Monday, May 24, 2010

LOST- Finding your way after supreme disappointment

The year we moved to Hawaii, all we heard about was this new tv series that was being filmed on the island. It was called LOST.  Only a couple episodes aired but already sci-fi types were ablaze with theories on what the island was and what it all meant. 

  I saw my first episode of Lost while we were still in the temporary living facility on Hickam Air Force Base. I was very pregnant with Lily and had trouble sleeping. She was huge and every time I laid down, I couldn't breathe. So I stayed up a lot and watched tv. It was fine in the TLF because there was cable. One night, the rerun of Lost was on and I watched a few terrifying moments of it. Phil and I have a pact that we only watch scary movies or shows together. It's comforting to know your best buddy is right there.  I watched most of the episode and felt completely and utterly LOST, as promised.

After we were in our rental house, we only had bare bones rental furniture until we could scrape together enough money to ship our household goods here. We also decided to forego cable to save money. I would catch reruns of LOST on every so often. Phil was working a lot of hours, as usual.  We were finally getting settled. Phillip was in school, Kiera was in preschool- we had Lily- I honestly didn't have too much time for tv.  We were building a house a few streets over and we were still counting pennies to make sure everything went smoothly with the closing.  And then I found out I was pregnant with Bella. Our own little dramady was taking place.

We got settled into our new home, Kiera and Phillip were both in school and I was still bust with 2 little ones at home. A friend let me know they were doing casting calls for the baby on LOST.  Bella was a little older than they were looking for(the baby in the show apparently never aged...) but she was small for her age so I sent a picture in.  The lady in casting emailed me back that although her size was appropriate, her hair was a little more red than they were hoping for.  At that time, one of Kiera's friends' mom just had a baby, so I passed the information along. She ended up getting the part! 6 months later she was in her first episode of LOST and I made Phil watch with me to spot her. As promised, we were both utterly and completely LOST.  Mind you this was Season 3 and the story line resembled nothing of the show I watched a couple years before.  We were curious. We bought the first 2 seasons on dvd and spent the next few weeks watching and discussing the show.  By the time we finished, season 3 was waiting for us in out dvr queue.  We were hooked. Where did the others come from? What did the numbers mean? Why was Dharma there? What was the black smoke? Why were they all chosen to be there?

After 6 seasons, the show finally was coming to an end. I am a big fan of going out while you are on top. I just wondered how they were going to answer all the questions in one season. A few drawn out episodes later, I wondered how they were going to answer the questions left in 5 episodes, 4 episodes, 3, 2,1.  We got pieces here and there but the last season seemed to abandon many of the premises set in motion by seasons 3,4,and5.  I loved the character centric plots. I loved the way they taunted you with pieces of information, doling them out a bit at a time. I wanted the end to reflect the show. In a lot of ways it did- it rushed to wrap everything up with a neat little bow- yet forget to put the present in the box.  Instead of giving you enough information to stand aroung the watercooler and connect all the pieces- they chose the easiest, most disappointing means to an end.  Had they stopped stumbling around, dragging the series out all season and actually weaved a story- the end could have been magnificent. Instead it was the college paper that was left until the last minute. All the criteria were met, but it could have been any paper. Sure we know what the black smoke is now, but how and why are left dangling. The obvious answer is that by the island being the Losties transition into the afterlife, all questions are directly answered with- it's part of the journey to find the way off the island.  Well no. I don't buy it. I don't need to be spoon fed the answers, but I need to be givent he tools to find them. I feel like I was just plopped down in a car with a 5 dollar hooker and when I asked her what her name was, she replied "what do you want it to be?"  I now feel like the past 6 years were a social experiment in television programming and I fell for it. Hook, line, sinker.  I feel like I confused a series of coincidences for fate. I can't say they didn't warn me.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

It's a sign

When you lose someone you love, a part of you is always searching for their soul.  When you lose a bunch of people you know, you wonder how big the party is they are throwing in heaven and do they have a Pac-man game?  After my Aunt Ann died, we would find bits and pieces or a reminder of her somewhere. My dad always said if he could come back and let us know whether or not Heaven lived up to the hype, he would. If he couldn't, he would at least send a sign.  After that, every time there was something that reminded us of Ann,  my Aunt Kathy would say- Oh my God- It's a SIGN.  In my family, we believe in guardian angels. That's probably because we have so many. It's comforting to carry their memory with you. Sometimes it's a picture, or a song or something significant to that person that makes you think of them- but you can't drop a hat in my family without it being a sign.

