Monday, September 2, 2013

Memorial Day

HEAD & HEART---I got back home after 11 pm Saturday night, after a week of helping w/ cooking, laundry-folding, medicating, & physically caring for Dad, & all that entails. Glad to be home, & to see my church family, but sad that Mom & Dad"hated to see me go", leaving me torn, to say the least. Flash forward 24 hours. Shortly after Karen, & fiance' Jay, had to leave the house, Dad had another episode, & went back to Centennial. He's on the cardiac unit, in room 818. Mom went w/ him in the ambulance, last night, & is still there. Memories of going through this w/ my mom's mom, MawMaw, are flooding back. I've been here, before. Just trying to prepare all our hearts & heads for what is ahead. Still, it's good & right to love someone so much that you don't want them to leave, but equally don't want them to live like this, anymore. That duality is a tough one, but I'm grateful to have become close enough to Daddy, that I hate to see him go. Trying to figure out how you do this. Watched Jason do this w/ his Dad's suicide, in 2000, which was a horrible shock, of course. Maybe I'm in a little state of shock, myself. Wasn't it yesterday that Daddy was coaching me in T-ball? Taking me fishing, eating bologney & hot sauce, afterward making his signature battered catch-of-the-day, homemade fries, & the world's best hush puppies? Yesterday, too, digging a grave for my childhood, dog, Smokey, while tears & sweat rolled down his face? Carrying my infant sister on his hip, across the Rock City swinging bridge? Taking me on cross-country treks, after he retired, & I was wed, delivering for Davis Cabinet, w/ me running the hydralic lift? Making steaks & navigating us to beaches, the Smokies, Disney, putt-putt, & more, while being his vacation trip alter-egos, "Studley", & "Panama Jack-[crap]"? Letting me carry in firewood, so I'd feel big? A million moments like these feel close enough to touch, & oh-so-far-away, at the same time. Is it possible to start missing someone, before they're even gone? I think it must be. That's what we're feeling each time we hug or kiss him, truly knowing it might be for the last time. It is harder, waiting to have the cash to fix our car, & having to make arrangements just to get there, to do my share, & not being able to quickly be there when Mom & Karen need me, but I will do what I have to do, whether that entails the bus, a taxi, or bumming a ride, because they need the help, desperately. Perhaps selfishly, I also just want to steal a few more minutes w/ Daddy, even when he's not at his best. I'm unsteady & unsure about how you do this looming next step. How do you say goodbye to a parent? On a smaller scale, how do we get the VA & insurance to provide the stepped-up care he needs, as his strength, mobility, & senses more frequently fail him? Is there any way to keep him at home, as he'd prefer? God help me, but this is a set of mysteries I can't quite clear in my cobwebbed brain, enough to solve. God help us all, because this is a damned hard road.

Dad's Favorite: DANNY BOY

Monday, May 6, 2013

Part II of “I Confess”,
The Story of My Life Laid Bare

     I confess to often being the wrong sister for what my sister needed. Let me explain.

     I was 2 years old when my parents were told that I would be an only child. They bought it, but I was a harder sell. When I grew tired of asking them for a little brother or sister, to no avail, I by-passed them, & asked my grandparents (both in their 60’s) if they could make one, instead! So, when told, at long last, that my sister, Karen, was on the way, years after I’d accepted my “only child status”, I had a reaction straight out of a slapstick sitcom--- I actually staggered, then swooned! Seriously.
     Almost 20 years into their marriage, my parents welcomed their 2nd child, at ages 36 & 42. I was 8 going on 18, & couldn’t wait to be a big sis…to a little bro, that is. Clearly, my dad’s half of the genes didn’t get the memo! Still, when my expected Jonathan or Marcus turned out to be a Karen Sue, I accepted it pretty readily. And, b/c the new state child restraint law had yet to take effect, I was afforded the privilege of holding my beautiful newborn sister, just 4 days old, all the way home. I was so very excited by my new, more grown-up role, on that 1st day home, that I even tried to feed my non-bottle-fed baby sis, just like mom! Oops.

     Despite this less-than-stellar start, I was pretty good at playing the doting older daughter, at least until I hit my “terrible teens” (think “terrible two’s”, only less mature!). Then, not so much. By way of example: when kindergartener Karen, called Cathy, an unrepentant 8th grade snob, “Sissy”, this small-minded older sibling was M-O-R-T-I-F-I-E-D, beyond the pale, insisting she drop the "embarrassing" moniker. If I'd been concerned with her feelings, I'd have worn the heartfelt nickname like a badge of honor. Alas, I did not. Fast forward to my high school years, when I raised ignoring my little sister to an art form, preferring, instead, the “sophisticated” company of my prep & boarding school peers. My every action must have felt like I thought she was 2nd best, behind these "preferred" other "sisters".
     Was I horrid to her 100% of the time? No. Still, did I dare to share w/ her that I missed her, when I was home on break? Not unless ignoring someone sends that signal subliminally. Did I engage her, absorb her interests, compliment her abilities, or act like I felt anything more about her than tolerance? Often, I don’t think I did. It goes without saying that teens are often self-absorbed, but do they have to be? No. There is no age at which cruelty or indifference should be expected, or accepted. Did I recognize the harm of my actions & in-actions? Again, no. To do so would’ve required a level of conscience & consciousness that I just did not possess. Both reflect a choice, on some level, to put myself, & no one else, first. It’s easy to write off behavior as being related, simply, to being an age, or going through a stage, but if unflinching honesty & admitting one’s mistakes is the goal, then there are not pat excuses that are acceptable. None.

