Monday, May 31, 2010

The Family I Never Really Had

I have a secret to life? It has been the stuff of a made for TV movie.
An afterschool special if you will. So many cautionary tales, all rolled up into one.

Want divorced family? We've got that here.
Want blended family, struggling to succeed? We've got that too.
Want said blended family crumbling to pieces? Check!
Want long lost family reappearing and reuniting? Double check!
Want vile actions driving people apart? Score!
Want alcoholism, drugs, abuse, suicide attempts? Tune in.

Basically any cliche you could dream up, you can find here.

There are people that I am related to that I do not talk to. These people have never met my husband, have never seen my children, have not spoken to me or me to them, for over a decade. And before that, they had only seen or talked to me for a handful of years, following a nearly 2 decade absence.

I was raised by my mother. For better or worse, she has been my family, my WHOLE family, for my whole life. The only child of an only child, with no living grandparents, it was just the two of us.

At times, I have had a stepfather and step siblings. I desperately wanted them to be real. I wanted to be a big, happy family. And she wanted that for me. She endured years more of a bad situation than she had any reason to, in a brave attempt to give me a family. There players were all there: mother, father, sister, brother, aunt, uncle and cousins. Except that they weren't. They were the family that I never really had, but sort of did.

I picked up a stepsister, who is as close to a real sister as I will ever truly understand having.

But when you dig down really deep and push comes to shove, it has really always been mom and I.

My father sent child support through some convoluted state managed process, which meant that there was never an address or contact information attached to either end of the monetary transaction.

We moved alot.
We were not the easiest people to keep track of.

At the end of high school, with the cost of college and more immediately, the cost of college applications looming on the horizon, I got back in touch. It had been more than 15 years since he had seen me. I had no memory of him.

We had a whirlwind courtship and moved in together.
I had a family?

The next 7 years were a hellstorm of ups and downs, as we struggled to forge some sort of relationship. Years of expectations and wild imaginings about the true nature of the other crashed headlong into the reality that was one and other, and it wasn't always pretty. After several attempts at being who I thought he would love, and trying to fit myself into that shape, I realized that it was me or him. And hard as it was, I chose me.

I chose to cut myself off from the only person in the world that I looked like.
I cut myself off from the object of my fascination and longing for most of my childhood.
I rode off into the sunset, while I still had one or two unblemished, genuinely fond memories intact. I hoped that on some level, I would be missed.
I made myself nothing more than a blip in the story of his life. And the life of my stepmother, stepsister and the rest of the family that I never really had.

The intervening decade has been an incredible ride. I got married, had children and embarked upon the wild journey of raising my own family. Mother, father, sister, brother, and yet...

My husband has a family. Always has had one. Whether he wanted them or not, his parents and siblings were always there, in the periphery. He has cousins. Lots of them. Plenty of spares that he chooses to have space from.

He also has a son that is not mine.

When we met, my husband was a mess. Emotionally fragile and permanently fractured from the failure of his first marriage and subsequent loss of his son from his day to day life, he was completely immobilzed by his loss and depression.

I set off to try and make it right.
I provided the solution to all of his fatalism, forcing him to find positive outcomes and ways to get at least a little of what he wanted.

Through time and a mammoth effort and sacrifices on my part, I was breifly able to turn 7 people that had very little chance of ever interacting civilly into the most unusual of family units. It was complicated. It was exhausting. It was the juggling and balancing act of all balancing acts, but it seemed to be working. Mother, father, sister, brother, brother, other mother, other father. It was the family I never really had.

A few strong gusts of emotional wind, and the delicate house of cards that I had worked so hard to build, for my children, his child, myself was scattered on the wind.

But something was different. Mother, father, sister, brother. We were still a family. A damaged family. A family reeling from the loss of losing a part of itself, but a family nonetheless.

Time and technology has given us ways to keep tabs on the people that we have lost over the course of our lives, and I have used it liberally, as a virtual bush to cloak myself in, while I search for clues of what is really going on in their lives. A glimpse here, a long hard stare there, and I am able to comfort myself that at least they appear healthy.

I can see my father, looking much the same. I can read his blog and gain his persepctive of the world. I see alot about him. I see him fondly referring to his daughter, an unrestrained measure of pride in his voice. He speaks of my stepsister, with whom he has had more than twice as many years with than we ever shared. The one thing I never see, is an absence of me. But he seems happy, and that matters to me. I am happy for him, and the family that I never really had.