My brother Bob was a great kid. I wouldn't have said that 20 years ago, but then again I was probably recovering from some prank he pulled on me. We spent the better part of our childhood seeing who could hit the other one harder(me), burp louder(me) and ride faster(him).  Of course, there came a time that he got tired of holding back and stopped following the advice to never hit a girl, but I had been pushing his buttons for years and "shoulda seen that one coming" as dad put it.

When we were little, there weren't McDonald's on every corner. Going out to eat was a rare treat.  We grew up on a little street in Toledo, Ohio called Longport Dr.  We lived there with a collection of families that were some of the best you could find. The kids were all the same ages, we all had similar beliefs and everyone was pretty poor so the best solution was to get a keg and hang out by a bonfire. But every now and then we would get together at Little Ceasars- which was a sit down joint at the time- grab a few pizzas and a couple pitchers of sodas and beer and have a good time.  There was a single Pac-Man game against the wall and there were usually about 8-10 of us kids vying for a turn. The person playing would get the chair of honor since none of us was tall enough to reach the joystick on our own.  I hated playing while people hovered over my shoulder, so I usually waited until the crowd died down- but not Bob. He would get in the zone and play Pac-Man until someone pulled him away.  He wasn't intensely competitive, but there was something driving him to get his name to the top. I was always jealous because instead of his initials- he could put in his whole name BOB. Of  course, mind you I was probably 5 at the time and EVERYONE called me Jenny.  Everyone- I didn't become Jen until much later, so it didn't even occur to me.  Bob played fiercely- but I'm pretty sure there was an employee there who spent every waking minute playing as well- because the high score was unattainable.  He walked away in the top 3, but disappointed.

Later that year, we ventured to the upper peninsula of Michigan. It was late one night and it was a spur of the moment trip. As we drove through the night, mom and Bob slept and I watched the headlights illuminate a tunnel of falling snow. It looked like it was snowing sideways and I was relieved when we finally reached the little Inn where we were going to stay. The next afternoon we bundled up in our snow gear and trekked to the local pizza joint. They had 2 games, Centipede and Pac-man. It was perfect. Mom and dad could sit for hours and we were entertained.  Centipede was totally more my style and so Bob and I never fought over the machines. I remember running to the machine with a fistful of quarters. Looking back, we must have spent a small fortune on those arcade games- but looking back as a parent, that fortune was probably well spent for the hours of quiet given to my parents. I remember being mid game and hearing Bob's familiar cackle. It's the same goofy giggle my son has and it tugs on my heart to this day. He started jumping up and down. He had done it- he had gotten the high score.  You never saw a happier little boy. 

A few days ago I was thinking about putting together some stories and pictures for the kids of their uncle and their grandpa. Just because they can't meet them, doesn't mean they can't get to know them. I sent an email out to some friends and family, asking for their stories as well. My cousin called my aunt who later called to tell me all the signs she had since she received the call.  We chatted briefly and she had to get back to work. The girls were quietly watching a movie and so I logged on to the computer and there it was....The Pac-Man Google.  I could be mistaking coincidences here for fate....or it could just be a sign.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Mother's Day 2010

I love to go do something fun on Mother's Day. You couldn't pay me to try and go to brunch and fight the masses. My very first mother's day, Phil of course was gone- but Lil Phillip and I spent a wonderful day at the San Antonio Zoo and stopped at a couple really tempting antique shops in the 2.5 hour drive back to Del Rio.  Places that I always drove by and thought- I bet that has some beautiful things. They did and I splurged on a $17 wrought iron vanity mirror. The mirror broke years ago, but it still sits on my dresser and reminds me of the fabulous day I spent with my little man 10 years ago.

This year we went to Waimea Falls so I could try out a new camera. It's tough choosing adventures that fit all the kids' needs and abilities and Waimea suits everyone.  Phil had never been and was so exited to see the falls, jumped right in with the kids- clothes and all.  Bella was less than enthused by the noise and splash of the falls- but the other kids dove right in. It was a wonderful day and fun to watch and let their dad worry about keeping them alive for the afternoon!

