.  I'm no expert myself, but I've played the piano my whole life and I could never do what he could, just sit down and pick out a tune and make up words as you go along.  Scotty could do that.  He wrote a lot of songs, but he didn't really write them, he just made them up all the time.  I could watch him play all day long.

But I also thought I was terribly mature in my knowledge that real grown-ups didn't become professional musicians, they become doctors and lawyers and architects who come home and play the piano for fun at the end of the day.  And when Scotty announced, a year into college, that he was dropping out of the architecture program and changing his major to music, I told him so.

Fortunately, he didn't listen to me.  And of course since he was off at college and I was still in high school, we really didn't ever see each other after that.

So once again, let's do a huge fast-forward to last year, when he found me on Facebook.  He's now the head of a music program at a university on the east coast, and he's traveled all over the place and done a ton of fun, interesting things with his music.  But the very best thing was seeing all the pictures of him and his students, and the look of pure joy on his face.  In all of these pictures, he looks like a guy who has lived his life grinning from ear to ear. 

And yes, of course I told him that, and apologized for my bad advice and told him how happy I was that he didn't listen to me. 

That's why I'm not worried about Wednesday.  She's going to be happy, and in the end that's all that matters.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Off again today

Today is our anniversary, but since I'm heading out of town again today, the Husband made a nice dinner last night and we sat afterward out on the front porch sipping glasses of cold Prosecco and watching the butterflies in the oak tree in the yard.  We talked about where we thought we'd be this year, and how things have all changed.

We were just about to be in the best financial position ever...making good money, living in a house we loved with cheap rent, no debt, and looking forward to rebuilding, maybe buying a house in the country and renovating, or maybe a downtown loft...whatever we wanted.  We had nothing but money and time.

Now, with the move to California, we're going the opposite direction.  The rent on the new house will be almost double what we're used to paying, and Peaches' private school will eat up the rest.  The cost of living adjustments that we'll be getting will be eaten up completely by the simple fact that California has state income tax and Texas doesn't.  We will be starting completely fresh, again, but with a lot less that we have here.

And for some reason, both of us are totally okay with this and we know that one way or another, in our own chaotic way, we will work it out.

Just looking back to recap this month for a sec.

The first week, I spent the weekend (and then some) in Las Vegas working at a convention.
The following week, the Husband had to head off to California for work.
 This past weekend was a flurry of packing, moving boxes, running back and forth to the storage locker and attending not two but three going-away parties.

And today, May 21 (also our anniversary...), I'm heading out of town for two days.  Destination: beautiful Winnipeg.  I'm thankful that it's only for two days, and that I'm going in late May instead of, I don't know, late January.  Remember that trip I took to Toronto last year?  Back here in Texas it was well into Spring, but Winter was taking a long vacation up there.  Super nice people, though, and at least there were no mosquitoes and I got to meet my cousins.

I'm fairly certain I don't have any cousins in Winnipeg, and I've got a bottle of extra-strength mosquito repellent.  I've heard about how big they can get up there and I'd hate to get carried away.

But I hear the people are super nice.

Oh, back to this month...so I'm back on Thursday, the movers start packing Friday, and next week we will be passing the keys to the Sweet House to another family in need of healing.  I hope this becomes a pattern.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Practice, Practice, Practice

Wow, ever since I came back to Duct Tape and Chicken Wire, I've been pretty good about writing every day.  This makes me very happy and it really is getting easier.

My favorite blogger ever, Wide Lawns and Narrow Minds, had a post the other day that I thought was so appropriate I had to comment on it.  It had to do with how you can get your kids to read.  You really should read it if that sounds like it would be interesting to you, but the basic idea is that you should never, ever try to direct your kid to read, or not read, certain things that you think are educational or important, but instead let them read whatever the hell they want.  The reason I sent her a comment is that this is something that's happening with Peaches right now.

I don't want you to judge me (ah, heck, go ahead...it's an anonymous blog) but I don't take Peaches to the library.  This is because when I tried to do so, she got books she liked and then either hid them or destroyed them in some way so I had to pay a heinous fine to be allowed to go back.  But since I love to read so much, and she has a learning disability, I want to make her feel like she can read anything she wants.  What we're doing most of the time nowadays is going to Half Price Books, which has killed all the other little used book stores, about once a month, and I'll tell her that she can pick out as many books as she can get for ten dollars.

