My Dad

Standard

I had a conversation with my dad tonight that I’ll never forget.

First, a quick recap: June 2, dad was diagnosed with stage 4 throat and neck cancer.  June 9, dad moved in with me and the kids. The rest is sort of a blur, but over the past few months I have learned more than I’d ever want to know about cancer, care giving and I guess just about life in general.

After seven weeks of intense radiation five days a week, and three bouts of an absolutely brutal chemotherapy regimen, dad completed his treatment three weeks ago today.  There have been several visits to the hospital outside of his treatment schedule, quite a few short stays, a couple of longer ones and numerous arguments about him being a less than perfect patient.  This week he had a follow up visit that really wasn’t very encouraging.  He just doesn’t seem to be recovering from the treatment.  We came home Wednesday after having some blood work done, but a phone call from his doctor on Friday about his lab results validated what we both already knew…dad is just really, really sick.  I took him in to the ER and they admitted him into the critical care unit and so here we are again, with dad in his “luxury suite” at Beaumont.

I don’t really know how to interact with him anymore.  This makes him living with me a bit awkward.  But he has lost most of his hearing and pretty much all of his speech and I don’t really know how to do much besides talk, so this makes things pretty uncomfortable. I don’t know what else to do so I just keep talking.  And he just keeps either not hearing me at all or pretending that he doesn’t.  So our actual conversations are rare.  But tonight we had one.

I was telling him that when he gets home we need to be more careful about making sure that he doesn’t get this sick again.  I told him that I’d do a better job of monitoring him and making sure that he’s staying hydrated and nourished.  I talked about how we’d start trying to get him out of bed each day and try to work up to taking a walk down the street.  I reminded him of the cane that I’d just bought him and how he needs to start to use it and get up more often.  “You’re going to get depressed if you just keep staying in bed” I said. He just laid there and closed his eyes.

I looked at him for way too long. I stared hard. I realized that I don’t even recognize him anymore.  He doesn’t look like my dad.  He’s just the skeleton of a man that used to be invincible.  His face is sunken in. I can see every bone in his body.  He’s 5’10” and he weighs 102 lbs. His thighs are about as big around as my wrist. His shoulder blades protrude through the shirts that hang limp on his body.  He turned 60 last month but looks like he’s lived a hundred long years.  This is my dad.  My dad with cancer.

He opened his eyes and with the whisper of a voice that the cancer hasn’t taken yet, he spoke. “I don’t know why you’re so good to me.  I’ve never been a good dad to you.”

It’s no secret to anyone who knows me that my family has it’s fair share of dysfunctions.  Many of which stem from addictions that my dad has just never been able to kick.  But “never been a good dad”.  Well, that’s a far cry from the truth. I’m saddened that he thinks that and I’m embarrassed because I’ve actually probably felt that way about him at times too.

photo

My parents were practically kids when they had me.  She was 19, he was 20. They hadn’t known each other long and they’ve never really talked about how or where they met or anything like that.  All I know is that they met, got pregnant, got married and moved to Colorado…in that order…where they had yours truly about seven months later.  My dad could have easily bailed.  But he didn’t.  We stayed in Colorado for years, until (I think) my mom just couldn’t handle being away from family any longer and we made the move to Michigan.

 

My dad was one of the hardest working men I’ve ever known.  He got up early every single morning for as long as I can remember to be to work by 5 or 6 a.m. He was always gone long before I ever woke and came home most evenings with enough time to eat a reheated dinner, since we’d eaten hours before, and then he’d go to bed to do it all again the next day.  He often worked six and sometimes seven days a week like that. He taught me to be a hard and diligent worker.

He made sure that we always had what we needed and that we worked for anything else.  I inherited his love for horses and he made me earn and save my own money to buy a horse for myself.  And then when all of my friend’s parents were buying them their first cars, I was working to save up to purchase a car for myself. He taught me the value of hard work and I learned to appreciate things far more than my friends ever did.

He never did things for me, but taught me how to do everything.  From him, I learned to change a tire, replace a toilet and fix a garbage disposal.  He taught me how to clean a house spotless, cut the grass perfectly and the proper way to change the oil and the brakes on my car. I learned that nothing is impossible and there are very few things that I can’t figure out how to fix on my own with a little hard work and determination.

When my sister Rebecca and I would fight, my dad would make us sit on the couch next to each other holding hands for what seemed like hours.  He told us that “you girls are sisters and you’re all each other will have someday” and that we’d better treat each other right. From him, we learned the importance of family and of course, we eventually grew to love each other. He raised a house full of daughters and I always knew how badly he wanted a son.  When my mom was pregnant with Kari, the youngest, I told my dad that I’d pray for a boy.  After they found out at the ultrasound that it was another girl, I told him I was sorry and he said that it was fine and “who would want a stinky old boy anyway when he could have another pretty little girl”.  photo 1 (3)

My dad used to be a great story teller and loved to tell jokes. So many of his stories ended up with punch lines that when he actually had a one to tell that wasn’t a joke, he’d have to spend an hour convincing us that there was no punch line coming.