     Why did I often behave abominably toward someone, who, in fact, I loved, & adored? I don’t have a good answer. It certainly wasn’t because of anything lacking in her. I think, in some small way, it was about equating things homespun & heartfelt, with being corny & un-cool. Regardless, it was both false, & wrong. A flaw, not in our stars, or any part of Shakespeare’s heavens, to paraphrase, but in my self.

          When Karen, in turn, was going through the trials of her own teen years, I continued to fail her. I was, by turns, reductive, & judgmental, minimizing her feelings, & often expecting her to be a “mini-me”, rather than her own person, as if that would make her easier for me to understand. Now, I could’ve taken the time to listen better, love more, & learn from her, rather than assuming I have all the answers. To hold one’s sister at an emotional arms-length is harmful, hollow, & hurts.

     To set a bad example, & then trumpet, “Do as I say, not as I do”, is to truly call an ugly tune. I’ve certainly been guilty of that, too. The fact is, if an elder sibling introduces unwholesome books, movies, or ideals, thinking themselves advocates of a more enlightened point of view, that is harmful, too. If, as a big sister, I encourage secret-keeping & duplicity, lampoon my parents, poke holes in their values, & criticize their every choice, undermining them, in their role as family leaders, that has a lasting detrimental effect. This is fact, not theory. (Follow this LINK to sibling research that shows the importance of a sibling’s example.) As a know-it-all young adult, & into my twenties, especially, I made this colossal mistake, time after time. Truthfully, I still find myself doing it, now, sometimes, & I’m in my 40’s! This is to both my sister’s & parents’ detriment, even now.

     Why sow discord, when an attitude reflecting unconditional love & grace would serve our relationships better? Why choose completion over compassion, callous coldness over comfort & caring? I don’t have all the answers, & despite the cock-sure attitude of my younger years, I never have.

     What can I do, then, to begin to right these wrongs? To begin with, I can apologize. For all of it. I’m sorry I contributed to so many struggles, by creating distance between you & Mom, you & Dad, and you & me, with my complaints, criticisms, & complications. I can own these errors & choose behavior that promotes healthy interactions, instead.

     No family is perfect. No relationship is without flaws. But to amplify your youthful annoyances, by adding my own, was inappropriate, immature, & ugly. I’d love to say that I realized the destructive nature of this behavior, fully, years ago, repented of it, & changed my tune. Didn’t happen.

     I do repent & regret it, now, & believe it is never too late to reconcile, as long as we still have breath. I’m sorry I led you astray, in ways both big & small. I’m sorry, too, that I haven’t reached out more, done the work it takes to be closer, to live w/o pretense, & to bear more responsibility for…well…everything. Everything.

     I hope you can someday forgive me for my many fault & failures, as your sister. I hope we can regain the promise of closeness felt in those first few years, as sisters. I want you to know that I am proud of the woman you’ve become--- a loving daughter & sacrificial live-in caregiver to our parents, doting aunt to my 3 now-grown kids, caring sister-in-law to my husband, & soon enough, as the perfectly-matched wife of Jay.

     You see, more often than you’ve realized, I find myself looking up to you--- a woman of strength, kindness, wit, intellect, tenacity, warmth, & depth. I will always love you, just the way you are. I want, more than anything, to once again live up to being the big sister you can admire, be close with, & trust.
                                               Love always, Sissy

Saturday, April 20, 2013

I Confess: Apologies, Acknowledgments, Amends 
With No Excuses, But Some Explanations

Part One of the Story of My Life Laid Bare

Note: This blog-post represents something of a departure for me. I feel led to share a number of recent (and some, not-so-recent) realizations about myself. Because of a set of circumstances that began 4 weeks ago, my 1st, very human impulse is to "duck & cover"/"hunker down", or, conversely, to defend myself, as well as family members involved. I'm NOT going to do that. I'm also going to continue to protect the privacy of those involved, even though doing so is probably fanning the flames & playing into the hands of people who do not know me, or my spouse, & have an agenda that may be far different from that they portray. That is all I will say about that. No specifics about anyone but myself. If you truly know me, no amount of smoke & mirrors will alter our experiences with one another, & your opinion, good or bad, of me & mine. However, you may be surprised at some of what I share in this blog post. It hurts. It's humiliating. It's humbling. And that's kind of the point. I'm not going to point fingers or catalog wrongs & failures of others. I have no control over anyone but myself. So, I intend to "own up" to the beam in my own eye. This won't be pretty & if you are bothered by raw emotion, brutal honesty, or deep regret, wait for one of my more trivial or superficial posts. (I will toss in a little of my trademark wry wit, though, so it's not a total downer.) It won't be short, either. Brevity may be the soul of wit, but it doesn't serve the confessional well. So, faithful reader, you've been warned. My usual Pollyanna perspective is not present, today. But if you want to peek behind the curtain, & see the real, unvarnished me, this may be the one blog post where I dig deep & do that. The format's unlike my other posts, too. I'm less concerned with my prose style, & more interested in admitting my faults publicly, w/ nothing to hide. If there's an elephant in the room, one might as well acknowledge it. I took a vow, on a long-ago youth retreat, to eschew superficiality, & live in a "glass house", so that I may live humbly, & embrace truth fully, even when that's uncomfortable. In my experience, this can set one up to be ridiculed, accused of "over-sharing", & even have aspects of your life misunderstood, in the negative. On the plus side, though, it can mean others feel safe sharing their own struggles, w/o worrying about judgment, or shock. At it's best, "glass house living" is about wrestling w/ the truth. 