It's working, too.  She's got a fixation with fairies at the moment, which drives me absolutely bonkers as most of her friends got sick of fairies when they were ten and have finished all the Harry Potter books and are starting on Percy Jackson, and besides, when I was thirteen I wasn't even reading kids books anymore (except S.E. Hinton, and frankly I still will sometimes read my ancient copy of The Outsiders because her books are just so awesome).  So I always have to take a deep breath, look her in the eye and remind myself that she is not me and she can read anything she wants, so I buy them.  And these aren't those cool coffee table books about Faeries with the amazing illustrations, these are the "Shiny sparkly fairy magic pony rainbow" type books that are for girls half her age.

And she goes home and plows through them all in a day, then she brings them back to me and asks if we can go back and get some more.

Which makes me feel really good, even if they are really juvenile, and sometimes I'll even do it.  Because I figure that every single book she reads is just making her a little more fluent, and eventually she'll get tired of fairies and move on to The Boxcar Kids and Harry Potter and Percy Jackson and eventually S.E. Hinton and the San Jose Mercury-News.

Peaches will probably never be a reader like me, but then again, I'll never run a triathlon and she's already run three.

I guess in a way, my writing every day is kind of like that.  If you want to write, it doesn't matter what you write about.  Just put the proverbial pen to paper and make it happen, and maybe someday you'll find that you're growing a bit inside as well.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

All About Aaron

Peaches sort of washed out of Middle School.

You remember how I was writing about how much pressure there was to put her in Band?  Well, it gets better. 

Peaches really was ready for Middle School...or at least she thought she was.  I'm pretty sure this happens to a lot of kids.  They really want to grow up, they're tired of elementary school...after all, they may have been in the same school from the time they were in kindergarten...and they're ready to move on.  But this whole business of ringing bells and lockers and home room and going from class to class, well, it was just too much for her.  Part of it was that the academics were just too fast paced for her, but I got the feeling she was having too much trouble just coping with the chaos to learn anything at all.  One day she told me that she spent most of the day clutching her desk trying not to jump up and bolt out of the room.  As the school year moved into October, we started to notice a light going out behind her eyes.  It made me very sad.

Fortunately, I heard of a small private school that was too good to be true.  It wasn't far away, it was reasonably inexpensive, and it was designed for kids with learning differences.  It was a tiny, funky little school full of nutty kids who just don't fit in anywhere else. I met with the director, who looked like a fifty year old version of what I imagine Peaches will be someday.  I knew it was just the place for her.  We enrolled her the week after Thanksgiving, which is how we met Aaron.

Aaron started at the Academy the same week that Peaches did, and he doesn't live far from us.  He has a severe case of Aspergers Syndrome and was being bullied so badly at his Middle School that his parents had to sue the district just to get him out.  Aaron's two siblings also have Aspergers and will probably end up at the same school, which makes me very glad I only have one kid.  His mom is totally amazing.  She has the best sense of humor about her kids and I think she never really stops, even though she works full time at a very demanding job.  Their dad is pretty cool as well, but I think he's got Aspergers as well, and he just lets everything roll off his back. 

Anyway, Aaron's mom was really worried because she has to be at work early in the morning and the Academy doesn't have any busses.  When we met we figured out that we meshed perfectly for a carpool: we can take the kids in the morning, and she gets them home in the afternoon.  It works incredibly well and we've become good friends.

I'm not going to write much about Aspergers here.  If you don't know what it is you can Google it, and besides, Peaches isn't an Aspie herself, she just seems to get along really well with Aspie kids.  So I thought I'd write about Aaron a little bit, because he's a scream.

The first time I met Aaron, he got in the car while we were listening to the radio.

"Hmmm", he said, "This is a pretty good song.  I like this song, but I'm not really a music buff.  What I really like are planes.  Specifically, World War II fighter planes.  I can name every single aircraft that flew during World War II."

"But I'm not  going to do it because my mom says that it really annoys people".

"What's so funny?  I don't really think I'm funny.  I don't really have a sense of humor.  I don't really get jokes."

So Peaches, from the front seat, manages to get a word in:

"I know a joke.  Actually I know two jokes."  (I'd put the jokes she told here, but this was a while ago and I don't actually remember which ones they are).

Aaron paused for a moment.

"Hmmmm.  Those are...literal jokes.  Right?"

