Friday, October 31, 2014

The Eternal Lure of Barbie

The girls are playing in a relatively clean playroom for a change.

Why? Well, bribery of course.

I offered to let them play with their mother's Barbies if they would pick up. It had to be done before lunch today so that E3 could nap and they could go home leaving a clean room for the weekend.

Usually it's done with tears and a lot of threats, but I'm getting better at this grandma thing. Bribery works quicker and better and with far less drama.

Although they have a floor full of Barbies at home, they're still attracted by the lure of foreign dolls. Foreign, that is, in the sense that they are from another time some 20+ years ago. I guess when I'm really desperate I can bribe them with mine, which are also stashed in the same closet. This winter may see them coming out for a play date again, but I have to hold something in reserve.

The thing is, I can remember this same fascination with slightly older dolls when I was small.

My only female first cousin was about five years older than me so her Barbies were of a slightly older generation. They were mid 60s models, with different bodies and hair from the ones I had just a few years later. I loved the rare times when I was allowed to play with them during a visit to their home. I don't think she ever deigned to play with me, but I always hoped she'd get tired of her Barbies and hand them down to me. All I ever got was some clothes, although most of them never fit me.

Of course, other old toys work as well, and I was delighted to stumble on this bit of grandmother magic. Watching their peaceful play I wish I had kept more than just my old Barbies, who have already been well loved by their mother and I, which is probably why they've been allowed to stay in their travel trunks in my closet all these years. Still, I wish I had Jane West and her horse and all the saddles and tack and gear, or some of my brother's old GI Joes (who were always a much more masculine alternative to the insipid Ken I had). Those items are long gone at flea markets and yard sales of the past, or left behind in some move when that last box of toys was one box too many.

I'll try not to mourn the memories I cannot pass down -- easier some day than others, when I feel more mournful regardless of the situation. I hope I can pass recover a promised box of my lost boy's toys to share with them as well, although those days will be bittersweet, at least initially.

Today I'll delight in the sing-song play of three little girls rummaging through old dolls and clothes and revisiting the magic that was once their mother's. Soon enough the dolls will return to the closet, so the magic isn't lost, and I'll have one more tool in my chest to get me through the season ahead.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

That Woman Again, But Only for a Moment

I went into the pharmacy the other day to pick up a few items and wound up in a lengthy conversation with the guy ahead of me in the checkout line.

He had noticed my car, which has a vinyl decal for my business in the window, and struck up a conversation that led to telling me where I could get a job making six figures because I was good looking, if I wanted another line of work, and then hitting on me and, as part of giving me the website for that other job, giving me his phone number.

I wasn't at all interested in the number. Even if I weren't happily married, he wasn't my type.

But for just a little while, I did imagine myself as that other woman -- the woman I used to be just six short years ago.

The woman who wore heels and dresses and makeup every day and who never left the house with her hair in a ratty pony tail, wearing a pair of dirty jeans or shoes with dog poop embedded in the soles.

The woman who knew she looked good and counted on it to make her job go better some days, instead of the one who was lean and hard and didn't give a crap because she spent her time with children and dogs who loved her regardless of her appearance.

I imagined having that kind of money and what I could do -- help my daughter out and make life easier for what remains of my family, support causes, save for the future.

I thought about driving a new company car and spending a lot of time on the road, instead of having two well worn vehicles that don't leave the driveway every day.

I imagined myself as that woman.

That woman wouldn't need a back seat full of child safety seats and Disney movies and trash from little people snacks. She wouldn't get up early to greet snuggly little people, who all too soon will be big and marching off to school. She might not have time for lazy afternoons chasing children around the yard, or just hanging out watching the guineas and laughing at the girls' attempts to mimic their crazy behavior. Her schedule would mean she couldn't always be there for a host of dogs and their families, or dogs without families who need a place to stay until a rescue can find them a foster or new home.

She probably wouldn't have days of freedom, where she could be crazy and take two Zumba classes and a yoga session if she wanted to, or sit home and knit and watch "Downton Abbey" all day. She would give up comfortable ties to life at a pace that doesn't depend so much on the world around her, but more on the needs of those closest to her.

It didn't take me long to know I didn't want to be that woman. Not for a six-figure salary. Not for a seven-figure salary. Not for all the money I might ever need.

I tossed the website and the phone number together.

