Friday, July 27, 2012

A Week of SNAFU

Though I scoff and laugh at my purported psychic friends who tell me Mercury is in retrograde and I should make no decisions because everything will have glitches in it, this has been a week that I questioned my belief system. As the WW2 acronym says, everything was SNAFU, and in this case the F does not stand for "fouled" but the more colorful original verb.

I remember, or imagine I do, the expression coming into use in my childhood. Its actual origin is controversial. This is supposed to be the first printed version of it:

Frederick Elkin noted in 1946 that there "are a few acceptable substitutes such as 'screw up' or 'mess up,' but these do not have the emphasis value of the obscene equivalent." He considered the expression SNAFU to be "a caricature of Army direction. The soldier resignedly accepts his own less responsible position and expresses his cynicism at the inefficiency of Army authority." He also noted that "the expression ... is coming into general civilian use."

For me, Thursday was the corker.  A dental appointment I had scheduled for four months to replace a four tooth bridge in the front of my mouth got cancelled because the dental lab cracked the bridge. The dentist goes on vacation now for two weeks, of course.  

Then about 11 am my computer and phones went out.  It took a couple of hours to figure out my housekeeper had accidentally disconnected them.

I thought my luck had changed when the UPS driver brought my replacement generation two kindle which I ordered from the Amazon marketplace, as they do not make this model any more.  I 
had broken  mine the week before. I couldn't get it to register and after several frantic calls to Amazon I discovered I had been sent a stolen device.  Amazon will eventually make it good, but it will take a while. More glitches followed.  It got so I was afraid to take a glass of water.  So I sat quietly at my computer (see the self photo) feeling perplexed and writing silly lists of disclosures for the realtor. 
(There are wood rats and pine bark beetles here but no ghosts). 
Later in the day my broker arrived with four other brokers from her office to look over the property 
in preparation for staging and marketing.  I was sure they would fall or get stung by a yellow jacket but nothing untoward happened that I know of.  I will be glad when next week arrives and life returns to normal.  Oh, do you promise it will?

Friday, July 20, 2012

If Change Is Growth, I'm Exploding

Change Is Growth, Or So The Saying Goes

I’m known to  spout the adage that all change is growth, and growth is to be welcomed at every stage of life.  Anyway, I believe it in my head.  Not necessarily in my bod and heart.  It’s such an emotional tug of war. 

Now that all my wonderful company are gone I’m chugging along in preparation for selling my home and moving to Oakmont in Santa Rosa either this fall or next spring.  Well, sometimes chugging; sometimes dawdling; often groaning. In retrospect, there should be a law against living in one place for 49 years.  I’m not a hoarder exactly but Lee and I are both guilty of being big time accumulators; everything from black pottery in Oaxaca, Mecico, to tiny blue ceramic  horses from San Francisco’s Japan Town. 

To complicate matters I fell last week and fractured a rib.  Even breathing makes me groan.  So my movements vary from sloth-like to snail-like.  Not that I’ve ever seen a sloth, except on tv and National Geo, but plenty of slugs ascend my bathroom window in the spring and I amuse myself by pacing them. 

Since I am using hired help to do all the grunt work you may ask me how I got the recent fracture?  I got up in the night, not out of urgency, but because I could not sleep. “Why not pee?” I said to myself.  I carefully turned on all the lights, donned my specs, and shuffled to the bathroom.  I stoically sat down on the toilet.  Then resounded a  “Crash, bang” like the flash bangs the feds used when they raided the house next door last year. 

I missed the toilet by a foot and landed on top of the Weight Watchers scale, (ironic, aye) hitting my whole right side against the bathtub.  It hurt terribly but did not waken my house guest.  By the end of the next day the purple was spreading across the overly generous slope of my right hip but the rib did not go crazy till three nights later.  Now its taped and too tender to touch with even a feather duster.  Tut tut. 