And the truth will set you free, right?
 So, here goes.
  • I confess to being poor. While it may be no surprise to some, the fact is that we're quite lucky to still have a roof over our heads. Only by keeping in constant contact with our mortgage company, have we been able to do so. Recently, our power was off for over a week. When all was said & done, we paid $1800 of our small tax check, to cut it back on. We didn't have any possessions left of value to pawn or sell. Wedding bands? Gone. Class ring? Long gone. Fancy electronics or antiques? Again, no. Here's how bad it's been the past few years---we've had to miss ball games our kids played in, b/c we didn't have the money to pay gate fees, &, at times, no vehicle, or gas to put in one, to get there. The embarrassment you feel when you have to ask for athletic program scholarship, b/c you don't have the fee, or not being able to pitch in & provide carpool, b/c your latest clunker just died, is painful. (I've even had a period of time where I couldn't drive, b/c we couldn't pay a simple moving violation ticket. The judicial moniker for this license suspension? DWP---Driving While Poor.) You hate it most for your kids, whom you alternately shield from the harsher realities, &, as they get older, you gently explain financial realities with.  We've gone to 2nd Harvest during the worst times, & even stooped to getting EBT stamps for months, several years ago. My parents & sister have helped, too. When our finances stabilize, we make a "deposit" back into the food bank, & we've helped my folks, in turn. Still, the 1 in 6 Americans who live w/ food insecurity---that's us. We've done all we could do to keep body & soul together, for every member of our family, including the member with a binge eating disorder, who has, at worst, eaten $40-80 of just purchased groceries, in a few moments. [Quick aside: I've probably done a bad job of explaining why our house is equipt w/ door alarms & extra locks (both suggested by Mobile Crisis), b/c this & other behaviors are part of a complex mental health disorder, & I wouldn't want those who know little about such things to judge the family member harshly. Why the locks & alarms? The answer is the same as "Why's your (walk-in pantry) cupboard bare?"  Simply put, if we don't "protect" the groceries, &, by extension, the person w/ the obsession, things could become very dire, very quickly. Likewise, if we stockpile food when this member of the family is having an episode, it fuels their food focus, so we keep only a day or 2 worth of food on hand, during these cyclical binge bouts. Other measures have been undertaken, too, to keep this family member from going out a window, & shoplifting, to feed their OCD, w/ the consultation of professionals. Happily, this person is doing well on their meds, so locks are put away, & measures scaled back, once again. We, & the person's therapist, are proud of this person's progress, & doing all we can to expand it.] I can say 2 things, to clarify---we've got everything we need, & mostly always have. It helps that we're more focused on "people, not possessions", at our best. Regardless, are our finances bad? Yes. Have we sometimes made money mistakes? Absolutely. Are we working on it? Affirmative. Still, it is humiliating. Some people sense your private shame, & will even exploit it, but the truth is, there's nothing they can say to hurt you that you haven't already said to yourself, time after time.  
  • I confess to being weak. I mean that in every way one can. Weak-willed, at times. Weak-minded, at others. My body, though, is perhaps the most obviously weak part of me. Since I was diagnosed with systemic lupus, after symptoms beginning at 18, I've had 5 different periods of my life where I was in remission. "Remission Cathy" can lead 1st & 2nd grade campers on a day hike up a mountain. She can work 4 ten hour shifts, in 4 back-to-back days. She can chase & change toddlers, toilet-train a non-verbal client older than herself, plan & execute programming as a church youth director, serve as an IEP advocate & case manager for children w/ Serious Emotional Disturbance diagnoses, drive her kids to practices, games, music lessons, fundraisers, community festivals, fun events, the zoo, scouts, science center, school activities, AWANA, formals, shopping, travel, & more. Remission Cathy can bake cookies for her kids & all their neighborhood friends, plan elaborate birthday parties, take the kids to the park, ride theme park rides, cook, clean, do 5 loads of laundry in a day, work Vandy concessions fundraisers at a break-neck pace, throw slumber parties, & host a home "kid's club" 3 days a week, Thanksgiving for extended family, even annual open house parties.  That's not who I'm talking about. I'm talking about "Weak Cathy", who is afraid to make firm plans, for fear of disappointing people, when the disease flares without warning, & she has to cancel with little notice. This other me has returned to work from Social Security Disability, only to eventually become too weak or sick to stay, succumbing once again to the disease's capricious whims. She, who is me, has embarrassed my kids with the bald head of too much chemo, the containers of urine caught to observe signs of a fomenting kidney problem, the added weight & jitters from high dose steroids, at times, so weak she can't make it up & down the front stairs in the same day. Can you imagine a kid trying to explain to their teammates & friends that their family can't participate as fully as other families in working the gate, concessions, or what have you, because you're stuck in bed, while your husband is forced to play nursemaid? There are some people with mild-to-moderate lupus who are able to meet every need of their family, or work outside the home, even when their disease is active. I, though, am too weak to overcome the ravages of active, moderate-to-severe disease, no matter how much I want to. If I'm active for 10 hours of driving, to pick up my daughter at college for break, I have to then have 2 days of "downtime" to be able to drive the 10 hours back. I can't name another parent I know who is so hamstrung, limited, wussy, & incapable of doing what needs to be done. I cost my family money, time, & probably a great deal of embarrassment. Weak.   
