Monday, September 29, 2014

Family Ties: 10 Years Later



For 10 years, I’ve been struggling to find a place in my father’s family, and the truth has been slowly dawning: it’s been such an impossible effort because there is no place for me. I can’t continue to hurt myself like this, trying to carve a place out of nothing. It is too painful. 

Confession: I do a fair job of hiding it, but I am actually a deeply sensitive person.

My paternal grandfather passed away a few days ago, a man who was not a grandfather to me in anything more than the biological sense. While his children and (legitimate) grandchildren mourn his loss, I mourn the lack of loss. Having lost an actual grandfather, on January 4, 1997, one whom I loved very much and who was there for me from the day I was born, I cannot really say which loss is worse.

Is it better (or worse) to have loved and lost, or to have never loved at all?

I gather that this largely unknown grandfather of mine was a pretty special guy, one who valued family and was a man of great love and integrity. I don’t know any of the stories. They are not a part of my history. On a handful of occasions, I witnessed a kind and gentle soul. That’s all I have, and yet really it has nothing to do with me. 

In the scope of this family, I belong nowhere, and that is a pretty unusual feeling, an untethered sort of sensation.

Being around them is difficult, although they are mostly polite when they happen to notice me. I see their bond, it is nearly a tangible thing. They laugh and joke and, despite the miles that separate them most of the time, when they are together they present a unified front of intimacy. They seem to exude the message: our family is a huge, loving unit. That might be true, but it is a sentiment that certainly does not include me.

I can’t really blame them. They don’t know what to do with me, this outsider, this interloper. They acknowledge my existence, but they do so hesitantly. Not rudely, but in a way that makes it clear, intentionally or not, that I am not a member of this particular club and no provisions will be made. 

What they might not realize, is that I am the vulnerable party. They, with their shared love and tight bonds, have the collective power to hurt me very much. I am not strong enough to force myself in, at the risk of further rejection.

It’s a sink or swim situation, and in this case I’m just going to have to sink. I made the initial effort, to find them, to connect. I tried, tried, tried…but now I’m done. Perhaps they expected more effort from me, but why should I have to bear the continuous strain of the Herculean effort of simply trying to fit in, to be a part of what should be my own family? The answer is, I shouldn’t, and I no longer will. The more likely scenario is that they have no expectations of me, simply because they do not think of me nor consider me at all.

When I was growing up and didn’t know my father, didn’t know who he was or anything about him, I constantly wondered two things: what he was like, and why he didn’t want me. These questions were an integral part of my childhood, I lived and breathed them right up until I was 30 years old and finally had the opportunity to discover the answers. It was a certain kind of background pain, a shame that was always there. The questions extended to the rest of the family, I was aware that at least some of them knew about me. But they seemed to have made the mutual decision to do what was easiest, which was to quietly agree that I didn’t exist.

I thought meeting my father and getting my answers would change everything, and it did. Just not necessarily in the way I thought it would. Turns out, that pain and shame of my childhood have been replaced with a different kind of pain, and a different kind of shame.

Now I feel the pain of exclusion, made sharper by knowing what I’m being excluded from. I feel the shame of being unwanted, but I now know the faces of those who don’t want me. I think, honestly, that it’s harder now. In some ways my imagination was more forgiving. 

I can see now, in hindsight, that probably it was better that I didn’t know as a child what I know now. Because no matter what, I was always destined to be an outsider in this family. Even if my father had claimed me from the start, I would have, at best, been a peripheral member of his family. As an adult I am better able to handle the disappointment and heartache that inevitably comes with this particular territory.

I can’t really say I regret doing what I’ve done: finding my father, meeting my father, maintaining a relationship with my father. I am glad to know him. I also wish things were different, but wishing doesn’t make it so. Action won’t make it so either, unfortunately. Nothing can erase the past. What I think is that this is simply the hand I’ve been dealt, what I must accept and constantly forgive, day after day. There is no going around it, the only way is to go through it, which is what I’ve been trying to do for nearly 10 years. 