Two workers , Skip and Akicito, have almost completed the greenhouse cleanup. When I go to look at the progress Skip warns: “I don’t want you out here”.  That’s because I am so allergic to the dust and mold and besides, she has found at least ten black widows out there.  Lots of other critters live in the dirt and crevices out  there too.  The photo above actually came from a slide I took in Colorado in ’77 but it looks like  a critter I pulled out of a box here yesterday. 

In a couple of weeks my friends are coming to help me pack my chatkas.. All of that will go into storage along with half my furniture in preparation for staging the house for sale, temporarily scheduled for Sept. 17.  Cross your fingers.  And when you are tempted to collect more little treasures from your travels, think again. 

Friday, July 13, 2012

The End of Once Upon A Time

My great niece, now 28,  volunteered to write the last chapter of this family tragedy, so this is her voice speaking. I've done some editting for length.  

 I’ve never thought much about my life was very fair.
I don’t remember a lot about my early childhood. I know my Dad loved me a lot, but had a drug problem, especially after he hurt himself at work and had to lay around the house all day on workman’s comp. I know my mom was (and is) very shy and passive-aggressive. I’m the opposite, so our relationship has always been weird.

My parents got divorced when I was about five years old. It was probably about a  year or so after my Dad’s accident, when he got too caught up in the drugs, and my mom couldn’t handle it anymore. 

Before that happened, while my Dad worked, my mom stayed at home and took care of me and my two year old brother. My brother never really got to know my Dad, which I always feel kind of sad about. I didn’t get to know him much either, but more than my brother.

Anyway, when my parents divorced, my mom had to work for the first time in a long time. Over the years, I have come to suspect she was never very good at being independent and taking care of herself – even though she always SAID she was; “ I am very IN-DE-PEN-DENT,” she would always tell me, accentuating every syllable. It occurs to me that she was probably just trying to convince herself.

My mom relied on my grandma a lot when she was in monetary trouble. This, unbeknownst to me, was quite a bit. No big deal on her end, though, cuz Grandma was always there to bail her out. Part of me feels really bitter about this, because I have never had (or needed) that. Then again, another part of me knows that very reliance was a big part of my mom’s problem.

My mom never tells me anything. She has even gone out of her way to inform me; “ There are some things you will NEVER know about me!” My point being, growing up, everything appeared stable. Our physical needs were met, anyway. We always had a house, a car, food on the table, heat. That kind of thing. My mom could be really mean, though. Sometimes physically, but more mentally and emotionally. From a young age (7 or 8) I took over doing most of the household things because my mom worked so much. Laundry, dishes, meals. It was only me that this was expected of, however. My brother never lifted a finger. I remember being about 12 and getting sick of it, so I would purposely not do any of his dishes. It never mattered, though; they would just sit in the sink until their smell drove me crazy enough to where I would break down and do them.

I was pretty resentful of all of this, especially since my mom never praised me or thanked me, merely expected it to get done, and it was never to her liking. She was a critical old nag. If it’s not up to your standards, do it yourself, is what I wanted to tell her. I probably did at some point, but kept on doing all the work anyway. I tried to ignore her daily telling me that nothing was done right, I was stupid, I was awful, she wishes she never had kids, we were the source of her misery, etc. I got pretty good at ignoring her, but it still hurt. I got to the point where I hated my mom. Hated. I couldn’t wait to get out of that miserable house.

My mom had very few friends or boyfriends, which dwindled to none after awhile. She seemed content to go to work, come home, barricade herself in her room, while smoking and watching TV. Sometimes she would talk on the phone to her sisters, but more often than not would let me answer the phone and then have me tell them she was in the bathroom or something. When someone came to the door (which was not often) if she wasn’t already in her room, she would bolt for it, and slam the door, leaving me to deal with whoever had come over. In fact, that was the definition of our relationship. Her acting completely helpless until I got pissed and impatient and did whatever needed to be done.

