Monday, September 08, 2008

Second verse, same as the first

My mom tells the story about how angry her father was with his father. My great-grandfather was quite the womanizer, evidently, and made my great-grandmother's life fairly miserable with his sleeping around. He never stopped, either. He died when he was 91, living with his much younger girlfriend, who supported and took care of him, even though he supposedly treated her very poorly.

Just the other day I heard from another genealogist, who is a distant cousin of mine on my father's side. She shared some pictures with me and told me about my grandmother's family. Evidently my grandmother's grandfather had emigrated from the old country, then brought his wife and family over. They lived for a while in the New England area, then he left for Texas. The intent was, evidently, to bring the family out to join him, but when his wife moved out there she didn't like it, and went back east. He stayed in Texas, met someone else, and started raising a second family. My grandmother's uncle went to Texas to try to talk him into coming back. He couldn't. In disgust he changed his name, renouncing his father's surname.

There are more stories like this in my family history, and I've heard others tell the same story. My husband's surname should be Gonzalez, but the ancestor from whom the name came disgusted his children so thoroughly that they sided with their mistreated mother and took her (thoroughly European) maiden name as their new surname. A good friend of mine tells about how her grandmother grew up going to school with the children of her father's mistress. No-one ever officially acknowledged that these children were her half-siblings, but everyone knew. She never forgave her father for the pain this caused her.

Why, you might ask, am I back after so long, and why, you might ask again, am I talking about this stuff?

It's my dad.

I have another blog, actually. My sister talked me into it, and I've been rather enjoying doing a blog out in the open. This, though, is something I can't talk with the world in general about, and I can't process it without writing about it. So I came here.

My brother called me last night, miserable, needing a friendly ear. It seems he's been the confidante of both my father and his wife for the last year and a half. (Yes, my brother is too nice for words.) Today I talked with my sister who had talked with our stepmother. Here's the story as I got it from the two of them.

My father has a girlfriend. He seems to think this is alright, as long as his wife knows what he is doing. He also seems to think that being saved is a one-off thing, final and complete once it has happened. After that, he can do whatever he wishes and everything will be just fine with God.

My father is 70. His girlfriend is in her 30's, with three children. My father has a post-retirement career that involves a lot of traveling. That's how he met this woman. Not only has Dad been sleeping with her, he's been going into debt sending her money. He has even stolen from his wife to get money to send to her.

I am amazed Dad's wife has put up with this as long as she has. She has had enough, though, and has finally initiated divorce proceedings.

All this is bad enough, but there's more. My sister had a talk with our mother, in which it came out that Dad did the same thing to her - more than once. (At which I thought back to certain childhood memories and went, "Oooooh. That casts a new light on that particular incident, and that one, too. No wonder Mom was so upset.")

I thought I had no illusions about my father. I thought I knew what he was like, who he was, how far I could trust him, and where it was best to keep my distance. I thought that, in finally learning to forgive him for the abuse he visited upon me when I was young, I was able to see him clearly, love him in spite of his many, many failings, and yet be clear on his failings.

I guess I had a few illusions after all, because when I heard about the divorce, the only thing I could think of as a cause was that he'd been abusing his wife. When my sister told me about the other woman, I was completely taken aback. My mother has never breathed a word to any of us before about my dad having affairs. She did tell me once, when I was getting through a difficult breakup, that what my boyfriend had done - flirting with and ogling other women in front of me - was something my father used to do and it had made her very unhappy too. That's it. That's the closest Mom has ever come to saying anything about it.

Knowing Mom, this was at least partly in an attempt to be nice to Dad and not to say or do anything that might give us a negative opinion of him. (Yes, my brother takes after my mother that way. And yes, my mother could have been called a poster child for codependence at that stage of her life.) And yet. My siblings and I all have our own major struggles with dealing with anger appropriately. Not becoming abusive batterers and verbal abusers like our father is something each of us struggles with every day. Becoming philanderers, though? I think I can safely say that has probably never crossed anyone's mind. We're all fairly strong romantics, with a belief in eternal love and staunch fidelity. I honestly think that if Mom hadn't protected us, we might not be this way. (I'll tell you what, though - I don't think I could do that. I don't know if I could keep quiet about my anger and pain if I was cheated on.)