  • I confess to being a horrible housekeeper. In high school, I won the Betty Crocker Homemaker Award. If the Betty Crocker people could see my house, they'd come take it back, I'm sure. (Joke's on them---they'd have to find it, first!) For half of the past 2 decades, my house has been anything but "company ready". Has it been as bad as an episode of "Hoarders"? No. Dirty enough to be deemed a health hazard by authorities? Again, not quite. After all, I had Metro Codes in here last year, when the (half of the) flood repairs we had done were completed. Still, I haven't been able to stay on top of all trash dropped in the floor, kitty horfs, or general laundry & kitchen messes, much to my chagrin. As modern as we are all supposed to be, I don't think anyone holds the males (all adult) in a home responsible if it looks trashed or unkempt. The fact is, I should've required everyone to keep their area of responsibility cleaner, & pushed myself to physically do more, whether I felt like it or not. I should've also just let people come in, regardless. It hurt my pride that my once cute casa was now full of mis-matched dishes, broken & worn-out furnishings, damaged walls, etc.. Now I wonder if anyone would've dis-owned us as friends if our less than perfect home & yard was surveyed? If you are wondering how messy it can be, I'm willing to humble myself further. We took photos of the house at its worst last month. Hopefully, those will serve as "before" pictures, if I can get my act together. So, if you really want to see my hausfrau horror show, send me a message; you can be the judge & jury of every photograph. It ain't pretty, but it's honest. Besides, there's no one who'll judge me any harsher than I judge myself.
  • I confess to being depressed. Like many survivors of sexual assault, as well as persons who have an autoimmune disease, I've lived w/ clinical depression symptoms, off & on, for over 25 years. While I don't have all of the symptoms, now, many years ago, I had some of the more alarming aspects of the disease. When the lupus is as active as it is right now, it seems to jolt my system back into depressed mode, quicker than a cat can lick it's ankle. Add in stressors so stubborn that even my best coping mechanisms are no match, & you have one weepy, morose gal on your hands. I'm sure that's less than fun for those in my orbit. I hope I can begin to make it up to my friends & family, w/ God's help. Being in a family where each member has a DSM-IV diagnosis, ideally, should create an atmosphere of mutual support, but there are times when that can't always be a 2-way street, so I'm making a conscious effort to just focus on my own mental health, & let others mind their own mind. Signs and symptoms of depression from NIMH:
  • I confess to being fat. It's hard to believe that a few years over a decade ago, when I was last pregnant, I was in a size 10/12. Since then I've ballooned to double that size. I could blame the steroids, but that's not it. I could rationalize that it's 10 different things. The fact is, I eat too much of the wrong things & lead a sedentary lifestyle. And, "bonus": Since fat is inflammatory, the greater my BMI, the worse my health issues are. Just another way I've found to disappoint those I care about. No pity party---just unvarnished truth. All I can say is I'm working on physical therapy & nutrition w/ my docs, as I can. It may seem like I got XL overnight, but, truthfully, it took time. It's going to take an equal amount of time to un-do the flabby state I find myself in, at least. Anybody want to walk w/ me?
  • I confess to being disorganized. In fact, I'm so very disorganized that I've misplaced the text for this bullet point! But seriously, I'm pretty disorganized. It's one of a myriad of bad habits I have to work on. I haven't always been disorganized, but now it's become the status quo. So, one of my 1st steps is to get our scanner working, & "tame the paper tiger" who menaces my house. I may not always be able to perform the tasks requiring physical work, but I can at least continue managing "brain work", &, again, help create systems of organization that will help maintain our home. I'm also making a concerted effort to push myself physically, whatever the consequence. No one ever died from housework, right?    
  • I confess to being overwhelmed. Really overwhelmed. I've not always been great at knowing what to do next. There is so very much to do, it's kind of tough to know what to focus on, first. Of course, I know you have to start somewhere, & we "discouraged perfectionist" personalities seem to especially stress out & get stuck on the "crucial" 1st step. I certainly don't have all the answers, obviously, but I've got to start somewhere. My instinct is to trash, recycle, & donate as much as possible, to begin with. Any & all advice appreciated, on that! I'm equally overwhelmed by what next steps I should take in several of my personal relationships. After you've said you're sorry, obviously, it's kind of difficult to know what to do. I think one of the things that's important, after owning up to one's faults & flaws, is extending grace, while also erecting appropriate boundaries, & changing unhealthy patterns of behavior. All I can do is listen to other people's perspectives, w/o my pre-conceived notions getting in the way, & look at what my part in healing their hurts would be. Again, I don't have all the answers, & I feel overwhelmed, but that's a lot less important to me than the people I love, & what they need. I'm terrified, truthfully, of making mis-steps on this one, but staying stuck where I'm at is probably worse than risking reconciliation, & failing at it. God help me to keep this in mind: 