I learned to know the exact squeak of the floor when she was about to come out of her room, so I could run and hide in mine. I despised interacting with her because I never knew what to expect. One thing was certain, though, she would probably be talking to herself. A very long, negative, conversation. I rarely invited people over because, the few times I did, they commented on it; “Who is she talking to? Why does she do that?” I didn’t know. I found it embarrassing and weird. I just wanted to stay out of her way so she wouldn’t spray me with her negative energy.
One time I tried to cut my wrists with a leg shaver. I made a big dramatic production of it, so my mom would actually notice something outside of herself for once, and talk to me like I was an actual person. It escalated into a big dramatic scene in the kitchen, “This is how you make me feel!” I screamed, showing her my wrists. “What about how I feel? How could you do this to me?!” She replied. I was filled with a cold realization: My mom didn’t really care about me or my feelings. She wasn’t lying when she said she never wanted kids.

That last episode happened after my grandma died, which was when my mom really went down hill. Her only friend and protector was gone – what would she do? For years after that, her ceaseless monologue would include how much she missed grandma. All I could think about was that I wouldn’t miss her when she died. She was lucky she had a mom, because I didn’t. I became her mom. The unfairness of it engulfed me.

As I grew older, she could barely function in public situations. In the grocery store she would embarrass and frustrate me deeply, because if she had a question about something grocery related, she would walk around and complain and complain … Would she take action to correct her situation, and ask a grocery clerk? No way. I would be the one to have to track someone down, just to shut her up.
Her whole life became like that. By this time I was 16 and my brother was 13, he was the same way as my mom. Passive. He failed at most things in school because he just wouldn’t do them. Or he would do something outrageous and get in huge trouble. My point being, they couldn’t seem to do anything without my guidance. Without me doing it for them. I hated it. Even driving with my mom was a nightmare. She would be so confused about where to go and what to do that she would be swerving all over the road like a drunk person. She’s even been pulled over before because the cop thought she was drunk. “No, officer, my mom is just completely non-functional.”
As you can imagine, I was never very nice about all of this. People had suggested that perhaps she was depressed. I didn’t care. “So what?!” I would think. “I’m depressed just being around her, but I still have to live my life AND hers. Why can’t she get her shit together, she’s an ADULT!”

I left home when I was 19. I tried college, but really all I wanted to do was escape. The boyfriend I had at the time and I travelled to Alaska together … Then about a dozen other places, working the same amount of jobs. I always came back to visit my mom and brother about twice a year. It was nice for about a day, until they started driving me crazy again. Then, when it was time for me to leave, my mom would cling to me and say things like; “There is so much life in the house when you are here! I wish you would come back here and live!” It was all I could do to NOT peel her off of me and run screaming from the house. Why did she want me to stay if, when I was there for any length of time, she barricaded herself in her room, only to come out and lavish abuse upon me? It didn’t make any sense.

Every time I came back, they were both worse. My brother  never graduated high school and never got a drivers license. Hell, he never even had a job. At 23 and 24, he was still living in our childhood room, playing video games and watching talk shows … And my mom supported him. I loved my brother and enjoyed talking with him, but he would constantly ask me for advice, and then never take it. He would always ask, “How do you DO all the stuff you do?”….  “I don’t know. I just do it.” I didn’t realize until now that the terror of being stuck with them in that house forever is partially what propelled me. Also, a curiosity about life. Didn’t they want to live? Weren’t they curious about what they could do and see in this world?
One of the last times I was there, my mom complained and complained about my brother. He never did anything. He smoked all her cigarettes. He stole money from her. Then she told me he threw a phone at her. This piqued my interest. “Mom, do you really want him gone?” I asked. “Yes,” was her immediate reply. So, I went to work.
I called around and found out he could be forcefully removed from the house if my mom would sign a paper stating she was afraid for her safety. Essentially, it would be a restraining order. But, they would be separated, and isn’t that what my mom wanted? I told them both this and they freaked out a little, but my mom agreed to do it.