It is a solitary journey, and not a smooth or easy one. I will continue on, but while keeping self-preservation at the forefront. No more trying to turn apples into oranges. No more looking for what isn't there.
    

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Saying Goodbye to My Dog


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Playing dress-up


Back to school time has been off to a rocky start. In the middle of the second week of school, our dog, Cleo (who was almost 14 years old), started acting strangely. Very quickly Chris and I realized this was it. The timing, of course, was horrible, but sickness and death don't seem to pay much attention to things like that.

By that first night, I was carrying Cleo outside to use the bathroom. I could barely get her to eat a few bites of one of her favorite people foods (American cheese). The next day was Lucy's birthday, and I prayed that Cleo would make it through the day because, well, that would be no way to celebrate an 8th birthday.

She made it and even seemed a little better by bedtime on Lucy's birthday. But then during the night she took a turn for the worse. By the time I was driving my kids to school Friday morning, I knew I couldn't let my sweet girl suffer any longer.

Cleo was elderly, especially for a lab mix, and she had been having a progressively more difficult time getting around for awhile, along with other signs of aging, like a sporadic appetite and loss of hearing. We knew she didn't have long, but I always hoped that she would simply die peacefully at home when her time came. Unfortunately that wasn't going to happen. We had to make the heart-wrenching decision to end her suffering

I wanted to get it over with before the kids came home from school because I didn't want to prolong the dog's misery, and I didn't want my kids to know the torture of watching me drive off to have our beloved pet put down. This was a hard call, but I think I did the right thing. The kids knew she wasn't doing well and we had already talked to them and let them know she wouldn't be with us much longer.

Cleo was our family dog, but she was really my dog. She was extremely anxious when I wasn't around and was really attached to me. Because of this I knew that I had to be the one to take her. Chris was at work, and he had to work all weekend. This couldn't wait. So I called a local vet a couple of my friends had used for the same wretched purpose, and crying uncontrollably, made the appointment.

My brother-in-law was in town for the weekend from Florida, and he so graciously offered to go with me. He cried with me and hugged me and stayed with me the whole time. This was not a fun thing to volunteer for, and I will always be thankful to him for being with me on that horrible day.

I chose to stay in the room because I figured it was the least I could do for a dog who had been part of our family for so long. I know this isn't the right choice for everyone, and I'm not knocking anyone's decision, but as I said Cleo was really attached to me. She would have been much more distressed if I hadn't been with her.

The vet gave Cleo a sedative first with some pain meds in it, and almost instantly she was completely calm and at ease. No more trembling and panting and drooling. She just peacefully put her head down on the table while I stroked her and sweet talked her (Even though she could no longer hear, I always talked to her. I think she knew.). I wished I would have had a sedative to give her at home before we came in, or something to make her more comfortable.

I had a few minutes while the sedative took effect to say goodbye to Cleo. Then the vet came back in and gave her the lethal injection. He had to shave a bit of her leg, but by that time Cleo was totally out of it. I truly don't think she felt a thing. After that it was very quick. The vet told me to take my time saying goodbye. Rob (my bil) left me to have a moment alone. The hardest part was leaving her in there, laying on the exam table.

We took Cleo from her mother at 9 weeks old, and she cried and broke my heart. Then I got to be her other mother for almost 14 years, and saying goodbye to her broke my heart all over again.

This is the first time we haven't had a pet since 1997. Our house feels empty, but nonetheless Chris and I have made the decision to hold off on getting another dog until after next summer. I want, no, need, a break. A part of me would love to run right out and get a puppy, but I know that for my sanity's sake I need to wait.