Poor kid.  I think Peaches and I have more fun during that drive than he does.  I'm really going to miss him next year.  I hope his mom finds a new carpool buddy.

p.s. Peaches is learning like crazy at this school.  I hope we find one like it in California.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Yom Kippur, Part 2

As I continue the Yom Kippur story, I'd like to mention that I've learned an important writing tip that all of you real writers already knew: it's very hard to write about things as they happen to you.  Sometimes you have to wait until the topic has had time to simmer for a while and, perhaps, you've gained enough distance to allow you to write without crying and your tears fall in the keyboard and muck it all up.

That's part of the reason I didn't write for a while; this one thing was devouring my life and everything else seemed too stupid and mundane to write about at all. 

But if you've been following me for the last few weeks, you know that my broken family has been healing.  This is the continuation of the story of the day we hit rock bottom.

Where I left off, it was after midnight.  My husband had told me he was pulling into our neighborhood at probably the exact time that he was actually pulling into a parking lot behind the pub he used to own, with the intent of drinking one quick beer before popping in the door after I was gone for the evening.

I woke up early Saturday morning, but I didn't pack a bag.  Instead, I got dressed, filled a travel mug of coffee, and found Peaches (who was already up and watching TV) and assured her that Daddy was home.  I also told her I wanted her to come with me down to Regina's house.

Now, Regina lives about a block away, and one thing I can tell you about her is that she is NOT a morning person.  Chances are, she had been up working until 2 or 3 in the morning and wouldn't be up for hours.  I also knew that her husband Aaron would have been up for hours making breakfast and hanging with the kids.  Which is why, when I knocked on her door and asked Aaron to go get her, he invited Peaches in to hang with their kids and went to get her.  I told him I'd wait on the porch.  Regina was sitting beside me in less than a minute.  I told her I was going to go back up to my house and tell him to get out.

Within fifteen minutes, three of my best friends were sitting on the porch with me.  We made a plan, they offered their support, they shared stories of life with alcoholic parents and ex-spouses.  After I had built up some courage (this took over an hour; it was harder than you'd think) I left Peaches at Regina's house, walked up to my house, woke him up and told him exactly this:

"I have tried to tell you that I can't live like this, but you won't listen.  I love you, but I've had enough."


Now, I'm a 44 year old (okay, 43 at the time) suburban working mom, five feet tall on my best day and weighing in at a solid 170.  I'm not supermodel, in other words, and I've never had a man throw himself at my feet.  But that's exactly what he did.  Literally.  Threw himself at my feet, cried and begged me to give him another chance.  It was weird.

He tried to explain.  He said that he only drank because he was afraid to come home.  I told him that his problem was solved now; he could come home in peace from now on.  He asked where he could go.  I suggested he crash on his drinking buddies' couches; certainly they wouldn't mind; after all, they were all such good friends.  He said they hardly knew each other; didn't even know where most of them lived, whether they had families or kids.  I told him that if they acted anything like he did, they were probably all divorced and living in apartments paying child support.

I was a bitch.  I was the calmest I had been in months.  My heart was pounding, but my mind was clear.  Everything I said, I meant.  Every word. 

By the time we were done, it was almost noon and I had missed the morning service.   I picked up my purse and walked out the door.  Before it closed, I heard him say behind me, "Please don't do this".

I made him sweat another thirty seconds before I walked back in again.

"No more drinking".

"Not a drop, I promise".

"No more lying."

"I swear I'll tell you everything."

"No more stopping at the bar.  At all.  You want to see your friends, they can go across the street and meet you at Starbucks".

"Yes.  Starbucks.  Of course".

I set down my purse.

That's basically the end of the story for that day.  His behavior hasn't been perfect, but moving to this house has helped a lot.  And sadly, I think he needs to get away from that bar, from the memories of his failure and his attempts to re-invent the past.  Which is why when I have second thoughts about moving to California, I remind myself of how bad things can get if we stay here.

Perhaps that's why these memories are coming back right now.

Thanks for reading.



Saturday, May 12, 2012

Yom Kippur

I took a few minutes today to look back on some of my older posts.  The one that had by far the most comments was the one I wrote about how I almost left my husband back in 2009 when he owned a bar.  According to my readers, nothing I've written since even came close to the power of that post.  So I thought I'd take another trip down Unpleasant Memory Lane and write about the time I really did almost leave.  This took place less than a year ago, in October 2011, just a few weeks before we moved out of the McMansion.  I can even tell you exactly what day it was: Saturday, October 8.  Yom Kippur.