Yeah, my dad has issues.  He has fought his demons my whole life, but he’s been as good of a dad as he knew how to and up until a few years ago he was always able to keep those demons at bay.

I don’t know what the outcome will be for my dad right now.  But I do know that he won’t be around forever.  And I think that I have done him, and probably myself and even my kids, a disservice over the years.  I have spent far too much time focusing on what he’s done wrong as a dad and not nearly enough time on what he’s done right.  My character has, in so many ways, been formed by my relationship with my dad.  And honestly, my relationship with him wasn’t all that bad.  I know that he loved me, that he cared for me and that he has always wanted the best for me.

I have learned valuable lessons from him and I’ve also learned a lot of “what not to do” things.  But that’s alright.  I haven’t been a perfect parent either.  I plan to start giving my dad a lot more grace in the parenting department because after all, I hope my kids do the same for me.

10450421_10204628073007627_4655385664564714187_n

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

The Measure of a Mom

Standard

I wonder if there is any greater pressure in life than to be a good mother.  As a mom, it can feel like pretty much everything you do is measured by how good, or bad, you are at this job.  And the standard of how good or bad you are…well that changes constantly and there are a million variables that go in to figuring that out.  But the measure seems to be mostly dependent on who is administering the test (aka judging you).  When you think about how many interactions you have in a single day, week, month…that’s a whole lotta judging going on.  And that means a whole lotta pressure to be good at, well, everything.

If that’s not enough,  you’re also judged on the behavior of your kids and how good they are at everything.  If your child has a tantrum at the grocery store, that’s a forgivable offense for them, but you’re docked double points in the mom category, because first of all why is your child such a little monster? And second, why can’t you control them when they decide to have a melt down in aisle five?

As a pretty imperfect mom myself, I’d love to say that I’m not guilty of this unfair judging.  But that would be a lie.  When I see a child misbehaving, I have perfected “the look” that I give to my own kids as we walk past the uncontrollable brat.  And after many years of this look, I don’t even need to say a word, the kids say it for  me. “I know, you would kill us if we ever did that.” Yep.  I sure would.  Because I have enough trouble earning good mom points on my own, I don’t need you lowering my score.

I don’t really want to measured by whether or not I attend every baseball game or PTO meeting.  I don’t want to be scored by how well behaved my children are, how smart they are or how old they are when they started walking/talking/potty training…etc.  What level they read at when they’re 6 years old shouldn’t be a factor and it shouldn’t matter how many activities or sports they participate in.

I can’t imagine any other area in life where we are judged almost solely based on someone else’s performance.  Besides, I know some really great moms whose kids just aren’t there yet and may never be. What I’ve realized as my kids have grown into adulthood is that I can only do what I can do,  but ultimately their choices are up to them. And truly,  their behavior isn’t necessarily a reflection of how well I’ve done as a mom.

So what is the measure of a mom? How do I know if I’ve done my job and done it well?  I’ve decided on these few things as a measuring stick for myself.  This list might change or be added to over the years, and it might not be a standard for anyone else, but this is how I’ll be measuring myself.

  • Do my kids know that I love them? Now, I’ve learned that just loving a kid doesn’t necessarily make you a good mom, even really bad moms often love their kids.  I want my kids to know that I love them with the kind of unconditional,  selfless, I’d do anything for you…but your “happiness” is not my main concern…kind of love.
  • Do my kids know that God loves them even more than I do?  For me this is a big one.  Because I will fail my kids.  Often.  And I want them to know and to understand that I am not their ultimate authority.  Only by understanding the depth of God’s love, will they be able to extend the same kind of love to others.  And for me, that’ll be a big win.
  • Do my kids know that there are consequences to their actions?  As a mom, our natural response to our kids getting in trouble is to bail them out.  This often means that when our kids do something really stupid that deserves to be punished, we rush to their defense and don’t let them face the consequences that they’ve got coming to them.  If my kids realize that good choices equal good consequences and bad choices equal bad consequences, and that sometimes those bad consequences really hurt, I’ll be doing alright.
  • Do my kids understand the value of working hard?  My kids don’t own their own computer or ipad, they were never given a car and I’ve never paid for a spring break trip.  Why?  Because that stuff is expensive and they can’t afford it.  I supply my kids with their basic necessities.  If they want the extras, they have to work for it.  Giving them a handout now does not teach them the importance of hard work, which they will eventually have to learn. ( Unless of course, you plan to allow them to live in your basement and play video games their whole life, in which case, better you than me.)  I want my kids to know the value of a dollar and to realize that dollars don’t grow on trees.  I also want them to experience the satisfaction that comes with working for something and then obtaining it.  They will never get the same sense of satisfaction from a handout.  