I know this is an unpleasant topic, and most people probably do not want to read about my experience losing my dog, but maybe it will help someone. I also know that every situation and every family is different, but these are my tips for getting through the ordeal of having a pet put down.
  • Be honest with your kids without being too detailed. 
  • Consider staying with your pet until the end. I know it sounds awful, but I actually think I would feel a lot worse if I hadn't stayed. I got to see that Cleo was peaceful when she passed, and to feel that I was a slight comfort to her in her final moments.
  • If you have other pets or plan on getting another, you might want to consider not going to your regular vet for the procedure. I think it would be so hard to have to be in the same exam room again and again where my dog passed away. Ask around. I got a recommendation from my friend and my cousin (both went to the same place) and I am glad I went with their suggestion.
  • Don't go alone if you can help it.
  • If someone is with you, ask them to go in before you to tell the staff you've arrived and to find out exactly where you'll be going. My brother-in-law did this for me and I'm glad I didn't have to sit in a waiting room with my dog.
  • Once in the room, remove your pet's collar if you'd like to keep it.
The office I went to was awesome and I appreciate how they did things, but I doubt all veterinary offices operate the same. They got us into an exam room immediately, without having to wait. They explained everything to me very clearly, letting me know what to expect. They had me fill out paperwork and pay before hand, so I didn't have to deal with it afterward. They were patient and gave me all the time I needed to say goodbye. All of this helped tremendously. In case your vet is different, I suggest:
  • Ask to fill out all paperwork and settle the bill before anything gets started.
  • Ask questions about the procedure and what to expect.
  • Make sure your pet is being given a sedative first (maybe this is standard, I don't know). This will relieve your pet's anxiety and help with pain.
  • Don't let anyone rush you. Take your time saying goodbye, and make your wishes clear. If you'd like a moment alone with your pet and it isn't offered, speak up.
Having my dog put to sleep was one of the most difficult things I've ever done. I didn't think I could do it until I did. We were blessed to have her for so long, to trip over in the middle of the night, to pick up trash she had strewn around the kitchen while we were sleeping (not too often), and to watch our children climb all over her from the time they could crawl, poking her eyes and nose, pulling her tail and paws, without ever anything more than a lick in return. You were a good dog, Cleo, and we will miss you.


Monday, September 8, 2014

The F Word





One little four-letter word is the ruler of my life.

F-E-A-R

In many cases it's justified, which I'll explain in context of my current situation, but whether the fear is warranted or not is beside the point. Fear shouldn't be running the show, for me or anyone else.

I am registered to run a half marathon next month. NEXT MONTH. I started halfheartedly training months ago, and then life got in the way, and then I started again, and then life got in the way again. Well, you know that saying, the one that goes something like: "If you want to do something, you'll find a way. If you don't want to do it, you'll find an excuse." There you go, a perfect explanation for this particular predicament. After all, I do hate running, and that is absolutely no secret.

I kind of figured I would turn the training into high gear once the kids started school, and hope to at least walk really, really fast and run part of the half.

And then...

I haven't really talked about this much, but a few weeks ago I'm pretty sure I had a seizure. Something like this has happened to me before, but it had been over three years since the last incident. At that time, I had some testing done, and a neurologist wanted to put me on a drug I was not comfortable taking, so I never filled the prescription. I started a rigorous chiropractic regime with adjustments three times a week and just concentrated on taking better care of myself. And I was fine, until a few weeks ago when it happened again.

Unsurprisingly, it happened when I was run down and worn out. I was out of town with my mom and kids, spending lots of time in the bright hot sun (a migraine trigger for me), walking a lot, driving a lot. I ended up with a killer sick headache our last night at the hotel, was okay the next two days and then woke up to this thing that I think was a seizure.

This is how it happens for me. Always when I first wake up. I feel sick, then lose control of my hands (and once, my entire body). I don't have convulsions, like you are probably thinking when you envision a seizure. I know now that there are actually many different types of seizures. My muscles in my hands seize up and I can't move my fingers. I'm dizzy and nauseous and totally conscious the whole time. This time I was sweating profusely but I can't remember if that was the case in the past. I don't know how long it lasted but it felt like an eternity.

