Over the past few months, our family has learned some of life’s harshest lessons:
The real meaning of the word “terrified.”
Ten-year olds aren’t promised tomorrow.
There’s no age requirement for suffering.
Yep, all of those pretty much suck.
When we first heard Adelia’s diagnosis the good in life dimmed, our world shrank. I saw everything through a dull lens and used the word “dread” a lot and there was no inappropriate place for crying.
That was for the rest of us, but not for Adelia.
She ain’t got no time for that.
While her health declines, her capacity for happiness does not.
She cackles like a hen at random private jokes, likes nothing better than putting her brother in a headlock, hopefully till he loses consciousness, and knows when her mom’s back is turned so she can wheel off with a cookie.
While we’re focused on her dying, Adelia’s living.
She’s forced me to reevaluate. Can joy ride shotgun with sorrow? Can we find anything to celebrate during these sad days?
Well, since you asked here are a few things to consider:
We can still make silly videos and laugh our asses off.
We can still just plain laugh our asses off.
Homemade chocolate cake still restores the soul.
Singing Old MacDonald Had a Farm is never wrong.
We can watch Sofia the First on a 72-hour loop and not lose our minds.
My daughter still needs me to tell her how to make green beans.
My daughter can still get pissed off when I tell her how to make green beans.
Online oyster shucking parties are a thing. Go ahead, Google it.
Teenagers still know everything.
Little boys still think fart noises are hilarious.
Grown up boys still think fart noises are hilarious.
Candy before dinner is still awesome.
Hospice nurses can become our BFF’s.
My chest can still puff with pride over the accomplishments of my five other grandchildren. Talking to them, spending time with them, still soothes every ill.
Dogs still love unconditionally.
We can still count the stars from a hospital bed.
To feel Adelia’s heartbeat under the palm of my hand is still an extraordinary thing.
My family is still the well of love I draw from that’s never run dry.
Watching my husband hold his grandchildren makes my world right.
A forty-pound, tiny slip of a girl can take a fifteen round beat-down in the fight of her life and still get up swinging.
“We’ll need to save up for Adelia’s funeral,” is a fist to the windpipe sentence I never thought my daughter would say in my lifetime, or hers for that matter. But there it was, out in the open. I’ll admit, on bad days I hear it in a running loop in my head.
My granddaughter Adelia’s decline over the whole decade of her life has been plain to anyone with eyes. Yet without an official diagnosis, hope lived. Many of you have cheered her on, watched her grow, laughed at her adventures and cried for her sorrows. We all rejoiced over her smallest victories assured they meant that despite her disabilities, she’d be okay. But we knew, somewhere inside, something was terribly wrong. How terribly, was the only unknown.
So, I did what any mom/grandma would. I’d helpfully (aka annoyingly) Google.
Could it be this? That’s not so bad. What about this other thing? That could be removed. Or how about whatchacallit? Physical therapy might nip that right in the bud. We remained, with the aid of baffled doctors, ignorant. Finally, after eight years of tests that went nowhere, she got a semi-diagnosis. But, so what? She'd received more than one scary, life-shortening diagnosis before, which in the end were wrong.
But, not this time.
Turns out, a person can have a fatal illness run over them like Stephen King’s lawn mower without a formal introduction. Named or not, what they did know was brutal. I cannot bear to type its cruel affects. Suffice it to say that we will not get the happy ending we held out for.
We were blind, but now we see.
I assume no one realizes or cares that I haven’t blogged in over two years. I quit, in part, because I didn’t have anything worthwhile to say. And now, I struggle with whether I can, or should, write about this. I’ve written about Adelia and her struggles before, with no pang of conscience. But this feels different.
She is setting out on her final journey in this life. And if that is not hers alone, nothing is.
So many things have been ripped from Adelia without her consent. How can I commandeer her story? And what about her parents? Will seeing what they know in their hearts, in print, only add to their burden? Can I risk piling on the heartache when they are already the walking wounded? Yet, I can’t help but feel as the writer in our family it’s my duty to, when I can, serve as its historian. If I don’t write about Adelia who will? How can I allow her life, in all its painful beauty, to go undocumented?
I can’t. Her exceptional existence must be noted.
If you’re reading this, these difficult moral dilemmas have been resolved. But, other than writing, what else can I do? What do any of us do?
What weapons can you bring to a battle that’s already lost?
Love is all there is.