Right now my feelings are still developing. I'm angry, I'm hurt, I'm sad. I don't agree with my father that once you are saved, that's it. I don't think that you can say, "I'm saved!" and then go around stealing and hurting others. In fact, I don't think you can even claim to be saved if you are still acting like that. The idea of being born again, after all, is that you become a person whose desire to do righteously is stronger than your desire to sin. Sure you sin still, that's why we constantly need Jesus Christ - but you don't revel in your sin, you don't flagrantly ignore God's commandments and say you have a free pass to sin. And, believing that, I worry about what he's doing to his relationship with God. I worry that he's hurting himself, and I worry about the potential he has to further hurt himself if he doesn't turn away from this. I believe God loves him, I believe he will have all the help he needs to change, if he will only ask for it, but I believe God's commandments are there to protect us, and if we choose to ignore them then we are putting ourselves in as much danger of harm as if we were children playing in the middle of the freeway.

Mostly, though, I am profoundly disappointed in my father. I understand now, a little, my grandfather's feelings toward his father. It's not about my mother being betrayed, it's not about his current betrayal of his wife. It's about the fact that he always taught us not to do this sort of thing. It's about the fact that I never would have thought he might do something like this. It's about the fact that the last illusions I had about my dad, one of the last shreds of decency I always assumed he had, are gone now.

Looking at my father's life, at what I know of him in my 40+ years of knowing him, decade after decade of long conversations and discussions, looking at that, and looking at what I now know about how he has behaved...

I can't help looking at him and thinking, "What a profoundly selfish man." This is a man who is truly concerned only with himself and with what he wants. This is a man who is always ready with an excuse to justify doing what he wants to do, regardless of what he claimed to believe before. This is a man who is so consumed with pity for himself and tenderness for his own feelings that, when his son expressed forgiveness, he was angry and refused to talk to him for two years, offended by the implication that he had ever done anything that might need to be forgiven. This is a man whose behavior, from my current vantage point, stops just short of narcisissm.

I am so disappointed in him. I thought there was more to him than this. And sure, there are reasons I can think of for why he has done this, now and in the past. I can think up a thousand excuses for him. But, ultimately, he is hurting people, and he doesn't care as long as he has what he wants - whether it is a relationship with a new woman, the unquestioning obedience of his children, the submissiveness of his wife. Mental illness, childhood abuse - these things only go so far to explain his lifelong behavior patterns. People can and do overcome these things. My siblings and I fight every day to overcome these things, and we are succeeding, inch by inch.

But my dad? To him, these aren't things to overcome. They are excuses to justify doing what he wants to do. And that disappoints me more than anything else.

I guess I did have illusions left. I had the illusion that my father cared about being a good person, that he wanted to overcome his worst impulses, his worst nature.

I wish I was wrong. I hope I am.

(There's more, but it's worse, much worse, and I'm too ashamed to talk about it in public, even in an anonymous blog like this. I couldn't face you all if I had to admit my father could behave so reprehensibly.)

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Just call me Typhoid Jennifer

Aaarrrggghhhh!! It is three a.m. I am up, writing this, because I am waiting for my youngest to go back to sleep. She woke me up an hour and a half ago, sobbing next to my bed. I'm not sure why she was up - she was too upset to give me a straight answer - but by the time I got her calmed down and ready to go back to sleep, she had to use the toilet. Which is when she had a massive diarrhea attack.

The entire family has been sick for over a week now. First it was the vomiting and fever. Then, when we were almost over that, my oldest came down with such a bad sore throat that I was certain it must be strep. Off we go to the doctor, who assured us that it was just a virus - the first handshake, we learned, of The Killer Cold From Outer Space. And, then yesterday, my stepson got sick with, yep, diarrhea, and now that is getting ready to make its rounds through the family.

It's enough to make a woman paranoid! Three illnesses in 10 days?!

That's it. I'm going to start buying Lysol by the gallon and gel disinfectant by the train load. We are not going through a fourth round of this. Health, shmealth. I have to get everyone back to school and work before I go crazy and run screaming through the streets!

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Yet Another "Bad Mommy" Moment or "How to scare your child half to death without even trying"

Arielle started school this year, her first experience with going to school all day. She's been loving it and is absolutely thriving.

Today, though, her first day back after Christmas vacation, we had a little meltdown. Her teacher sent home a note before Christmas, announcing that she was modifying the discipline structure. She's been having some problems with a few of the kids excessively misbehaving - calling each other names, hitting, pushing, etc. So she's tightened up. There is now only one warning before getting a consequence, and she will be calling parents earlier than she did before.

We talked about this at the beginning of Christmas vacation and she was feeling pretty confident about it. Arielle's never had any real problem with handling what is expected of her in a classroom setting.

This morning, though! I reminded her about the new structure as she was about to head for the bus. Big mistake! (I still have a lot to learn about this mommy business, unfortunately.) Her head went down, her lip started trembling, and big fat tears rolled out of her eyes as she announced, "I don't want to go!"

Yes, yet another one for the "how small can Mommy feel?" record books.