I can see my stepsister, aunt and cousins. Bolder now, I have reached out, and been granted permission to watch the parts of their life that they choose to share with the internet unfold. As people that I am blood related to, I sometimes yearn to be a part of their lives. To be missed. However I never expect it. I have no idea how my absence was explained to them, and I am not sure that I want to ever see the picture that was painted for them. They seem happy though, and that matters to me. I am happy for them, the family that I never really had.

I can see my stepson. Tiny glimpse. Just a blip. I can see the other mother and other father, a glance here, a glance there. I know that they are alive. I know that they are together. I can only assume that things are good for them. And I am happy for them. The family that I never had.

I often wonder what I would do if, from my long distance perch I saw something terrible happen. Would I, could I find a way to make it better?

I might just get that chance.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

It's Just That Kind of Day...

One of my articles got flagged for plagiarism...the article that I am accused of potentially plagiarizing from? An article that I wrote on the same topic about a week ago.

Can you plagiarize yourself?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010


Well, our little family has just embarked upon a new and unexpected little journey...we former "city mice" have decided to go a little less urbane with our diet and have started drinking raw milk.

Raw milk, for the uninitiated is simply milk fresh from the cow. It is not pasteurized (cooked) as typical, store-bought milk is, nor is it homogenized. This means that the cream will separate out. It means that our whole milk is *truly* whole.

On average, our family of four drinks about 6-8 gallons of milk a week. (What can I say, the kids and the husband are milk drinkers...) At current local prices nearing $4/gallon, that is a healthy chunk of the grocery bill. This past Sunday, after church, we went to a small local diner with some friends. In typical diner fashion, the placemats had little ads all around the border. One of the ads was for raw milk, $2.50/gallon. This prompted a lengthy discussion, and the decision to venture out and try it.

So Monday afternoon I drove out to the dairy farm, picked up a gallon and we gave it a test run. It certainly has a slightly different flavor, but the kids and the hubby have decided that they like it.

There appear to be many potential health benefits to drinking raw milk, and it is certainly less costly, so we'll just have to see how this works out over the next several weeks.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Sick...of Being Sick

It is now Day 2 of the great green days of May for me. I know, I know you never even knew it was Day 1...Last week the girl child was stricken with a nasty stomach bug, that her firmly parked on the couch for 2 days. What had started as a perfectly ordinary morning quickly changed, leaving the boy child to trudge on to the bus stop alone, and the girl to practice her mad vomit aiming skills. Thankfully, as these things typically do, it passed.

Yesterday morning I got up and felt ill. Like rollicking, going to toss my cookies, just what did I eat last night ill. Ill enough that when it was time for me to venture out, to pick the kiddies up at school and take them for piano, I didn't bother to put on a bra. Or proper pants. I ventured out in my lovely pink puppy fleece pajama bottoms. Because I am especially classy that way. Oh, I didn't brush my hair either.

I had hopes that today would be better. And in brief shining moments it has been. Then there are all of the *other* moments. You know, the ones where I wish I at least had had a really good night of drinking under my belt to show for all of this nausea.

**side note: The proper way to say it is that you feel nauseated, not that you are nauseous. Nauseous refers to an odor, so if you tell me that you are nauseous, you can expect me to plug my nose. It is a pet peeve of mine, and I know it is a bit OCD, but I decided to embrace my inner Mr. Monk a long time ago. **

OK, now back to my regularly scheduled whining.

Anyway, all of this queasiness has led me to the same cold sweat fear that I always land at when I feel sick for more than a millisecond...

Which led me to wonder if I am normal to always jump to the same unlikely yet terrifying conclusion, or if this is something which ALL women - or at least all women that have had children - immediately default to?

Because the only other times that I can recall feeling this sick for this long for no reason were those times that I was pregnant.

Which is obviously not actually true...because I know that this is at least the 4th time that I have had this same fear in the last 2 years. Which means that it has happened, I just have chosen not to remember it.

And is not even really possible, since I have successfully had an IUD for the last nearly 5 years. (This November I will need to get a new one...aren't you relieved to be in the know on that??)

So is it just me? Or does every woman "go there" every time she feels like technicolor hurling?

Monday, May 10, 2010

Great Expectations

As Mother's Days go around here, yesterday was pretty decent. Typically, almost any day that is used for the purpose of celebrating any single individual within this household is met with an underwhelming lack of fanfare. Sure, sure I make a big deal about the kiddos birthdays but the husband usually manages to effectively mar those efforts by being a complete and utter asshat. There is apparently something about birthdays, Mother's Day and other "Hey, this is YOUR day" type events that triggers some mild form of psychosis in the man.