Husband was back to his old tricks.  He was drinking a lot, but the real problem was that he would stop at the bar (now under new ownership) two or three days a week on his way home from work.  I sat him down once a week or so and tell him that his drinking had become a problem again.  He would promise to cut back, but he never did...in fact, he drank more...he'd stay later and later at the bar because he'd be afraid to come home and face me.  And he would lie, lie, lie.

Naturally, I was the villain in his story.  After all, he was only trying to find peace after losing his business, declaring bankruptcy and knowing that he had driven his loving wife and child into financial ruin.  And here I was, standing at the door with an apron and a proverbial rolling pin in my hand, whacking him over his sodden head as he staggered in, trying (yes, pathetically) to act sober.

My life was pathetic.  Oh, I know what you're wondering...did I go to Al Anon?  I tried it out, but it seemed (at least in my local chapter) like a place you go when you've already decided to stay with your alcoholic loved one.  And I had decided no such thing.

The reason I remember that this happened on Yom Kippur is that I was already committed to being busy all weekend because I was in the High Holy Days choir and was going to be helping set up for the pot luck on Saturday night.  That meant my family knew that I wasn't going to be around much at all until Sunday.  It also meant that he had to be home on Friday, since I had to be dressed and out the door by 5.

At 4:30, he called me from the car.  He was almost home...give him five minutes.  He's just turning the corner to the subdivision.  He'd be walking in the door any minute.

At 4:45, I called him.  He didn't answer.  I asked Peaches if she wanted to come with me to services.  She didn't want to, and asked if she could be home alone for a few minutes until Daddy got home.  I should have made her come with me, but she was almost thirteen and old enough to be home for an hour or so.

Naturally, I had my phone shut off during the service, which didn't end until almost 10 PM.  Exhausted, I dragged myself home, to see that his car was not in the driveway.  My heart sank.  If he wasn't home, I promised myself, I was going to leave him, packed or not.

The only person home was a terrified twelve year old, still awake on the sofa.  Daddy had called right after I left and promised he would be home in ten minutes, and that they would go out to dinner.  I put her to bed and told her that I had talked to Daddy, he was sorry and he would be home soon.

He finally staggered in at 12:30 that night, crying and apologizing for being an idiot.  He also assured me that I wasn't to worry; he had left his car at the bar and gotten a ride home.

Boy, was he ever sorry.  But this post is long enough.  More tomorrow.

Friday, May 11, 2012

How to work from home without going crazy

It's been a very weird time in the Duct Tape household.

As I mentioned a couple of days ago, my company closed its local office.  So through the month of May, until school lets out, I'm working from my home office, and come June I'll actually relocate.

I've been able to work from home plenty in the past, but this is the first time I've had no local office to work from if I felt the need.  If you've ever been in that position you know it's a weird feeling, and it's not as pleasant as you might think.

The biggest problem is that you can go for days without leaving the house.  Yesterday this was ideal; I had just returned from a four-day convention and was dog-tired.  In fact, at about 2 PM I couldn't keep my eyes open, so I went into my own bedroom and took a nap.  It was amazing.  Can't do that if you work in a cubicle.

Another nice thing: I didn't skimp on my home office.  I didn't let boxes sit unpacked and papers pile up when I set it up.  I made sure it had a nice ambience, supplemented by two dogs who love to wrassle on the floor while I work.  Again, not really a cubicle lifestyle.

One more nice thing.  You'd think it would be particularly hard to work at home while my husband is doing the same, but it really hasn't been a problem.  Not like my friend Claire; her husband has an office right by the front door, and she can't leave the house without him asking where she's going, could she pick up some Diet Coke on the way home, when will she be back, yadda yadda yadda.  In fact, my husband loves to be left alone while he works, and he does the same for me.

On the other hand, every single morning I get up intending to exercise.  I have yet to do so...and trust me, I can feel it.  My back is starting to hurt and I've stopped losing weight.  It would be so easy...I could throw on some shoes, take one of the dogs for a walk, but it just never seems to happen.  If I weren't leaving in three weeks, I'd sign up for an afternoon yoga class or something just to force myself out of the house.

So there you go.  Ups and downs.  The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak, or some such.