And maybe most importantly,

  • Do my kids know the importance of character?  I’m a huge fan of good old honest Abe, who once said “Reputation is the shadow, character is the tree”.  I want my kids to know that their character will reflect who they are.  And that who they are, especially when nobody’s looking, is really important.  And I want them to know that things like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control are always admirable traits to have. 

 

 

 

 

 

39 years, one month…and a never ending winter.

Standard

Well, I survived the first month of being 39.  It was sort of anticlimactic in that it felt pretty much the same as 38.  Not that I really expected it to feel any different, but I was hoping I’d feel wiser or something.  So far, the only thing that’s been different about this year is that we seem to be stuck in a never ending winter. But I’m pretty sure that has nothing to do with my creeping up on 40.

I am not a fan of cold weather.  However, I am not going to complain about the long winter…or the sub-arctic temperatures…or even the mountain of snow that once was my yard. I am committed to seeing the glass-half-full…but my heart is yearning for Spring to come.  I am craving sunshine and warm breezes.  Green grass and flowers.  I’ll even take the mosquitoes.  In all of my years, I don’t recall ever wanting a season to end so badly. I feel desperate for change.

This past week I was talking to a friend and we started lamenting about the weather. It’s sort of a shared misery here in the mitten, an easy topic to grieve over. And I thought about how I have this new ache in my heart for it to be Spring.  Then I heard a song on the radio that had a line “bad times make the good times better”.  And that’s what this is.  It’s a bad time that is going to make a good time so much better.

When If Spring arrives this year, I promise that I will not complain about chilly temperatures, or rain or even the bugs.  I will be grateful for the beauty of the grass and leaves and flowers. I will enjoy every single bud that I see.  I will appreciate the scent of the rain, even when it smells like worms. I will be thankful for every day that I can venture out without wearing a coat.

But I also want to remember this bad time, my “winter of 39”. Because when I forget the bad times, I start to take the good times for granted.  I wish I didn’t slip so easily back into that habit, but I know me, and that’s what I do.

I’m not talking so much about seasons of weather as I am about seasons of life. This winter has served as a reminder to me that my bad times will make my good times better. I don’t want to take a single good thing for granted in my life.  I want these bad times to make my good times better and sweeter than ever before.

So as these literal and figurative winters (hopefully) come to an end,  and as I continue on towards the big 4-0, I vow to remember the bad, and even to try to remember it fondly, so that I live a life full of gratitude for all of the good that is to come.

Confessions of a Not-Quite-Perfect Mother

Standard

original

Today has been one of those days.  Not a good day or a bad day…just a day.  But a day that seems like it’s been going on for years.  It’s 7:15 p.m.  I just put little B down for bed.  It’s 45 minutes before his normal bedtime but thankfully he doesn’t know the difference.  He’s been tired and fussy since I picked him up from childcare which is the worst because I miss him all day and then I finally get to him…and ugh. And then he yells and cries all the way home, no manners at all. “Use your inside voice” I say, forgetting that he’s only a year old and has no idea what I mean.  So he refuses to listen, and I turn up the radio hoping to drown out the crying and in the end I get a headache from Miley Cyrus instead of BenJovi.

But today didn’t start out this way. This morning while I was driving Corey to school, he told me that I should write about being a perfect mom.  I laughed and told him that’s silly, because nobody’s perfect.  To which he replied, “I know you’re not a perfect person…but you’re a perfect mom”.   I thanked him for thinking so, but assured him that I’m nowhere near perfect.  And he looked at me, unconvinced and as serious as could be and said “Maybe you don’t think so, but you don’t get to decide because I’m the kid and I decided that you’re a perfect mom”.  Well, alright then. Who am I to argue with his nine year old logic?

How can it be that he thinks I’m perfect, or even good, when right now I’m sitting here with a sink full of dishes, bath toys still in the tub and I’ve put the baby to bed early just to catch a break.  My sleeve is still soaking wet from giving Ben a bath because I can’t even manage to control a toddler and keep him from splashing.  My kids ate sandwiches for dinner since I didn’t have time to cook when I got home from work because we had to rush out of the house for play rehearsal and Jiu Jitsu class. The laundry that I started this morning is still sitting in the washing machine and the 87 loads that still need to be done are clearly not getting done today. Toys are still covering the floor which hasn’t been vacuumed and I should be packing lunches for tomorrow, but I still have to go back out to pick up kids again and all I really want to do is go to bed.

And then it occurred to me that my kids couldn’t care less about all of those things that I haven’t gotten done today. Nobody does. All of the expectations I had for myself today that I didn’t accomplish, I’m the only one disappointed by them.  All of the crazy pressure I feel to juggle everything perfectly, never dropping the ball on anything…I’m the one that’s putting it there…and it’s okay if I stop doing that to myself.  It’s probably actually even good for me to stop it.

My kids love me simply because I love them and they know it. And today is just that…a day. It’s one day which is just a tiny little dot in the big picture. It’s going to be over shortly and tomorrow I’ll get to start all over again.  Being a not-quite-perfect but not-all-that-terrible-either mom.