Being that this is the custom, I have learned to pretty well dread these otherwise festive occasions, and do my best to shield the kiddos from the nasty demon in the the daddy shaped flesh suit that comes to visit us on those days.

This year started off about a week ago, with the husband actually asking me what I would like for Mother's Day. Which nearly made me swallow my own teeth. Recognizing that I had a rare possible window of opportunity here, I put in a quick plug for the porch swing that I have been wanting since the very day that I first set eyes on our home. For four years I have wanted one. For four years I have been forbidden to purchase one because, and I quote "That's a ripoff, I can build one much cheaper."

Yes, yes I am sure you can. Of course it will take you until the 5th day of Christmas 2033, and by the time that you are done, NONE of us will be speaking, you will have insulted EVERYONE involved in the process and it will weigh enough to keep any portion of the Titanic that may have considered floating to the surface firmly pinned on the ocean floor.

At any rate, I offered the coveted swing up as a wish list item. Which was met with the rejoinder, "Get the %$$%@ Christmas trees off the porch, and we'll talk." For the record, there are *no* "Christmas Trees" on my porch. There are two lighted fir trees in pots at either side of the door. Sure, I had originally purchased them as Christmas decorations, but thought "Heck, why not use them year round to spruce up the porch."

A few days later, I jokingly pointed out a very.expensive. car stereo and claimed "That's what I want for Mother's Day." This immediately elicited a sneering remark about putting something like that into a Ford.

Anyway, the mere fact that he remembered that Mother's Day was coming and was making noises like it was going to be acknowledged set me completely off balance. But in a good way.

Exceeded expectations.

A few days later, he called from work and mentioned that there was no.way. that I was getting that stereo, as he had priced it, and it was waaay more than he had ever spent on a deck, but that maybe Kenwood or Clarion make a model that I would like. Honestly, that was the closest I think I have come to swooning in a dog's age.

Far exceeded expectations.

Saturday arrived, and he informed me that the odds of him coming to church the next day were slim, as the Chelsea/Wigan game was coming on at 11, and he wanted to watch it. Which would mean that I would be in church with both kids, dealing with any behavior hiccups that might occur, on my own, on Mother's Day. Typical. A little part of me started screaming "DVR the damned thing and come to church you asshat!!!" Unfortunately, that little part was not connected to the mouth bone, so no one heard me shouting it.

Meets expectations.

Sure enough he stayed home from church. ANd I could feel my aggravation level r-i-s-i-n-g QUICKLY. Someone suggested that perhaps I would walk in to a great spread that he was getting ready for me? I responded saying "Yes, if that happens, you can visit me at the hospital, as it will be the big one Margaret."

Meets expectations.

So I loaded the kiddies up and contemplated NOT going home. But I had on sandals, and my toes were cold, and I wanted socks. As I turned onto our street, I immediately noticed that the garage door was opened, his car had been moved and was backed up to said garage, and he was stalking about in the garage with a broom and a large stack of wood.

Potentially exceeding expectations.

I walked inside and found flowers - granted inexpensive, last minute, purchased at the grocery store flowers, but flowers none the less.

Exceeds expectations.

My aggravation quickly changed to cautious hope, thinking wow, he is DVRing the game and building me my swing, at long last!!!!

I ran upstairs and got changed.

He called me out to the garage.

And started asking me my opinion - which we all know he doesn't REALLY want - on whether it would be better to leave the boards at their original thickness or to rip them in half. Because they would likely be too thick for the desk that he wants to build. For the kids.

Meets expectations.

Ripping boards is one of my least favorite things to "do together". I am alway sin the "catcher" position on the far end of the board, which he feed it along the table saw. And I always manage to "Do it wrong" and get yelled out.

My blood started to boil realizing that he had the notion that I should help him rip boards on *MY* day.

Meets expectations.

I went inside and seethed for a minute or two.

He came inside and started watching the recorded game.

We never discussed the boards again.

Apparently he can get a clue every now and again.

Exceeds expectations.

The rest of the day was fairly uneventful, with me going to the store and picking out what I wanted for lunch and dinner the rest of them be damned.

For our household, that is a fairly successful personal holiday. It would be fair to say that it exceeded my original expectations.

And then, after the kids went to bed he said to me, "So I saw you were looking a the Crutchfield catalog. Did you find one that you liked?"

Exceeds expectations.

Perhaps he is learning.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010


Me: I think I killed my lawnmower.

He: Oh? Why's that?

Me: It started smoking, then the oil cap shot off, and oil flew out of it in all directions.