  • I confess to being an imperfect wife. My guess is that if you ever heard Jason & I rumble, you'd wonder how I consider our marriage to be a (mostly) happy one. We average a couple of minor tiffs, w/ at least one "doozy" a week. That's an unexpected up-tick from the earlier years of our 17 year marriage. For that reason, we've elected to reach out to the medical/spiritual community, & have been seeing a christian counselor for many months. Couples therapy, like any intervention, takes time, effort, & money. Healing hurts, & improving healthy communication is a long-term process, not a short-term event. There are no big, deep, dark secrets, here. Jason hasn't developed a penchant for dressing as Little Bo Peep, around the house. I haven't been hanging out at the Country Pride Truckstop, trying to find a man who will shave my legs for me, while I eat tapioca pudding. Rather, Jason, who has Asperger's & ADD, has sought out therapy to help combat major depression, & a (not before seen level) problem w/ anger management (verbal, guys---damaging in its own way, but not criminal) that's grown from the frustration of being highly educated, yet not well suited for, several jobs in a row. He sees the therapist, a doc for meds, & has been working w/ Voc Rehab since last year, to improve his, & our family's situation. (I share this w/ his permission.) So, I'm working on being a new-and-improved wife, to help the husband I love combat an unforeseen foe, & therapy is a part of that. For tips on helping a spouse w/ mental health concerns, see:    Aside from these struggles, though, I want to take a moment to let you know ways I believe I've failed my husband, & why I think our marriage is worth working on. Here are some of my failings, as a wife: talk too much, listen too little, become self-focused, rather than selfless, pessimistic outlook, not honest enough, shrewish, offering wrong or unwanted kinds of support or advice, mean-spirited/ugly acting during disagreements, lazy, unsupportive, unappreciative, distrustful, all the issues I've already confessed, so far, & much, much more. Still, this man thinks I'm pretty, at every age, every weight, is smart-as-a-whip, "gets me" more than anyone on the planet, makes me laugh, encourages my gifts (it was in our vows, even!), accepts my flaws, forgives my mistakes, shares my "likes" & passions, expects my "best", tolerates my "worst", gets my jokes, shares my sense of humor, gives me space, when I need it, & loves me unconditionally. This summer will mark a quarter century of being in each other's lives. In a world where people & things are increasingly disposable, he makes me glad he hasn't given me up, when a lot of people would've moved on. He truly is my best friend, & on the worst of our days, even, the inescapable love of my life. I don't deserve him, but I'm so glad God chose to knit us together, & sustains us, even in our darkest moments. Jason is worth my best efforts, & I plan to continue pursuing better relationship w/ him, until we're old(er) & grey(er). I love you YTF, my Raggedy Andy, b/c 3 kisses are a promise I never want to forget.
  • I confess to being an inadequate mother. Some people know from a young age what they want to be "when they grow up", be that doctor, lawyer, or ditch-digger. Me? All I knew I wanted to be, whatever paid the mortgage/rent, was a mom. If I'm totally honest, recent events have left me questioning everything I thought I knew---even that. The story of my road to motherhood is paved w/ miscarried & stillborn babies, true, but more importantly, the knowledge I always held in my heart, that from the time I was eleven, I felt a calling to be an adoptive parent. In fact, I'm reasonably sure that if I'd NEVER married, I still would've adopted. So, to face my failures, as a mother, w/ no excuses, is pain-filled, & shame-filled, beyond the pale. Still, fail I have. Often. I've gotten & followed bad advice. I've reacted out of a place of fear, anger, scorn, frustration, selfishness, stupidity, bad habit, & more, when I could've been bold, strong, accepting, selfless, kinder, positive, patient, persevering, smarter, more willing to compromise, more approachable, a better listener, & other traits that would've served my children better. This, & what follows, are what I most want them to know: All I can say is that I'm sorry for every way in which I've failed you, & I hope you can someday forgive my many short-comings. It breaks my heart that my relationship with you was not as deep, warm, & loving as I'd hoped. I blame myself. That's the only person I can work on, w/ God's help. To learn from others that your child is not only hurting & angry, but that it is your fault, is an experience I hoped I'd never have. I have cried every day for a month, but those tears are wasted, if you're never aware that they exist, or that each teardrop bears a mixture of sorrow, self-recrimination, & regret. I may not agree with your every choice, but I don't have to. You don't need my permission or blessing to live your life, & even having a relationship w/ me is solely your choice. I'm just so sorry I've failed you, whether you choose a continued relationship w/ me, or not. Please know that. I ask your forgiveness, regardless. Unresolved bitterness & anger are not something you deserve to carry through life, wherever you roam. I will always love you, & treasure my time as your mother. I hope, for your sake, that you can remember the good things about your childhood, now that you're grown. As Grandma rightly says of childhood, a wise person "Throws away the bad, & keeps the good.". Know that I am here, if you ever need me. For now, though, I respect your right to choose what relationships to add & discard from your life. I will continue to love you, pray for you, & keep details of your most private struggles private. All I've ever wanted for my children is for them to grow up, seek God's will for their path (not mine), & to be happy. I pray that will come true for you, & that your heavenly Parent's desires for your life come to pass, in His time. <3 <3 <3  Again, My next blog-post will continue w/ Part Two of "I Confess", sharing...                                                                                                                                  
  • I confess to being the wrong sister for what my baby sister often needs.
  • I confess to being a failure, as a daughter.  
  • I confess to being prideful, & sometimes fueled by embarrassment.
  • I confess to being unrealistic, & sometimes overly optimistic.
  • I confess to being the wrong kind of example.
  • I confess to being a poor communicator.
  • I confess to being a bad friend.
  • I confess to being naive.
  • I confess to being prone to errors in judgement.