We went to the court house and, as I handed my mom the pen to sign the paper, she went all weird on me. Started acting ultra crazy, like she didn’t know how to operate the pen and couldn’t understand english. It was very eerie. We left without her signing a thing, me fuming with embarrassment and rage at all the effort I had just wasted. That’s when I officially stopped trying to do anything for my mom.
There are so many stories, but this is long enough already. I will tell you the last one and then I have to stop because I am getting tired.
I hadn’t spoken to my mom for about a year. I stopped trying to call her because she never answered the phone or returned messages. She had my number, but she never called. I live in Maine – you would think a mother who lives in Seattle, Washington, would want to keep track of her child, who lives in Maine. Apparently not.
Anyway, so here I am, in Maine, at the ripe old age of 29, finally putting myself through nursing college (after my dear old Aunt Bonnie pressured me for several years until I finally saw the wisdom of her words and was tired of her badgering me all the time … just kidding, Aunt Bonnie) working part time at a hospital as a nurses aid, just got married (which is another long story about how my mom never came to my wedding because she GOT LOST) …. In the middle of my first nursing semester, as I’m trying not to have a stroke from all the work I have to do, I get a call from my brother telling me that he and my mom are getting evicted.
Selfish as I am, I’m pissed that this is thrown into my lap amongst other things. I communicate with my family, but there isn’t much anyone can do, because my mom is so batty that even if she would actually get on the frigging horn and CALL someone, she seems to have no idea why this is happening. Neither does my brother.

They get evicted. They stay at friends houses for awhile, and then are officially homeless, sleeping behind a grocery store. My brother still has a cell phone the state provided for him, so I keep tabs on them that way …. But it doesn’t sound like they are doing much of anything besides sitting behind the grocery store, getting rained on, and waiting for some knight in shining armor to save them.
I talk to a friends mom about this, and she gives me a long list of all the resources they could tap, if they would just … Well … get MOTIVATED. “Your mom and brother really need to advocate for themselves and not sit behind the grocery store doing nothing,” she tells me. Can you guess what my reply was? Something along the lines of: NO DUH. I HAVE BEEN TELLING THEM THIS FOR ABOUT 15 YEARS.
I mention their situation to my Uncle in California and he immediately becomes their knight in shining armor. His ex wife works for united airlines, so he gets them free tickets to fly out of sea tac just a few days later and come live with him and my grandma (these are my Dad’s relatives).

You know what the funny thing is, though? He’s already noticing their ambivalence about life. They got to LA about a week ago, and he and I have been talking quite a lot, and he’s already mentioned their “motivation problem” several times. He is such a kind heart, I’m so happy he did this …. But I am also wondering if he is now saddled with two bumps on a log that will smoke and watch TV all day and barely contribute. My hope, though, is that, he being my Dad’s brother (I forgot to mention my Dad died of MS when I was 13) will have some sort of positive impact on my brother, who has never had a male figure in his life.

Also, my Uncle and his girlfriend, after doing some digging, found out why my mom lost the house. They were absolutely stunned (and I got a lot of phone calls over this) that my mom had no idea why it happened.
Obviously this story isn’t over. I do know one thing, though. Over the years, my mom has made a comfortable home in “mental-illness land”. I used to be so pissed off and resentful and full of hate about the unfairness of it all ….   But that hurts me more than anyone else. A cousin of mine, who dropped my mom and brother off at the airport last week, sent me a picture of them standing at the gate. Just seeing my mom looking so frail and unhealthy made all the fight go right out of me. She’s just a sick lady and, even if it was her fault at some point, it’s not anymore. Me pointing my finger and blaming her for being a bad mother would be like me pointing my finger at a paraplegic and screaming, “YOU SUCK AT WALKING!” … If that makes any sense. She’s just not very good at life. It’s tragic, but it is what it is, and we need to accept the way things are and work with them to the best of our ability. For me, that is the biggest lesson in all of this.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Missing the Red Flags

Predictably the themes on Meet the Press last Sunday  were 1: Health Care Reform 2:The Future of Obama and 3:Legacy of Roberts. 