Kayla, my daughter, is almost always the rock she was born to be. Her optimism in the face of a parent’s worst nightmare has been the most difficult part for me. I thought her stoic, heartbreaking cheerfulness was the hardest to bear.
I was wrong.
Her pain, let out after so many years of looking on the bright side, is crushing.
To watch my granddaughter suffer is a horror, but to watch my daughter watch her daughter suffer is its own special circle of hell. Then there’s my son-in-law Che, who has taken on a broken-winged child that is not his own, but loves her like she is. He gets up and goes to work every day to take care of his family, though his own grief is a living force. What about Adelia’s sisters who still can’t, or won’t, grasp what’s happening, or her five-year-old brother and best friend, who intuitively understands more about Adelia and her condition than any of us ever will. Who, even at his tender age, expects his God to account for this travesty, and is so far unimpressed with the feedback.
What’s to be done?
Loving them is all that’s left.
But it feels shamefully inadequate.
And our sweet Adelia, who never complains, loves with her whole heart, has a wicked right hook, and a dark, smart, sense of humor. We all owe her the best of ourselves for the rest of her time on earth, because she’s always given her best to us. She’s a champion of the highest order. We have to love and celebrate her even though we all die a little inside every time we see her.
I’m not a person who sees inspiration in tragedy. I’m also not a “why not us?” kind of girl. I’m a “why not you?” sort. At any given moment I could tally a list of all the people I’d gladly put in Adelia’s place. That’s just who I am. I make no apologies.
I’m angry that any child’s life would be cut so short by such a terrible disease. But, I’m enraged that it’s our child whose life is being cut short. So, I have to gather myself, stay in touch with the precious, private things I share with my beloved Adelia. As more and more of her disappears, the tighter I’ll hang on to them and to my family.
Her doctors say they’re amazed she is still living and as alert as she is given the severe deterioration of her brain. She’s a miracle.
Tell us something we don’t already know.
Tell us how to let her go.
We’re not the only family that will lose a child, but we are the only family that will lose Adelia.
Not long ago, I loaded up two of my grandkids and off we went to one of those Mega Hyper Pizza places that latch a vacuum hose to your wallet as soon as you walk in. You know the ones...lots of games, rides, carbs, sugar, overwrought parents and screaming kids.
If you're familiar with this blog you already know my eight-year-old granddaughter Adelia is disabled. She gets around just okay with a walker, but it's a slippery slope. Anyway, we (almost three-year-old brother Che Jr. too) got in my car...wait.
Getting in the car with a disabled child and a little boy is, in itself, a turbulent journey. The walker doesn't fit in the car. The seat belt is crammed deep into the back seat on both sides. The car seat is awkward and big. Che Jr. is running into the street tired of waiting on the losers holding him back. Luckily, the walker folds up so you can put it in the trunk...wait.
The Incredible Hulk couldn't get that walker folded up.
Thirty minutes and three pounds of sweat later we're in the car. I'll just let you imagine what it's like getting out of the car and into the Mega Hyper Pizza place. We made it inside where a great time was had by all...wait.
Of the more than 20 Mega Hyper Pizza place staff, not one offered assistance. They stood around watching me struggle to get food from the buffet line, keep Adelia upright, and Che Jr. from getting kidnapped. Parents pushed Adelia out of the way so their kid could get in front of her in line for one of the very few rides that actually worked...wait.
It didn't work. A staff member stood idly by while I wrangled Che Jr. and lifted my granddaughter (not an easy task) onto the ride before telling me the ride didn't work after all. They will probably be talking about the crazy lady who got all gangsta over the kiddie train at this year's employee holiday party.
I realized that I'd attempted this trip solo because I relied, in advance, on the kindness of strangers. Surely, if it was too hard, someone would help. Right? Another parent or grandparent? Employees who would certainly have been instructed about customer service? Not a one. I pondered this while trying not to cry in the Happiest Fucking Place on Earth.
Then, I almost cracked my head open when I fell off my high horse.
How many times have I walked past someone struggling without a thought? How many deep sighs rumbled from the back of my throat because the elderly woman in the grocery store went too slow in front of me? How many grocery lines have I left because the developmentally disabled bag kid is working there and I don't have the patience for it?