I hope he won't be too disappointed.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

My Happy Little Pill

About a month ago I commented on a YouTube video for a song called "Happy Little Pill."

The song made me think of the way Ethan talked about his pills, the OTC cough suppressants he took to get high, to escape reality, to "be happy," or normal, or what passed for it in his addicted life.

The reaction I got to posting my short reflection on the song has made mine the top comment on what is essentially a teen emo song, supposedly about antidepressants, and has been as mixed as my own feelings, and what I expect are the general reactions of people around me, to what happened.

Most of the commentators, who I suspect are mostly teens or Ethan's age themselves, have expressed sympathy, hope that I cling to good memories, sorrow that anyone has to go through what we've been through, and too often understanding as they've also lost someone to drug overdose.

A few have told me how I should have fixed my son.

Several have told me I was surely a horrible parent.

All things I've thought myself at one point or another during the last 10 months.

No one should have to go through this. Young people shouldn't lose their siblings, spouses, friends and lovers to drugs. Mother and fathers, grandfathers and grandmothers shouldn't stand by the side of a grave on a hillside and mourn a life cut short. Small children shouldn't lose a parent, an aunt or uncle. Especially not to something as avoidable as addiction. Yet it happens, and when it does we try to cling to the good memories, even when we have to dig them from the layers of garbage that addiction makes of a person's life. Sometimes we have to hunt them like pirates' gold, following a trail through our memories and finally digging down to what may only be a single gold coin that we can treasure. Or we're able to keep digging, keep hunting, and find enough to make us smile.

I know that I couldn't fix my son, that I wasn't a horrible parent. But sometimes, I relive the choices I made day to day long before his addiction. Would this have changed his life? Sometimes I'm like a rat in a maze, trying to find a way through my life that doesn't have me emerging next to his cold casket. But I have to accept that I was working with what I had at the time and doing the best I could; that even before the drugs he refused efforts at counseling with an addiction counselor who could have helped him had he been willing to open up.

Maybe, if I had known the risk of what he was doing when he first started, or if whatever behavioral issue he had were diagnosed and addressed when he was young. But even then I couldn't do it. It would have taken professionals, and by the time I had a clue what he was hiding, he was so good at hiding it that the professionals couldn't make any headway. He was, at least legally, an adult and no intervention program could hold him when he didn't want to go. Even if it had, if he weren't ready to say I need to change, then he wouldn't have changed. He was never ready to say that except when he was straight for a long time and had no choice. Even then his resolve quickly crumbled when the world didn't become the place he wanted it to be and life didn't get better.

Only addicts and people that have really lived with an addiction understand that. I'm thankful for the time I spent in Al-Anon years ago while dealing with someone else's addiction. Those Sunday nights with others trying to cope with the insanity of their lives helped me understand the problem wasn't mine, I couldn't fix it, I couldn't discipline or rehab or counsel it away. It helped me to understand that it wasn't a choice of drugs over me, that it wasn't him talking when he was consumed by rage, that he wasn't in control any more either. That it was never a matter of him loving the pills more than me, no matter how it sometimes felt. It helped me understand how powerful addiction is and that being an addict and overcoming it are hard and require first admitting that it is a problem, that you need to change your life (not just stop) and that you may need help.

Ethan died knowing all the help he could ever ask for to beat his addiction was just a phone call away -- to me, his stepfather, his grandparents, his former pastor, his lifelong best friend, that young man's mother and probably a host of other people who knew and loved him and would have made sure he got whatever help and support he needed. He never made the choice to admit it was a problem and that he needed help to get better. He never thought it would kill him.

I run down this thread of thought because every time someone goes on YouTube and watches that video, if they scroll down a bit, they see the top comment and the number of people who have liked the comment and the long thread of replies to that initial comment. And every time someone feels they want to add to the conversation, I get an email telling me what they said, good or bad.

Some days it's ugly. It's the "Don't you feel like a failure?" or "You should have helped him" type comments. Most days it's an RIP, or someone else correcting the others in what is often a tone I'd only like to use. I could edit it, delete it, or disable replies, but I don't because someone may read it who has their own happy little pill. Someone may think twice about what it takes to bring color to their skies and decide they need help.

Someone may live and someone else may never feel what I feel.