By the time I got her calmed down and feeling confident again it was almost time for the bus. In fact, she had to run to catch it - the first time she's ever had to do that. (Usually she's the first kid there by about 5 minutes. She loves school.)

Poor little sweetpea. I hope she gets over the fright I gave her. She's such a good little girl, and tries so hard to live up to what's expected of her. She has absolutely nothing to worry about. If only I hadn't said anything to make her worry!

Friday, December 28, 2007

Bread and Butter

Gabrielle asked me if she could have a butter sandwich for lunch today.

Now, if it had been Arielle asking, I would have known immediately that she meant peanut butter. Gabrielle hates peanuts and peanut butter, however, so I cast about in my mind and came up with, "Do you mean bread and butter? The yellow butter, sweetie?"

She nodded, and I replied that she certainly could. And then I forgot about it, since both the girls are old enough to make things like that on their own. (Which is wonderful! Wonderful!)

I should have paid attention, though, because I found the remains of her sandwich a while later, abandoned on the table, probably because her poor little body overloaded and screamed, "NOOOOO!!" when she went to take another bite.

When she said "Butter sandwich" she meant a sandwich, not buttered bread. She had taken a slice of bread, slathered margarine a quarter inch thick on it, then folded the bread in half. And she somehow managed to eat a little more than half of the sandwich. It made me feel sick just to look at it.

It reminds me of the time I caught the two of them sitting on the kitchen table, sticking their hands in the margarine tub up to the wrists and sucking it off their fingers.

Would you believe they're actually both rather on the skinny side?


There is something about blogging that gets into your blood, I have found. I haven't posted here for months, but I find myself, nearly daily, taking the events of my life and mentally composing posts.

I feel very conflicted about this blog. The anonymity that started out as a way to help myself feel free to write without risking negative feedback, a way to protect myself from my fear of criticism and thus break through my writer's block, has now become a kind of prison itself. On this blog I've forged another identity, and it's become somewhat of a straitjacket.

That's not to say that this isn't real, that I've made up this blog. I haven't. Everything I've written here has happened to me. There's so much, though, that I haven't written here, so many parts of my personal life that I've left out because I feared coming under attack.

It dawned on me the other day that I'm a terrible perfectionist. Now, this is an excellent quality in a proofreader or copy editor, but not so hot in anything approaching real-life interactions with other people, because the base, the foundation, of my perfectionism is this horrible fear that if I'm less than perfect, if I fail, somehow, to measure up to what everyone else in the world wants me to be, then everything is lost. Everything in my life is a failure if I can't get everyone to like me.

And since I can't be perfect, I tend to not even try. I just give up and don't do anything. I've had so many things I wanted to do, but never dared try, because I was afraid that I would be rejected, laughed at, humiliated. "Who do you think you are? How dare you come here, among us? You loser, you failure, you pathetic excuse for a woman. No-one likes you, no-one loves you, you will never be good enough, you will never be a part of the group. Go away, shrivel up and die, because you are less than worthless. You are a blot on the universe and everyone and everything would be better off without you."

What's the worse that could happen? Not hearing a "No,", but hearing contemptuous laughter.

So I hide - here and in the rest of my life - trying to be perfect, trying to please everyone, so that they won't hate me, won't see past the facade to how much I don't deserve to be among them, won't cast me out and leave me, alone.

Of course, that's not exactly something unique, I do know that. In fact, I believe that's pretty normal. Now if I could only persuade the little voice in my head that keeps ducking under the covers.

Wow - I didn't mean to go off like that, for so long. But then, that's why I need to get back to this, get back to blogging. Because for me, it's my journal, and I need to have this forum. And it's nice to be able to write and have nice people like you all say nice things about it. (Not fishing for compliments, OK?

So, I need to come back to this, which might be complicated because I really do want to still keep it secret from my family and getting time on the computer alone anymore has gotten complicated. People all over the place, reading over my shoulder and loudly stating that they want on, too (so hurry it up and get off already!)

I need this, though. I need to make it work, for my own sake.

Monday, April 16, 2007

When the world rains rocks on your head

Michael's grandfather died from Alzheimer's. It was diagnosed not long after the divorce, and the husband's ex packed up and moved to her father's home state without telling us. (Which wasn't a problem, except that she had Michael and we didn't know where he was for a few months. Which was a huge problem, but that's another story.)

So, Michael got to spend about five years with his grandfather before he died. It was very upsetting for him. He really loved his grandfather and seeing him deteriorate like that has left scars on Michael. He has a particular distaste for his step-grandma because she put her husband in a nursing home and then moved to another state. She didn't come back until the funeral. Everything was left in Michael's mother's hands.