I'm not going to be an asshole and say I now know what it's like to walk a mile in Adelia's shoes. I do, however, know what it's like to have walked an inch in my daughter's and son-in-law's. Everyday living with a disabled child, spouse, parent, take your pick - ain't for wimps. You go it alone. My daughter who, by the way, sweetly tried to dissuade me from making this trip by myself called out the Mega Hyper Pizza place management ( 'cause you don't want to mess with her kids or her mama) who then sent a swarm of staff to help, but they quickly lost interest. Welcome to the world for the disabled.
It occurred to me that the disabled are the last frontier for causes. Perhaps they need to be transgendered to get attention. We passed laws to aid the disabled didn't we? Yes, but the laws to protect the disabled have very little to do with my point. All the ramps, close parking spots, handrails and widened doorways in the world can't change attitudes or endow anyone with common courtesy.
Note to parents - it won't kill little Johnny to wait an extra five minutes to get on the Dumbo ride. And don't get me started on bathroom etiquette.
My rallying cry today is simple: Ask.
If you see someone (and I challenge you to look for them) who might need help - ask. They'll let you know. Don't be a jerk. Don't raise your kids to be jerks. Are we all really in such a hurry that we need to stampede a kid with a walker or leg braces for a piece of pizza?
I promise you, no matter how inconvenient you think it is for you - it's 1000 times worse for them.
I'm not a fan.
50 Shades of Grey didn't blow my skirt up, or my rubber doll with a permanent O-shaped mouth. I didn't think it was well written (I get the plot probably wasn't the point) and I'm not crazy about the plagiarism aspects of Fan Fiction. And, yes, I've bitched about her fame given what many would say is sub-quality work. But, I need to get some things off my chest.
As you probably already know, E.L. James held a twitter Q&A #askELJames a few days ago.
Talk about whips and chains.
I read a few of the tweets. Someone forwarded them to me, knowing I'm not a fan. Some amused me. E.L got taken to task over the plagiarism thing, weak plot, etc. When you put your work out there, haters gonna hate and you best suck it up and take it like a writer. I'm a writer too. Not a world wide famous one like James, but I know criticism isn't fun, no matter how constructive. Nevertheless, it goes with the territory and you're gonna get some.
But how is calling E.L. James a cunt constructive?
Her mildly amusing Q&A quickly devolved into bullying and abuse like I've never seen.
I don't have to be a fan to know there're all kinds of wrong in that. My short list:
1. If you don't like the book, don't read it. Like it or not, James struck a chord with millions of readers across many continents. They relate. They loved it so much they wanted sequels. Movies. Lingerie. Wine. She's a billionaire. As a fellow writer I say, bravo. It's why we all write whether we will admit it or not. So, let's all just take our one-way ticket to bitter town and stop kvetching about it.
2. James borrowed the Twilight characters from Stephanie Meyer. If Stephanie Meyer doesn't mind it, neither should we. Certainly not enough to tell Ms. James to go fuck herself in a public forum.
3. If you already know you're not a fan don't get on the Q&A and ruin it for everyone that is. Keep your ugliness under wraps. Save the name calling for Donald Trump.
4. Finally, and this is HUGE. Stop mixing fiction up with real life. It's FICTION. James' story is about sadomasochism. But it's a story. Let's just say, for shits and giggles, it is as some suggest, about an abusive man flexing his considerable wanker at a younger, vulnerable woman. And let's say she's got some form of Stockholm syndrome, or she's just a nut, but either way she likes it. SO WHAT? It's FICTION. Political correctness is ruining art forms of every kind. No, I'm not going to argue whether or not 50 Shades is art.
Have you read Lolita lately? That's considered a classic.
Hannibal Lechter ate people with fava beans and a good Chianti. Clarisse, the FBI agent sent to study him finds herself attracted to him. The sexual tension between the two, while underlying, was still palpable. Hannibal is now a TV show. Fans send in recipes. They get the joke.
The Netflix series The Fall tells the story of a woman detective, Stella, sent to Ireland from London to catch a serial killer who tortures, rapes and kills women. Stella is a bit of a slut. She also finds the serial killer compelling (that's code for hot) a little too much so. She wants him, bad. And not in that "you're a killer and I want to put you behind bars," kind of way. If you get my drift.
Stephen King ran over a two year old with an 18 wheeler, buried him next to a dog, brought the little darling back to life (worse for the wear to say the least) to kill everyone in the neighborhood.
Millions of people loved all these stories and I haven't heard of anyone harming another as a direct result. I think it's safe to say, they get it.