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Makapuu Lighthouse

I love lighthouses. Maybe it's what they signify, a light in the distance and a safe harbor. Phil and I took Lily and Bella one morning on a little hike to check out the Makapuu Lighthouse.  I have been wanting to go for years, since it is a paved walk, something I could push the stroller up. I am glad I brought the brutely man-type along. I could have done it myself and might have tried out of sheer stubborn spunk, but it would not have been pretty. There are some amazing views along the drive to the path and once you are on it. They are the kind of views that remind me of the beauty and wonder of the island that sometimes gets lost in the day to day grind.
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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

I'm Gonna Miss You When You're Gone.

My dad had a really interesting view on life. He had the ability to teach us lessons without preaching and always put a humorous twist on events to let you know when you were forgiven, which was usually pretty quick.  He taught me life was worth living, and often that it was too short to be miserable.  He taught me about love, death, friendship and hard work.  But mostly he gave me this quirky, morbid sense of humor that when I unleash it on the unsuspecting- the rewards are priceless.

My dad was a storyteller. He could walk into a room and in a matter of minutes be the center of a group that soon would be laughing to the point of tears. He had a way of weaving truth and fiction to create the perfect punchline. We learned at a young age that when dad was telling a story, we were not to interrupt and point out that he wasn't telling it like it really happened.  Many times he would pat me on the head and whisper, "I'm gonna miss you when you're gone."  That was my clue that I was walking a fine line. Cross the line and you would be sorry. Heed the warning and you would be granted a reprieve.

There were nuances to the phrase that let me know which boundary I was crossing. " Man I'm going to miss you when you're gone" meant I was bordering on cute but not to push it. "I'm really gonna miss you when you're gone" meant you've overstayed your welcome, perhaps you should bless someone else with your attitude.  It was one of those multipurpose phrases in our house that everyone used to convey 20 different messages.It could mean, I love you, I'll miss you, You're being a grade a jerk, Get lost, Knock it off, watch it and just about anything depending on context. It was our secret code and taught me about irony and that the depths of communication lie not only in what you say but how you say it.

My dad would give me anything. He was a natural salesman. He always told me- if you want something, you gotta sell it.  We had been out and about one day and stumbled across a litter of kittens. I saw this adorable little salt and pepper sprite pouncing around all over it's siblings. I reached in and grabbed the little monster from the cage and looked up at my dad.  "You know dad, I've been thinking. My grades are solid, I babysit a few times a week, if I pay for everything myself and swear to take care of him, can I please take him home? "  He explained that my mother was going to be very upset and that I was going to have to let him sell it to her.  Sounded good to me.  We wrapped Bandit up in a green sweatshirt, not because he was cold- I thought it was so he wouldn't pee all over me- mostly it was to camoflauge the evidence from my mother. Somehow she still knew the instant we walked in the door.  I walked  around the block for over an hour only stopping back home when the yelling subsided.  I'm pretty sure my parents didn't talk for weeks.  I'm also pretty sure the price paid overall was far more than my few weeks' worth of babysitting money, but he did it for me.

Shortly after the cat debacle, my brother Bob was diagnosed with a brain tumor. None of us would ever be the same. One would guess that upon diagnosis of a fatal illness, usage of phrases such as "I'm gonna miss you when you're gone" would taper off. One would be very, very, wrong. The usage actually picked up.  It became a way for us to lighten the situation, to joke about something that was otherwise entirely unfunny. That was dad's view of life.  After Bob died, pieces of all of us were lost. For awhile we all lost a lot of our funny. It was tough to see anything lighthearted about anything we had just been through.  Dad spent more time at work, because there was lots of fodder there. I was the ripe old age of 15- so I was all too happy to not have to hang out with my parents. I know it was an incredibly lonely time for my mother. 

Three years after Bob was diagnosed, dad passed out in a meeting.  They found a brain tumor. This time we kinda knew what to expect. The diagnosis gave us time to "get everything in order" as they like to say.  The irony this time lay in the fact that his tumor was in the frontal lobe. The part that guides personality and social skills, spontaneity and creativity.  Dad used to joke that maybe cancer was nature's way of getting us out of the misery of getting old. He was a big believer on going out while you were on top. 