At the same time, there's a part of me that watching the video, listening to the song, smiles because I know how Ethan would have reacted because it wasn't the angry, loud music he always chose. And yet, I think he would have recognized himself in the lyrics and listened anyway.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Looking For a Bright Spot, Even a Penny

It's been almost 10 months since I learned that my son, Ethan, was dead.

Almost 10 months since my reality, my expectations for the future, my whole world was shifted on its axis.

Ethan had been troubled with drug addiction and the accompanying legal, emotional, mental, developmental and financial chaos since he considered himself an adult at 16. He'd pulled himself away from most of his family like a baby tooth working its way loose from the mouth. I always thought he'd eventually see that he couldn't keep on going like he was, that he'd reach bottom and come back to us.

He didn't.

Reaching bottom turned out to be fatal for him, as it too often does. The medical examiner ruled his death an accidental overdose, just a step too far along his search for escape and the ultimate high.

My reality was that there would be no more Christmases, no more birthdays, no Mother's Day cards, no special girlfriend leading to a wedding and more grandbabies, no more phone calls just to talk or even to ask for something. Nothing. Period. The end of the life I had a part in creating. There were days when it felt like just too much effort to cope, but I was needed by my husband, my daughter and granddaughters, my son-in-law, a lot of people and their dogs, so I kept going. I blogged and found a community of mutual support. I made new friends who had also had devastating losses.

For the last month, however, I've been pushing away the tides of emotions and letting my busy days keep me from following where they were taking me. Now it's October now, it's raining and sometime in the next day or so we're supposed to see our first dip into the 30s. I hate cold weather and I fear that the coming dark and cold will pull me into a void of depression. I'm scrambling for ways to avoid sinking under a dark cloud that won't go away.

Losing my church, albeit my decision, didn't help. Instead of somewhere I could turn for comfort, it turned into another of life's painful experiences that at best has me second guessing what should have been, much like my son's life.

Part of avoiding my emotions has been the all-too-easy option of not writing a blog. But my blog has been my therapy since Dec. 15 and it's helped me work through what life has thrown at me, so I'm back. I'm trying to arm myself in every way I can to fight the compounded effects of cold weather and grief. I'm trying to deal with things in small bits, so they don't become overwhelming like a the accumulated belongings of a hoarder -- a good analogy because instead of holding onto my sadness by hiding it, I'm going to start tackling it again.

I'm fighting back by joining the gym, going to Zumba classes (including one with the instructor and many other dancers from my old studio), and by buying a few things that I hope will be distractions as the weather shifts, like a big bounce house for the girls and a hot tub for the back yard.

I've quit letting myself indulge in eating binges of comfort foods that bought me short-term gratification, but were beginning to make my favorite clothes uncomfortable. I'm halfway back to where I want to be and already find a little more breathing room in my shorts and jeans. I got my hair cut, just a little, so that it had a bit more style than just long, curly mess. I'm getting a massage and an expensive cosmetic treatment that I've wanted a long time this month. In short, I'm looking for ways to be kind to myself that don't involve eating, although I've also fallen in love with a salad blend from Costco that I eat to excess -- far better than a Krispy Kreme doughnut at least.

I'm also reconnecting with the people that I found were so wonderful to be around, gathering them back like snuggling into a warm blanket on a cold night. Last week we did a quick, impromptu dinner with another couple and this week it's dinner at our house with a few more friends. Instead of working to exhaustion every Saturday and collapsing by the television, we're going to start engaging with others again -- people who have been here for me and my husband through thick and thin.

I don't know that it will be enough. I don't know how I'll work through the coming months, when already I feel like I'm teetering on the edge, and things as simple as a Facebook post about wonderful sons or a TV show where a dying mother tells her son goodbye will send silent tears sliding down my face. I don't know why I feel Ethan's blue eyes looking at me, intently as they so often did, and why if I have to sense that I cannot also feel some reassurance. Instead I feel like he's watching me, worried and uncertain if I'll be OK, because that's how it feels -- how I feel.

Then I find change outside my car door in the parking lot, a quarter and a penny, and I remember the poem about pennies from heaven. I smile and pick it up and toss it in my console, drawing comfort wherever I can. I close my eyes and send a mental hug to my baby and imagine his arms around me and his strong grip as he lifted me from my feet. I drive home with tears streaming down my cheeks again, but still hopeful that I won't let him down by failing in some way to do what has to be done.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Finishing a 5K May Be Survival as Much as Training

A few weeks ago I ran my first, and what could be my only, 5K race.