We got a call last night from Michael's mother. Her mother has just been diagnosed with Alzheimer's.

Michael doesn't know yet. He was at a friend's house when she called. Right now the plan is for the husband to let Michael know. I'm stunned and not quite sure how to react. I'll admit that, selfishly, my first thought is how this is going to effect Michael. Not just the emotional repercussions of seeing another grandparent go through this, but the implications for his future. Does that fact that both her parents had Alzheimer's mean that Michael's mom is going to get Alzheimers? Is Michael at increased risk for coming down with this?

I don't know, and as far as I understand it, nobody knows.

Right now, all I can do is try to figure out how to best help Michael cope when he finds out.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Normal Slippage

You know, normal is really just a way of saying, "This is what I'm used to."

What's normal is what's typical. It's the expected, the customary, "this is the way we've always done it."

But if you change all that, if you take the customary and expected and change it - maybe a little, maybe a lot - and then hold it there for awhile, not letting it go back to where it was until it's set up like molded gelatin ...

... when you have a new normal.

A couple of weeks ago I was standing at the sink, washing some pots and pans that don't fit in the dishwasher. I was looking out the window at the warming spring weather, noting from the corner of my eye, and with rather less of my attention, that Arielle was sitting at the kitchen table, absorbed in some complicated make-believe game with her dolls.

And as I thought about all these things and let my hands do their thing with the dishes, I noticed an odd buzzy, fizzy sensation in my chest. I stopped, and I thought, "What is this feeling?" It was a feeling of some kind, I could tell, some emotion ... and then I realized what it was.

I was feeling happy.

I didn't recognize it.

Which was understandable considering I hadn't felt that emotion for, oh (and I stopped here to calculate), wow, about four years now.

Four years.

Four. Years.

I'd thought I was doing so well with the depression when I went to see my new doctor a couple of months ago. I told her about the depression and how bad it had been, even things I haven't told anyone else, thinking that was just background. And then I went on and described some frustrating symptoms that have been bothering me lately.

You know what she said? Of course you do! She said she thought I was still mildly depressed and she wanted to put my on an antidepressant. She thought my frustrating symptoms were caused by that.

So. We talked for awhile about that, and I explained how badly I had reacted to the evil Cymbalta and how I had been flooded for most of the six months I was on it with the overwhelming conviction that I really needed to kill myself, and how I would have sudden impulses to do things like drive my car into a telephone pole that were so strong it was like someone standing behind me, with their hands on my shoulders, shoving me forward toward death, and how all I could do when those impulses hit was hang on to whatever was solid near me and try to keep breathing until the wave crested and broke, and how I thought ever taking any antidepressant ever again was a Very, Very Bad Idea.

And she said she wanted me to try Wellbutrin. It didn't work the same way Cymbalta did, she promised me. "Try it," she said. "If you start feeling strange you can stop taking it immediately without a need to taper off."

I agreed, but not happily, and I seriously considered not filling the prescription. But there was that tantalizing possibility of magically feeling better, and although I was feeling pretty darn good, I thought, well, maybe.

I realize now, that my standard of normal had changed. I was so used to being depressed that, especially after the Cymbalta, I had forgotten what I used to think was normal.

I still don't know if this is anywhere near what I used to consider normal, but right now, the Wellbutrin is really doing me good. I met with my doctor again and she said she thinks that we should just go with this for the indefinite future. Meaning, I might be on this for the rest of my life.

Fine with me. This might not be "normal" but it's so much better than where I was that it feels pretty good.

Friday, April 06, 2007

So, does this mean I have to replant my newly sprouted lettuce?

So there I was yesterday morning, standing at the kitchen sink, washing some pots and pans, looking out the window at the gray and gloomy day outside. It was such a change from the day before, which had started out cloudy and rainy, but turned out sunny and beautiful. It had, actually, been rather hot the day before, but that morning was cold enough to require a coat when I took my Netflix DVD down to the mailbox.

Something white floated past the window, and I squinted at it, wondering what it was. A small feather from some hapless bird? A early bit of dandelion fluff? There was another, and another! Was a wind blowing the blossoms from the cherry tree? But it had only just blossomed! Surely we weren't losing all the flowers yet!

And then, a horrible thought crossed my mind.

That couldn't possible be snow, could it? I ran to the back door, standing in the open doorway with my head sticking out, staring at the white fluff slipping past me, straining to bring such tiny bits into focus. Was it fluffy or spiky? Soft or icy?

I couldn't tell. They kept disappearing as they fell.

I ruthlessly suppressed the bad words that wanted to slip out and went to tell my children.

It was snowing.

Stupid spring weather.