              Tuesday, January 15, 2013

              Babygirl, Bears, & Big Boots: D's Story, So Far

              "If ever there is a tomorrow when we're not together... there is something you must always remember. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, & smarter than you think. But the most important thing is, even if we're apart... I'll always be with you."~ A.A. Milne, Winnie The Pooh

                   Age 4 was a traumatic year for me, losing my doting Paw Paw, post-surgery, & my preschool-age best pal, Susie, to Reye's Syndrome.  Likewise, the 4th year of my daughter, whom I affectionately call "babygirl", was also marred & marked by tragedy. For D, it wasn't a milestone moment of loss, but the beginning of a period of losing so many things a child should never have to kiss goodbye---security, family ties, innocence, a place to be safe, a place to belong, to be loved in, without condition, cherished, wanted, chosen---HOME. It took another 4 years to find that, with her 2 brothers in tow, but, at last, they did. In the words of her favorite book, Don Freeman's children's classic, Corduroy

              "This must be home", he said, "I know I've always wanted a home.".

                   And so, at 8, she became my girl. My one & only girl. Sure, I'd relinquish her, for bits of time---Girl Scout Spring Break Camp, volleyball & basketball trips, VBS, summer sleepaway camp, as camper (later, counselor), sometime babysitter, & the like. Still, we had time for coffee & cupcakes, ugliest animal print hunts at Goodwill, prom-time plans, scary movies, true crime shows, Madea, college football Saturdays, Audrey Hepburn flicks, playing with pets, decorating together---so, so much. Then, suddenly, a decade had passed. My pigtail (okay, "dookie braid") princess was off to college preview.  Brothers left home, Mama, Daddy-o, & daughter D fell in love with both the college program, & the city that hosts it.

              "When you see someone putting on their Big Boots, you can be pretty sure an ADVENTURE is going to happen."
              ~ A.A. Milne, Winnie The Pooh

                  This tough track to adulthood was not for the faint at heart. Intentionally hard, the demands were greater than those made by coaches or parents, before, but D rose to the challenge, & learned to don her desert tan army boots with pride, gear up, "embrace the suck", power through early a.m. P.T.. Most of all, she learned to tap the passion in her soul to love & serve others; to face the fear, & do it, anyway, because her mission is too important not to.  

              "You can't stay in your corner of the Forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them, sometimes."
              ~ A.A. Milne, Winnie The Pooh 

                   I knew, early on, that D was an introvert, like her I was...once. Given her druthers, she'd be content to hang back, & let others be the ones who approach, test waters, learn names first. However, once babygirl warms to the scene, she is friendly, sunny, funny, radiant---much like her Daddy, but in other ways, all her own. She will make her way, even when it feels awkward, & she will touch lives on her GRAND ADVENTURE. In turn, she, too, will be touched, & changed by the experience. I am witnessing a young woman crossing the border into adulthood, from adolescence. Like her mother, before her, she is at times, timid, stepping onward gingerly, momentarily unsure. Yet, when she glances back at those who've prepared her for such a time as this, & the experiences that have culminated in not just a flight from New York to Moscow, but from girlhood to...beyond girlish things...I hope she sees all of us, missing her, already, but wistfully, glad to see her go. Safe passage, babygirl, & may God go with you. LOVE ALWAYS, MAMA

              "How lucky I am to have something...that makes saying goodbye so hard."~ A.A. Milne, Winnie The Pooh