For the rest of the day, I felt horrible. Weak and nauseated, with no appetite and no energy. I felt unwell for several days, and when I started to feel better, I over-did it (we were getting ready for my daughter's birthday and redecorating her bedroom), and then felt bad again for a couple more days.

Finally I felt normal again, totally, blissfully normal. I spent days school shopping and walking around Greenfield Village and still felt completely fine.

Then last weekend we went to my father-in-law's for a little barbeque and swimming, and I did something I have done hundreds of times in my life. I did a somersault in the pool. One, that's it. When I came up out of the water, the world was tilted sideways. I struggled to swim to the side of the pool, and slowly inched my way out. I made it into the house, where I sat in the dark bathroom until it was time to leave. I was dizzy and nauseated the rest of the day and felt unwell for days afterward.

According to several of my friends, this last occurrence seems like an episode of vertigo. I've never had anything like this happen to me before, and with it coming so close on the heels of the other incident a few weeks ago, I'm a little uneasy.

(No, I haven't been to a doctor. That is a discussion for another day.)

So anyway, let's come full circle back to that F-word. You see now what I mean? I think I'm justified in being a little scared, given the circumstances. I don't know if I can (or should) run, and I'm worried that if I do I might trigger another episode.

I'm a little annoyed, to tell the truth. But since I'm (once again) feeling fine, I'm going to walk everyday and see how things go. If I continue to feel good, maybe I'll try running a little bit. I don't know.

I think I'm being properly cautious, given the circumstances. But I still don't like it. I want to be able to run without worrying about the implications on my health. Yes, I did mention that I hate running. But still, it is my prerogative to torture myself as I see fit!

I'll be honest. What happened to me was terrifying. I am very afraid of it happening again. (Fearful enough to take meds that might make me suicidal and unable to drive? Probably not.)

This is, unfortunately, not the only area of my life where fear is king. It's just the one that's on my mind the most at the moment.

I think most people let fear rule their lives to a certain degree. What about you? Have you managed to move beyond your fears, or are they holding you back?


Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Book Review + Giveaway: Dark Hope by Monica McGurk - New YA Trilogy


I have a confession. I'm 39 years old and I love YA.

What's YA, you might be asking? YA stands for Young Adult, as in the book genre meant for young adults. They're typically fast moving, exciting, easy to read books, and feature teenagers as the main characters. Lots of stuff is vying for real estate in my mind these days, so uncomplicated reads work best for me. Many YA books are good, really good; can't put it down-stay up all night reading kind of good. Plus I am now the mother of a teenager myself, so it's beneficial to keep current on the intricate workings of the teenage brain.

The latest YA gem I've come across? Dark Hope, by Monica McGurk.

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Book 1 of the Angel Prophecies

Dark Hope is the first book in McGurk's Archangel Prophecies Trilogy. Which is a good thing, because I definitely want more!

A brief synopsis:
Hope Carmichael was raised by her hyper-protective, uber-religious, survivalist father for most of her childhood. But no one could blame him for being so cautious, after Hope's enigmatic abduction as a young child. Now that she's a teenager, Hope has the opportunity to live a more normal life with her mother, and is suddenly given more freedom than she has ever had. Life just gets more and more curious for Hope as she makes a mysterious friend at her new high school and becomes personally invested in the crusade against human trafficking, which is rampant in her new hometown of Atlanta. She is about to embark on an epic adventure of a lifetime.
The name of the trilogy - Archangel Prophecies - gives you a clue that Dark Hope is celestial in nature and involves angels. Beyond that, I would rather you read for yourself to discover Hope's mystifying characteristics, friendships, and life experiences!

While Dark Hope really is fun to read, with all its magic and adventure, it is much more than the latest teenage supernatural fad. McGurk brings attention to an issue that often goes unnoticed and under-reported: human trafficking, specifically right here in the United States. Many people do not realize how prevalent modern slavery truly is. It is a terrifying issue that deserves much more attention in the media, and I'm glad to see it getting some in a book that is sure to become a huge success.