No matter the medium or the quality, art should provoke. Make you think. Make you laugh. Or, cry. Piss you off. Scare the shit out of you. It's life, exaggerated, illuminated to get at a deeper, more important, truth. But, we can't handle the truth. That's why we dress it up in dog collars and fishnets and make it call us mommy.
Let's all try to grow up.
In the modern age, the veil has been lifted on the mysteries of writing. Social media and self-publishing have taken some of the panache out. I'm not here to argue the pros or cons of that, it's just an observation.
There are countless writers online, editors, publishers, reviewers, bloggers, book doctors, and witty or inspirational quotes like the one at the top of this post. The internet is locked and loaded for all things writerly.
Despite the heavy traffic, most of us don't find fame or fortune.
So why do it?
One of the quotes I've seen on numerous occasions says some version of this: "Writer's have to write, they can't help themselves."
Nothing could be further from the truth for me.
On any given day I could, without any thought, come up with at least ten reasons why I can't write. The biggest is, I don't want to. After The Last Day for Rob Rhino got published I didn't write anything other than the occasional blog for a year. Easy peasy. Since hubs retired, lying by the pool, champagne in hand is quite a temptation. I could do that instead of write at the pop of a cork.
But yet, I write. Because I think it's my job, a responsibility.
Most of us will never cure cancer, lead the free world, or broker world peace. It's up to the writers to record the lives of the rest of us. To tell the every day, often difficult, stories that would otherwise go unnoticed. We illuminate the extraordinary ordinary.
Anyone familiar with this blog knows I write frequently about my Granddaughter, Adelia. I must, her story is important. If I don't write it, who can? We don't know what her life- span will be, but anytime she wants to, my daughter can look at what I've written and know that her daughter matters, that her life, with all its pain and joy, raises the bar on living. Her struggles, her courage, mean something, everything. If not, how could a mother bear it? So, I write it.
I write so my husband and children can know me better. Can better understand me, what I value, what I think, and so they might feel my love for them. At the heart of all fiction, mine included, lies an uncomfortable, even ugly truth. It's all there, on every page - my regrets, mistakes, weaknesses, and longings.
I write to be heard, to be loved.
I write to breathe life into what I've lost. If I write about friendships I'll always have them. I write about mothers so mine will never really be dead. I write about fathers because I wanted one. And as long as I write about husbands, sons or daughters, mine will live forever.
Finally, I write because I choose it.
I'll keep on choosing it till I get to the end of my story.
Robin Winter, the author of Night Must Wait, Future Past and Watch the Shadows, invited me to be part of the blog tour for Works In Progress.
The work-in-progress blog tour rules:
Link back to the post of the person who nominated you.
Write a little about and give the first sentence of the first three chapters of your own current work-in-progress. Some writers give more than the first sentences.
Nominate some other writers to do the same.
So here’s Robin Winter, who's newest novel Watch the Shadows drops this month, a thriller/science fiction yarn set in the university town of Isla Vista, California. She is the author who tagged me for this Works in Progress blog tour.
Robin penned and illustrated her first manuscript ‘Chickens and their Diseases’, in second grade. Her novel Night Must Wait, was published in October of 2012 by Imajin Books. The novel pits four powerful women friends in deadly conflict with each other against the backdrop of the Nigerian Civil War in the late 1960’s. Her second novel, Future Past is in Louise Marley’s words, a “big, dystopian, far future story dense with scientific detail, and both tragic and triumphant”. This science fiction novel was published by Eternal Press, May 2013.
My thriller/mystery work in progress has the working title Hit Me. Maggie, the daughter of a prominent family is incarcerated in a Psychiatric Facility. Her court-ordered therapist, Isabelle, is charged with helping Maggie control her impulses so she can assimilate into society and reunite with her fractured, secretive family, but it's not working.
When the police came for me, I didn’t argue. As soon as their tires crunched the gravel I knew they’d come, no sirens. Best to let them right in. Sometimes crying Uncle is the only crying worth doing. More so than prison, a Psychiatric Facility (for the criminally insane was implied), or the unpleasant detox, I’m horrified to find myself in therapy.
“Jesus Christ, in my day you just poured yourself a scotch and got on with it,” my mother used to say. “Can’t anyone man up anymore?” After forty some years married to my father, you’d think she’d know the answer to that particular question.