Well, I walked fast, anyway. Fast enough to win my age category and beat a lot of people younger than me who were making a more leisurely stroll and sometimes trying hard as well.

I can walk the socks off of a lot of people, thanks to many repeat outings with my dogs and the dogs who stay with me. We can manage a 4 mph clip for a long distance with big dogs or meander slowly with my house dogs. A steep grade isn't killer to me -- I've come up the hill at the end of my road more times than I can count. Rough terrain, well that's a quick trip to the river.

Our 5K turned out to be a trail run, for which I was ideally suited, even without extra training.

Still, I had hoped to train more, to go faster, to do more than run down hills and through straight stretches and manage not to have to stop when it came to a steep uphill grade.

I'm not sure what made me want to compete. Not really. It wasn't like it was on my bucket list or anything, but I decided when I heard about it that I would do it. Not only complete the course and get the t-shirt, but pay the extra $10 to be timed. If I hadn't been being timed, I know there were points in the competition that I would have quit -- when I could see the last link of the road leading out, but we were directed straight up a hill through the woods; when I was jogging on a flat stretch through a field but felt like stopping and throwing up; when the same child passed me for the fourth time (I eventually left her behind).

Thinking about it, it may be that I wanted to put more than the starting line (and that recurring child) behind me.

It was a mental barrier as much as a physical one. I was never the fit kid, the athletic kid, the runner. At least partially because I was never allowed to be. I won my first bicycle selling magazine subscriptions when I was in middle school (my brother and I teamed up and won back to back years, bringing home two 10-speeds). I always wanted to skate, but finally bought my first pair at Goodwill sometime in my 30s and still don't really skate, although I often carry my in-line pair in my trunk in case I have time and a level spot to play around. I wasn't allowed to run or climb trees because I might fall and get hurt, and my husband is frequently amused nowadays (and probably downright horrified) at finding me up a tree with a chainsaw, because I by gosh can.

I'll forever be haunted by the image of our physical fitness tests in elementary school. We had to do situps, push ups, run a 50-yard dash and a 600-yard walk-run. I'd be sloughing along in the back with the heavy kids, hating myself as I watched the others sprinting for the finish line.

While the every child gets a trophy mentality is surely wrong, this early exercise in self hate was just as bad. There was no effort between times to help us train, just a twice a year measuring of how bad or good we were. I was always bad -- weak, slow and unfit.

No one would say those things about me now.

Daily yoga, PiYo several times a week, two or three Zumba classes a week, push mowing the yard (no self-propelled mower for me), yard work, and lots of walking and hiking have over the last decade changed me tremendously. I'm pretty sure I'd fare better on most of those old tests than the fit kids I always envied would today.

Still, I don't consider myself a runner and probably never will, largely because the roads near my house are pretty much uphill or down and I don't have enough daylight hours to go somewhere else most days. So completing a running challenge was something some inner part of me just needed to do.

Starting out with the serious runners disappearing ahead, it seemed like a challenge that was going to be too much for me. Repeatedly swapping places with the little girl and her mom was another frustration.

But the 5K turned out to be a lot like life. Some of the runners lost all they had early, like the fit kids I went to school with who are now heavy and out of shape because they peaked in high school and quit caring or trying. Some were flat track runners who didn't have the stamina to tackle some of the hills, like people who cannot handle the hard things life tends to throw at us. Some were trying to change who they have been and were, in a lot of ways like me in that they were running to get away from old fitness habits or old self images, with varying degrees of success.

They fed us after the run and the girl across the table from me said she had started training earlier in the year for an upcoming race. She talked about her weight loss and goals and her frustration at being unable to catch me when I passed her about halfway through the race. She was young and knew she had grown too heavy and complacent with her lot in life.

I wanted to tell her she could change and keep changing, not to let the things life throws at her sideline her. I wanted to tell her you really cannot train for some things, that you just have to learn to keep moving and not quit, to not slow down too much. But I knew I would have been speaking from a place she couldn't understand. So I told her she was tough to catch and that she'd be better on the back end in the future if she hung in there, which was true.

Then I collected my medal with a smile and a quiet inside nod to my younger self.

You can run the race now, I said. You've gotten through everything else. Just keep on going.