I would recommend this book, which melds together romance, mystery, supernatural topics, teenage angst, adventure, and current events, to:
  • Anyone who loves YA
  • Anyone looking for a new, quick paced series to start
  • Fans of supernatural/mystical/angel novels
  • Readers interested in modern day slavery
  • Eclectic readers like myself, who love books of all kinds!
Once you finish Dark Hope, you won't be able to wait to read the next book in the series (which is already complete, publishing date TBA), so make sure to keep up with author Monica McGurk on social media:
I have no doubt that you would LOVE to get your hands on your own copy of Dark Hope! Just enter the Rafflecopter form below, and maybe it will be your lucky day!


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I was selected for this opportunity as a member of Clever Girls Collective and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.




Saturday, August 9, 2014

Walking with Dinosaurs Report

Still deciding whether you should treat your kids to Walking With Dinosaurs tickets for this weekend? Read on before you decide!

Wednesday night I took Connor, Mathilda, and my godson to the Palace of Auburn Hills to see Walking With Dinosaurs. I had heard of the movie, and in fact Connor and Chris had seen it at the theater when it was out. But, even though I had read a bit about this live show and wrote about it over at MichiGal Travels, I wasn't really sure what to expect.

I've been to the Palace for basketball games, Disney on Ice, concerts, and other live shows. They always manage to change things up to suit the performance. In this case, I'd say the staging area was about the size of the ice arena for the ice shows. Really big. There was a (human) narrator who was out there the entire time, and two jumbo screens on either side of the stage so that the audience could get a better view of what was happening down there.

Walking With Dinosaurs was way more educational than I was expecting. The narrator basically took us through an abridged version of the history of dinosaurs. As he told us about different eras and various species, the dinosaurs would come out on the stage. Some were manned by people who were inside of them, but most of them were robotic. They were massive! Aside from the educational value of the show, there were some cool special effects - like when the narrator explained about the origin of flowers, colorful flowers "grew" all around the stage.

If you have kids, you have probably read and learned quite a bit about dinosaurs since becoming a parent. Nonetheless, I felt the show was pretty interesting, and I learned some new things. Having the huge dinosaurs up on stage illustrating the narrative really brought it to life. They moved around the stage, demonstrating some typical dinosaur behaviors. A few times they sort of interacted with the audience by growling up close or bending their long necks over them.

We were sitting in section 224, and the seats were great. We had a clear view of everything. But it might have been fun to sit on the lower level, especially when those big long necks poked their head over and got up close and personal.

A word of caution: at times it was super loud. When we got up during the intermission, I noticed someone selling ear plugs. If you have a child who is sensitive to loud noises, you might want to consider bringing some. Also, when the T-Rex is out, and you notice her walking over to the edge of the stage to look directly at the audience, know that she is about to snarl really loudly. She walks around and does this to different sections of the audience, and it's loud and potentially scary. So, I'm not trying to ruin anything for you, just giving you a heads up so you can be prepared in case you think it might scare your child.

Other things you should know:

The show started at 7:10 and was over at 8:50. This included a 20-minute intermission.

Parking is $10.

Food is expensive but I've seen worse. I bought 3 regular size beverages, an order of nachos with cheese and salsa (big enough to share) and a soft pretzel (also big enough to share) and the total was $24. I also bought three individual size cotton candies, and that was $9 total. The serving size is small, but how much sugar do you want your kid consuming anyway?

If you have a dinosaur fan on your hands, I'd say this show is a MUST. The three kids I had with me, ages 5, 8, and 11, are not particularly huge dinosaur lovers. But their attention remained drawn to the show the entire time and they really enjoyed it. This is a unique performance and I was impressed with the stage production and the flow of the narrative. If you're looking for a fun family outing this weekend, this just might be it.

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Walking With Dinosaurs