“Isabelle told us you’re doing well, considering how difficult,” he coughed, the words sticking in his larynx like a hairball. “Considering you’re sober, done with that part of the...rehabilitation.” My father preferred not to think about the detox process. The sweating, shaking, hallucinations, vomiting, begging, padded room situation didn’t square with his idea of a restorative hospital stay.
“Sober?” My mother said like she’d never heard the word before. “Doesn’t that apply to alcoholics? Heroin is-”
“She’s clean, Elizabeth,” my father rushed to my defense. “That’s what matters.”
A skin burning rage ran red up my mother’s neck. She half stood, “All that matters? Is that your idea of a-”
“Elizabeth, stop.” He put a hand on her forearm. “Of course it’s not all, but it’s a start.”
“How’s your mute prisoner doing?” Jonathan said.
I scooted around in my chair, no spot made me feel quite right enough. “She’s not a prisoner. She’s a patient in a private psychiatric facility.”
Jonathan peeped over the top of his rimless glasses, “Pardon me. I’ll rephrase. How’s your prisoner from a rich family doing?
”That’s an odd question.”
He smoothed out the page in his notepad that he’d devoted to notes about me. “Not at all. You mentioned her ongoing resistance to therapy at our last session. I got the impression it was a stressor for you. One of our goals is to limit those stressors, right?”
“She spoke,” I said, ignoring the meat of his question.
I nominate Sally who helps guide a whole bunch of authors including me, at Damnation Books and Eternal Press, through the publishing and marketing process:
Sally Franklin Christie has spent her life achieving incredibly average goals. Her challenges have led her to organize for social change, civil rights and helping people navigate in a world filled with physical barriers and discrimination. She photographs and paints landscapes, when she isn’t at the computer researching, networking and writing. Special interests include Missing Children and Adults, Astronomy, Character Traits and Criminal Thinking.
A home-schooling mother of children born eleven years apart has added to her liberal arts education. She’s had plenty of time to practice and refine the art and craft of writing coupled with opportunities to learn the marketing aspects of writing. She interned for a spell at WOW-WomenonWriting.com and currently has a position as a moderator at The Writers Chatroom. Various published articles appear in places like Pangia Magazine, Creations Magazine and other almost forgotten places. She writes one novel a year as a NaNoWriMo Participant and keeps a more serious project simmering year round.
Published Novels include If I Should Die and Milk Carton People available at Eternal Press and e-retailers everywhere.
There's a reason why the saying is, "out of the mouths of babes," and not "out of the mouths of 40 year-olds." The young view the world with a clarity that eludes anyone past puberty. As we grow older, our ability to see most situations as either black or white gets clouded with at least 50 Shades of Grey. Children have no such filters. Good manners and political correctness don't cloud their judgment or still their tongues.
If you want to get your life right, ask a kid. They will set you on the straight and narrow toot suite (The Wonder).
Our four-year-old granddaughter Amelie said, "Sometimes boys marry boys and girls marry girls." The "now you don't have to worry about this anymore and feel free to mind your own business," was implied.
When our granddaughter Madison was five she handed in her test paper blank because, as she told her teacher, "I did this ten times yesterday. You already know I know how to do it." (A Dog's Life)
Even our two-year-old grandson dishes out Obi-Wan worthy wisdom in daily soundbites. If you ask him something - anything - he says NO at least 50% of the time.
I'll let you chew on that one.
Then there's Adelia - the sage. As some of you know, Adelia is our seven-year-old granddaughter who suffers from an ataxic cerebral palsy like disease. She is unable to walk more than a couple of nerve-wracking, dangerously unstable steps without the aid of a walker, but gets around best via wheelchair. Yet, somehow her spirit thrives in inverse proportion to her physical decline (The High Cost of Living, Don't Cry Mom, Sho You Right).
Not long ago, on a rainy day in the middle of the street, she told me the secret to a life well lived. In a handful of words, she re-wrote the book on success.
"Count to three, Mimi," she said.
"I want to race my brother."
Race? It had taken us ten, painful minutes to walk/carry/lurch from her front door to the curb, two-year-old Che Jr. trailing us. A vice grip on my hand the only prop between her face and a concrete disaster.
"Adelia, racing's not a great idea," I said.
"Yeah, come on, count. Let go." She pulled out of my grasp, almost losing her balance.
Like an idiot, I let her boss me (in my weak defense, I let all my grandkids boss me). "Okay...one, two, three..."