As much as I wanted to watch I’m swamped with other matters of consequence like the crisis in health of a dear friend and neighbor; spreading the impressive piles of pine bark mulch from my recent tree cutting to comply with fire regulations; and interviewing realtors for the future sale of my home.

Maybe all these things are related.? Here is the next chapter of Once Upon A Time. I am using fictitious names except for my own. 

Not all middle children have the same personality traits, research shows, but most either lack self esteem or display courage and confidence.  Much depends on the coping style of the child.  This is affected in part by the parent’s style of child rearing. A middle child who never learned courage will run from problems and become shy and withdrawn. 

Hence when her Mother protected and sheltered her, Shelly went the second route.
Her petite physical stature probably contributed to her lack of internal strength.  She was the invisible compliant child in the family. Though withdrawn, she did well in high school, once surprising everyone by trying out for and being selected for cheerleading, a seeming total contradiction to her nature.. 

She was the only one of the five children to even attempt college.  She graduated in art but lacking assertiveness was unable to find employment so took jobs in clerical work and banking.  Meanwhile she engaged in several romantic relationships, including one in which she was physically abused. She finally sought a women’s shelter. As in the past she took refuge with her Mother, whose arms and heart were always open.  

When she married both husband and wife, while still unemployed and experimenting with drugs, continued to live with her Mom.  In time the husband found work and the two purchased a small house rather nearby. Two children were welcomed by the couple, a girl and a boy, and while the grandmother was still working she invested as much love as possible in these and her other grandchildren. 

When Shelly’s husband succumbed of an industrial accident my niece returned to work, this time finding employment in the insurance field.  Times were tight and the older child, of necessity, assumed the parenting role for her younger brother, as best she could. 

One warm evening when both children were still young and asleep upstairs a sexual molester climbed in through the bathroom window.  I have always thought he raped Shelly, but she thinks “he never got it in”.  By this time in her sad life, she was skilled at a kind of psychological amnesia anyway.  With her tiny frame she tried to fight him off but he slashed her right hand deeply leaving her middle finger inflexible for the rest of her life.  Already untrusting of most everyone, she refused counseling.  He was never caught.  This can not have added to her tenuous grip on coping with life.

When her Mother died, Shelly suffered deeply and withdrew further into herself.  Her self esteem, always precarious, plummeted.  She even sought the advice of a t-v psychic. She shared her thoughts with no one, even her children, who had mostly learned to survive by their own means.  Still she worked and maintained her neat small home. 

After her daughter graduated from high school and left the state to seek her own path, Shelly declined further.  Like her mother, grandmother, and great grandmother her daughter would face a giant struggle to find her identity. She is currently married and going to nursing school 2,000 miles away.

The day came when, like the rest of the accounting department staff at a large city hospital, my niece lost her job because of outsourcing to India,

In financial desperation after a year or so, Shelly found work at the only source available: Walmart.  Meanwhile, her son, always a school misfit, got into trouble, eventually dropping out of school.  To complicate matters he developed epilepsy, for which he was seldom treated. .  His preoccupation was playing computer games.  Neither was emotionally equipped to handle what was to come. Though they communicated poorly with each other, each withdrawing into their own worlds, the therapist in me defines their relationship as classically codependent.  

I live some distance away, and could only assess this by the increasing brevity of communication.  Christmas cards that used to be long and chatty became one sentence: “I love you.”  Phone calls were never answered.  The answering machine never worked, even though her older sister gave her another one, (or when it did messages were never answered). The hints of mental and/or physical illness became red flags.  Given my psychotherapist  profession I should have seen what was to come. Alas, I missed the fact she was was ceasing to cope and that two children now teenagers were at risk. 

Above is just one set of debris gathered this week to go to the dumpster. Like my family history, there is a lot of mess to clean up.  

After reading a rough draft of today's story my g. niece, Shelly’s daughter, asked if she could write the ending from her viewpoint.   What a terrific idea.  So next week you’ll get to read the third and last part of the story from a very different perspective.