              Click Here: Corduroy by Don Freeman Videobook


              Thursday, December 27, 2012

              A Story of Peace Amidst Chaos: And A Child Shall Lead

                   On the 7th of December, 1941, as the oldest living Americans will tell you, the bombs raining down on Pearl Harbor sounded an unmistakable alarm among citizens of the lower 48. Most recognized the meaning of the massacre: imminent entry into "Europe's War". 
                        Ask people of a certain age where they were on November 22, 1963, and they don't have to ponder or pause to recall their whereabouts when a sitting president fell.
                        Likewise, for my generation, we well remember the crisp winter day in '86, when the crew of space shuttle Challenger "slipped the surly bonds of earth to touch the face of God".
              For my family, 42 days into our parenting journey, it was our children's turn, as we sat at the McDonald's Playplace in Hermitage, breaking news of the horrors visited upon NYC, the Pentagon, & Shanksville, PA---albeit watered down for little ears.
                        Now, all of us must add another date to our nation's litany of loss. Jason & I had been driving around on that cold, wet morn about 10 days ago, in our daughter's bustling college berg of Kansas City, MO. We'd been looking at Christmas decor, noting beautiful architecture, and awaiting our hotel's appointed check-in time.
                        As we arrived at our lodgings, bleary-eyed & exhausted from a 10-hour overnight drive, we learned of the senseless murders of school children & workers in idyllic Newtown, Connecticut. While we'd been crooning along with jolly holiday tunes, getting momentarily (and, truthfully, at the time, hilariously) lost in the K.C. 'hood "killing time", a young man—our daughter's age, ironically--was killing innocents.
                        While details of the carnage played across cable TV news, our physical need for sleep, so recently pressing, was displaced by our emotional need to weep & mourn alongside the families of Sandy Hook. Inside, my soul cried out in anguish, as my spiritual well ran momentarily dry, despite my best effort to dig deep. I'll try to explain.
              Religious faith does not innoculate one against despair. Likewise, it doesn't always illuminate the darker matters of life, nor does it grant easy answers to the myriad incomprehensible complexities & tragedies of life, either. Now, to my mind, this is not a failure on my Deity's part, though many may view it that way. I see it as a flaw in us, in humankind---from the diabolical acts of the deranged shooter, to my inability to perceive how any good could emerge, or even exist for that matter, in the wake of such violent slaughter. (Most writers would pause, now, to make a point about “seeing through a glass darkly”; in fact, my husband, a professional writer, did just that when he spoke about it on facebook, to nice effect. Well, then, I'm no copycat. I'm also, for better or worse, not “most writers”.)
              Many of the people in history I admire most---my heroes & heroines, if you will---were able, across time, to find PEACE, even when they were facing unimaginable chaos, suffering, & strife. Jesus, Helen Keller, C.S. Lewis, Gandhi, Eleanor Roosevelt, Rev. Dr. King, Rosa Parks, Ruby Bridges, Jim Elliott, Steven Biko---all "fought" the sorrow, trials, or violence visited upon them with sacrifice, and with appeals for PEACE, in the face of pain or punishment.
              Because of these influences (and certainly not because of anything innately good or noble in me), as the moments passed, & we settled somewhat into our suite, the children's choral hymn "Let There Be Peace On Earth" came to my mind, as the perfect counterpoint to the stark madness before our eyes onscreen. My first thought, moments before, when initially surveying the footage from Sandy Hook on the TV in our hotel lobby, had been pessimistic & grim: "How will these families ever celebrate Christmas again?" 
              Within a short time, though, stories of people both lost & saved began to emerge from the school. Brave adults had pulled children out of the line of fire, thus risking their own lives. A deacon at Newtown’s St. Rose of Lima Church shared that a newly 6-year-old girl, one of the victims, had selflessly donated her birthday money to the church, to assist those dealing with the aftermath of another national heartache---Hurricane Sandy. A teacher in her twenties--a virtual "child”, if you will, to me---valued the even-younger lives of her charges above her own, & died trying to safeguard them. 
              Slowly, these stories began to overshadow details---some erroneous, some not---about the perpetrator of these dark deeds. At least, they overshadowed the details for me. Inexplicably, a gentle chorus stirred in my breast, even as my anger & disgust began to dissipate. They were replaced by warmth, & a PEACE that passes all understanding, for me, at least. I could picture these little lost lambs, being welcomed by a heavenly musical throng, & by a once-upon-a-time Child, who came to bring a new kind of PEACE to the world. That former child, like so many of his fellow peacemakers, like those utterly innocent children, was Himself met with violence & murder, in a display of humankind's worst.
                        Still, despite the ugliness that represents the worst of humanity, an offer of PEACE was held out to us. While I lack Divinity coupled with my humanity, I can choose the path of PEACE each day---in thought, word, & deed. I recognize that not everyone I know will credit the same Source or Example as I, but we can all bring more kindness, calmness, & simple joy into the lives of others. In doing so, we'll succeed in helping to “save” & “assist” those around us, though perhaps not in the same way as the young ones of Sandy Hook, of whom I spoke. 
                        Every year, it seems things are getting more grim & terrible—or so most voices on tv say. I don't doubt that, from a certain perspective, they're right. However, I can't help but believe that a day of PEACE is possible, even though we'll each have our own idea of what that might be. 
                        For me, the Torah tells us this, in what we Gentiles call Isaiah 11:6---"The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little Child will lead them." To my fellow christian believers, a picture of the characteristics of this PEACE appears in John 14:27---"Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives, give I unto you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid."
                        A secular poem, by Raymond Foss, adds these thoughts:
              Practice kindness to all
              Exhibit the best of your nature
              At one with the universe
              Called from ages past,
              Echoes of the creation
                        And lastly, somewhere between the two perspectives, Sarah Flower Adams captures much of what I cling to, in moments where PEACE seems far away---

              Part in peace: is day before us? 
              Praise His Name for life and light; 
              Are the shadows lengthening o’er us? 
              Bless His care Who guards the night. 