Che Jr. took off as fast as his fat toddler legs would go. Adelia took half a shaky step forward and fell, hard. On the asphalt. It was ugly.
After I checked for serious wounds and wiped tears (mostly mine) Adelia struggled upward. I helped her stand. She pushed her hair out of her face and nudged me aside.
"Okay, Mimi. Count."
What the hell? Hadn't we just gone through this?
"Adelia," I said, a little exasperated, a lot scared. "You're gonna fall again."
"I know," she said. "But, I want to run."
My relationship with my mother has never been better since she died.
Our lives together were fraught with contention (The Letter, The Mother Load). A healthy, enjoyable rapport, elusive. One of the many things I found nearly intolerable was her insistence on taking on everyone else's problems, a crisis magnet, a drama sponge. She absorbed every iota of someone else's misery and lept into Cirque du Soleil contortions to fix it. A hero complex for the ages, in my opinion.
Yes, my mother's ability to feel compassion, and put it into action, made me want to shake her, hard. I felt she went too far, held back nothing in her quest. She gave away so much of herself that it undid her. I questioned her motives on more than one occasion. At the end of her life she was left penniless, a host to a litany of addictions, and illnesses both mental and physical, and many who benefited from her largess couldn't find time for her.
So, I figured - compassion is for suckers.
Then, she succumbed to the bad health I thought she'd somehow always survive. As time will, it passed and I saw an upside to death.
A legacy is whatever the living choose to remember.
We hone it, define it, relate it. I could pick and choose the memories of my mother that I wanted to keep, or dwell on. Without the carousel of baggage that circled our relationship like buzzards over a carcass, I found more space to consider her life, and its lessons, with more objectivity.
Through those memories sifted, I found out what compassion is and what it is not.
It's not love. You can love someone yet feel little to no compassion for them. I know. Been there, done that.
It's not generosity. Too often generosity is accompanied by its ugly twin - self serving. The hyper giving can dole out gifts with strings attached to their personal agenda. Giving often has more to do with the giver than the receiver.
It's not forgiveness. You can forgive, but seldom forget. You can forgive and never want to see whoever it is you've bestowed forgiveness on again, or care what happens to them.
It's not sympathy. You can cluck cluck about someone else's misfortune and never break a sweat.
No, compassion is its own thing - the ability and willingness to feel someone else's pain as your own.
Without realizing it, I started down a path I'd never been on. I began to wonder what it must've been like to be my mother. To live her imperfect and painful life, to suffer her disappointments, to keep her chin up, to offer up everything and anything she had to be loved.
Yes, I started to feel compassion for her. And, let me tell you, it could break me.
While I stand by my opinion she over did it, and that sometimes her intentions got mucked up by her less noble, but human side, I choose now to remember it in its most flattering light, to reflect on her life with compassion instead of criticism, and it hurts. Inviting her pain into my life can bring me to tears quicker than anything else.
We're a culture full of individuals that can't handle our own troubles without therapy and a Prozac chaser, much less someone else's. To think that my mother bore her own considerable burdens yet still devoted much of her life to alleviating everyone else's without the benefit of psychiatry or pharmaceuticals, says a lot about her grit.
For the first time, I really get it.
Compassion's not for suckers or sissies, it's for badasses who possess an inordinate amount of strength and fortitude. Especially if they've got the spine to live it and not just feel it. Digging in, armpit deep, eyes wide open, with someone else who is suffering, to take it on in full, is not for the weak. I don't know any other undertaking that will separate the men from the boys faster than putting another's calamity ahead of your own.
So, in death, my mother taught me more about living a compassionate life than I ever imagined she could. Even though I wish I would've summoned the courage to look on her with a more committed kindness while she lived, I know it had to be this way. It was how we rolled, for better or worse.
In case you're wondering, I do understand that compassion, after the fact, looks a lot like guilt.
I'm still a work in progress.
I've heard that Valentine's Day is second only to New Years Eve for suicides, which says a lot about love. It doesn't always turn out well, or like you wanted it to, or like you thought it would.
And, some pay the highest price for it. Yet, we're all looking for it.
For all its hype, love is rarely a Cinderella tale. For me, the real story lies with the ugly stepsisters. No one ever asked them what they thought about love. They got left behind like so many ill-fitting shoes and rotten pumpkins. But they could tell you - love bites. For every girl who gets invited to the ball, there are at least 100 pressing their faces to the glass watching the dance.