He: Yeah, that's typically not a good thing.

Monday, May 3, 2010

I Smell A New Family Hobby Brewing

This weekend we tried our hands at a little outdoorsy adventure with some friends and the kiddos. As they have gotten a bit older, daddy has been chomping at the bit to get them outside and into the wilderness, to re-enact all of his days of scouting and tromping through the woods. Visions of backpacking, hiking, camping and "roughing it" have danced through his head for years now.

When the boy entered scouts last year the excitement started as a dull humming, but has consistently built to a near deafening roar in the last several months. Insistent that we stay true to his childhood memories, he has scoffed at all of the new fangled conveniences that have come onto the market to make "roughing it" more like "temporarily-relocating-your-fancy-modern-ass-outside-ing it". Not surprisingly, he has long contended that GPS devices are one of the great evils of the world, and that we should all throw them out and just learn to use a *&^%$#@ map.

Seriously. You would not believe the long winded rants that this man has embarked upon for the singleminded purpose of extolling the many flaws and evils of the little box with the voice on the dashboard.

Some of his sparklier gems of wisdom include:

"That thing will tell you that you can drive from here to Paris if you let it!"

"If it told you to go off a cliff, would you?"

"It can't even pronounce the street names correctly!"

"All of you GPS users are lemmings!"

Many a time have I been severely chastised for either using a GPS, associating with someone else who uses one or even doing something as depraved as printing out and using directions from Mapquest. But then I am just an ugly sinner like that.

But I digress...

It seems that we have finally found a place in his world for GPS. We went geocaching with some friends yesterday and had a blast. Our local council scout camp has a geocaching course that is open to the public, so we hopped in the car and drove up...

using a dashmounted GPS...

which, (wait for it)... kept giving the wrong directions...

making the hubby simultaneously crazed and smug...

and leading him back to his original assertion that we should just use a compass and a map...

which threatened to turn this first foray into a torturous endeavor.

Thankfully, he was quickly taken in by the ease and simplicity of just following the darned
directions. (One has to wonder if his own constant mantra to the non-computer Geeks of RTFM was echoing somewhere in the back of his head)

Armed with the trusty handheld GPS of our fellow treasure hunters and dear friends, the kids were able to uncover many a fine treasure and even a few trackable items. For the uninitiated, geocaching is a form of modern day treasure hunting. Cachers post coordinates of a cache box on the geocaching website, and intrepid hunters then embark on a journey to find said cache. Inside there can be any number of items, including a log book, where one can record their visit to the cache, small items that you can take, as long as you replace them with another similarly small item and even numbered items that can be tracked on line, and delivered to other caching locations around the globe.

The kids found many small things, such as a baseball, a sewing kit and an emergency flashlight.
The also uncovered a couple of trackable treasures, one of which was a rubber ducky, that is a "travel bug". Cindy Duck has been stealthily making her way around the globe since 2006, and comes to PA from the Netherlands originally. This was, for the kids, the single coolest thing that could possibly have happened!

Seeing how many miles this simple toy has traveled and checking out the points on a map was a great (fun) lesson in geography, and one that they are excited to be a part of. We have plans to go again, and I can see this quickly becoming a part of any family roadtrips in our future.

Of course the next time that we go, we will probably not use the dashboard GPS to get us to the general spot, since it apparently can't read a map.

The Birds Are Back

And with a vengeance.

Those of you that have been following for a while, are familiar with the great bird saga of 2008. Those of you who are not, may go and get caught up here and here and here and here and finally here.

Last year, I thought I would outsmart those persistent pains in the arse by skipping out on the hanging baskets altogether. Which seemed to have genuinely done the trick, though making me a bit sad in the process.

Much to my dismay I launched into this spring sans beautiful hanging flowers, just to avoid such antics again.

I am t-h-r-i-l-l-e-d to announce that it is once again Robin mating season in the PA and apparently our yard has been voted one of the top 10 sexiest places for robins this year.

We have nests. 4 of them at last count. Each complete with eggs and babies.

That is one on the front porch, ON THE RAILING(!!!!!!), two in the tree in the front yard, and one in the forsythia bush around the side of the house. In the dog's yard. Where the nest can be a constant source of temptation, frustration, confusion and anxious whimpering for three 100+ lb dogs. Excellent.

The front nest has already begun hatching, and I frankly have neither the energy, nor the courage to investigate the others. On the upshot, at least my neighbor with all of the 100's of birdhouses that go vacant each year can hear and see the birds, and at least *pretend* that they are living in her avian housing development.