              Part in peace: with deep thanksgiving, 
              Rendering, as we homeward tread, 
              Gracious service to the living, 
              Tranquil memory to the dead. 

              Part in peace: such are the praises 
              God our Maker loveth best; 
              Such the worship that upraises 
              Human hearts to heavenly rest. 

              CLICK HERE TO PLAY SONG---

              Wednesday, December 12, 2012

              Post The 1st: The Title (Not-So-Short) Story

                   I think the 1st person to ever mostly, or consistently call me "Cath", was my boarding school bestie (later, college roomie, cousin-in-law, & Matron of Honor) "Mar"---the glass artist formerly known as Mary Ruth Parker. I was, by then, no stranger to nicknames. I was...

              ..."C.J." to my dad, who'd have probably preferred a boy, to assuage the pain of the sons he'd left behind, in Hawaii.

              ..."Cat" to my best guy friend, growing up, though he transitioned to "Cath" years later. Honorary brothers are allowed to call you whatever they please, just like biological ones.

              ..."Sissy", so dubbed by my baby sister. (Wish 13-year-old me hadn't cajoled her out of calling me that. Such a jerk thing to do.)

              ..."Mikey", I'm afraid to say, after a particularly tacky joke in the movie "Porky's". My mother still doesn't know I've watched that movie, I'd bet.

              ..."Mom", to younger, often fractured female dorm-mates, far from both home & healing, of innumerable hurts.

                   Lots of folks followed suit, after Mar, & "Cath" I was, & am, to many. Other monikers & appellations attached, mostly singularly...

              ..."Caffy" to 1 boyfriend, & 1 husband.

              ..."Veronica" to the same (only) hubs.

              ..."Miss Cathy"/"Mrs. Cathy" to preschool & school-age students/campers, through the years.

              ..."Mama" to Belmont studio musicians who needed coffee & Domino's, or same cleaned up. Later, 3 brown-skinned babes would alternate between this badge of honor, & its twin, "Mom".

              ..."Mrs. Sparks" to anyone courting one of  our "kids", until the moment an engagement renders me "Cathy" to them, too.

                   But, I must confess, I chose my own "true name"---what I call my "soul name"---"Mama Cath". That said, in a way, it chose me. "Mama", to me, is the essence of my best self. Nurturing,  encouraging, offering wisdom, laughter, household hints, love advice, or just a listening ear, it is what I aspire to be, on a good day, anyway. Couple it with the 1st "adult" (okay, post-18, which doesn't seem so grown-up, now) nickname bestowed upon me, & it recalls a similar name that I heard repeatedly on my cassette player, as a boarding school Senior, in East TN.
                  For the uninitiated, or the ridiculously young, I refer to one Miss Cass Elliot, of the 60's supergroup The Mamas & The Papas. "Mama Cass", as she was called, unlike the lithe, blonde, wispy California girl "Mama Michelle", who made up the other female 1/4 of the band, was a Baltimore-born East Coast girl of substantial proportions. With dark hair, a big bod, & dusky pipes to match, she boasted an anti-Twiggy figure, a beguiling innocence, plus painful insecurity that ran long & deep.
                   After the breakup of the group, she embarked on a solo career, nurtured a daughter, & fought her weight down to 200 lbs., from a high of a 100 lbs. more. She died at 32 of a heart attack, likely brought on by fasting 4 days a week, in yet another heart-rending "battle of the bulge", trying to match what managers & bandmates had tried to shame her into being for years. In a twist that speaks volumes about how accurate her perceptions of these external expectations were, her vocal artistry has been long over-shadowed by an urban legend that's supposed to serve as one final punchline at her expense. To this day, most people believe that Cass choked to death on a ham sandwich. She left a body of work that was a pre-cursor to the full-bodied talents of Adele. This solo mama also left an orphaned 7-year-old girl, to be raised by her aunt.
                  I've rarely been slender, save my preschool years, & a few more, as an adult. I did Nutri-System as an 8th grader, so it's not hard to guess my feelings of kinship with a zaftig East Coast Jewess I never met. However, it was just as importantly that soulful voice, coming through those tinny-sounding cassette player headphones, during what my dorm dean's mangled diction was rendered, "Sturdy Hall in the Liberry". My favorite song? The Cass-dominated power ballad, "Dream A Little Dream", which began with the announcer stating, "And now to sing a lovely ballad...Mama Cass.".
                   Romantic, light, evocative of liltingly crooned tunes from a by-gone era, when recorded, in the late-60's, I'm sure 90% of my fellow students in that musty old "liberry" had no idea who she, or the band were, in 1988. By then, though, I was growing comfortable in my quirks, & couldn't have cared less. I like to think if Cassie had lived a bit longer, she'd have grown to feel the same.
                  So, to honor Mama Cass & both those who dubbed me "Mama" & "Cath", in the early years of my 20's, I combined the two into a descriptor that I'll proudly bear until I breathe my last. That, if you're still reading, is The Title (Not-So-Short) Story. 12~12~12

              Dream A Little Dream---Mama Cass Elliot