And don't even get me started on the frog to Prince ratio.
So this is a salute to the ugly stepsisters, to those who struggle with love - to find it, to keep it, to let it go with grace, to redefine it, to live through it. You know...the rest of us.
The ones who find out quick that everyday life is the fingernail on the chalkboard of love.
These are the real heros of Valentine's Day.
They get out of bed everyday, go to a job they don't necessarily love, get little to no fanfare or praise and not enough money, but they do it anyway because they have families to raise. They come home to piles of laundry, dishes and bills. But, they still come home. No rich, handsome prince or princess riding in at their house to save the day.
They weather job losses, poverty, general disappointments, children with heartbreaking disabilities and illnesses. They get a big bang out of very little buck. They seek out, and feel enormous gratitude for, the simpler things in life. A barbeque with friends, cookies for everyone at work, a few christmas presents under the tree for every kid, enough food on the table, a trip to the grocery store with their daughter in her new wheelchair.
They leave unhealthy relationships. They find the courage to try it again. They stay together when they don't feel like it. They muddle through. Always hopeful, sometimes down, but never out. They take a crushing beatdown from love and still stand.
And if that's not enough to make the most optimistic heart close up shop, then shit gets real.
They nurse spouses through surgeries, failing health and old age. They find themselves the one left behind. They care for dying parents and grandparents. They raise grandchildren who would otherwise fall through the cracks. They wring their hands in helplessness and prayer over a wayward daughter. With uncommon bravery they usher their terminally ill children out of the world with even more love than when they brought them into it.
Yes, this is for all of you who recognize yourselves in these words. For those who've been shot in the heart with cupid's arrow only to find out it hurts like hell and leaves a scar. And Hallmark isn't writing cards with any of this inscribed on them. So, I'll write them. You are all like precious metals, thrown into the flames, to come out bent but never broken - shaped into something new - built to last.
I think Valentine's Day is a celebration of you and all you endure for love. And, this year, I'm reminded that love isn't in the air. It's in the trenches.
Mothers...we're well meaning, aren't we?
But, sometimes...okay, often...we don't know when to stop. We're full of all kinds of healthy tips, life altering opinions and smart, timely advice. We foist our hard earned wisdom onto our kids at every opportunity. Lucky them.
I don't know about you, but I'm frankly shocked - stunned - when my "graduated from the school of hard knocks" pep talks aren't embraced with evangelical fervor by whichever kid I'm bestowing them on.
Then I remember my own mother. Ouch.
She'd call and say, "Hi honey, how are things?"
Clearly, the woman antagonized me at every turn. I could barely keep a civil tongue when she unleashed insults like that. Then I got to thinking...
Every Mom/Kid duo has a code. They undertake conversations that look perfectly harmless to the unseasoned observer. But anyone with a mother knows when she says things like "Just calling to check in," she really means "I had to call because I'm sure your husband's left you and you've gotten fired." Every inane sentence is loaded like Courtney Love at an awards show. Like:
When I said to my son the actor, "You really do need to go to college so you'll have something to fall back on, for the security." He heard, "You have no talent, so don't think you won't have to get a regular job like the rest of us schlubs."
When I said to my daughter, "You might consider..." well, it doesn't matter what words finish that off. Any sentence that starts with "you might consider" is a minefield of underlying criticism. At least to the recipient. They hear, "Whatever it is you're doing now is so, so wrong. You need to do this instead. And by the way, I don't know how those kids will survive with you as their mother."
So, here's the thing mom - shut it. Really. It is possible to have an unexpressed feeling. I've heard.
I know, I know, you've been there done that and got the free steak knives. It matters not at all. If you haven't noticed that your kids do a pitch perfect Helen Keller imitation almost every time your gums are flapping you need to take a closer look.
The world has a way of letting everyone, including your kids, know if they're doing it wrong. They will figure it out. They'll live to have kids of their own to heave unwanted advice on. So, the next time you feel near to bursting with helpful tidbits, don't. Do what mothers have done for centuries. Pour yourself a glass of wine, get on the phone, and bitch about your kids behind their backs to your friends. God knows said kids are doing the same for you.
And here's the thing. While you are fairly certain your kids are careening to ruin, maybe they're just fine. Maybe they're right and you're...not.
Like that'd happen.
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