It was only a few months before he could no longer drive and the tumor started zapping the pieces of his personality that he was known for. I would come home from school at lunch and we would sit and talk.  I could tell there were so many things he wanted to tell me and he felt like he was running out of time.  Growing up, we always talked about angels. He swore to me if there was any way for him to come back, he would. But- he said- odds aren't good peanut- because so many have gone before and it must be pretty amazing because I've never known anyone to come back.  

I knew what he was trying to say. He wanted life to go on for us.  He didn't teach me anything in those few months that he hadn't already taught me. But the times we shared were priceless.  As much as I didn't want to see him go, I knew he couldn't stay. It was a bit  over a week before graduation from high school I was stressing over how to get him there and what he wanted. I had stacks of papers and college stuff in my lap.  He had been bedridden for awhile and getting weaker by the day.  I asked him what he wanted to do. He grabbed my hand and said he wanted more than to see me graduate, he paused- turned to me and said "God I'm gonna miss you when you're gone."  I knew then that he wasn't going to make it to graduation. And as hard as I tried that afternoon, the only words I could manage were-  you too and I'm pretty sure it was only audible to the dogs in the neighborhood. 

This year in celebration of Dad's life, I thought about getting a puppy- just to test the strength of mine and Phil's marriage. But then I realized that it would only test the bounds of my sanity- so instead each child gets a Betta fish.  I will make sure they feed them, care for them, and every day tell them how much they are going to miss them when they're gone. With our luck- that won't be very long.

And dad- I'm totally gonna miss you when you're gone.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Monkey Stand

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I am always amazed that when I set out to teach the kids lessons- I am the one who learns so much along the way. Cancer is an energy zapper, a morale zapper and a life zapper. Yet one thing I find always rings true- You get a lot more than you lose when you give from the heart.  When you are going through cancer treatments- you have neither the time nor the energy to give anything back. I feel so blessed to be enjoying the slow pace of normal life right now. There are so many families entrenched in the battle right now that we faced last year.  I feel lucky not to be there anymore, but know I would never have gotten here without going through there.

I feel so lucky to have such amazing friends. When a month ago, I said- Hey Monica , How do you feel about a charity yard sale and lemonade stand?- She said "Let's do it- what do you need?" Never mind that in a week from now, her eldest daughter graduates from high school and a dozen family members will be descending upon her house.  Never mind that I just helped her rip up an entire room full of carpeting so she could lay laminate before her guests arrive. She merely says- "Now the carpet's out, we can store all the yard sale stuff here." Friends show up on my doorstep with trunks full of donations and checks for our cause. Friends build fancy wooden lemonade stands, when a folding table would suffice- just because you think it's cool. Friends park on the street so you have a place to store the pile of yard sale items that is growing exponentially. Friends go with you to beg for goods for your cause and help haul around 200 lbs of wood so you can build a real lemonade stand, because you thought it would be a fun experience. Friends get up at the crack of dawn after 2.5 hours of sleep to help arrange your junk in the park and then move it all back when the sprinklers ,which haven't functioned correctly in 6 months finally decide this is the morning the grass needs to be watered. Friends stick around for the whole thing and then help clean up the mess. Just because you thought it would be a good thing to do.

Thank you to all of our family and friends who have supported us through this and all of our endeavors! We raised over $1200 just today for the fight against childhood cancer!
Monkey Stand

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Sibling Rivalry

Before I bought my first car, I went to something like 6 different dealerships, read dozens of consumer magazines comparing reliability and cost, and conferred with close friends and family. Similar research preceeded buying a camera, a computer, and eventually a house. Yet before I had kids, did I do any research or planning on age separation and sibling rivalry? No. I had a Child Psychology course in college which preceded the Abnormal Psych class(and aptly so I might add), but I wouldn't call that real world research. I babysat. I worked as a counselor in a girls school. But did any of it prepare me for the psychological warfare that is sibling rivalry? No. The good news is that I could have read  185 different books on the subject and I wouldn't know any more than I do now. If there was a cure for sibling rivalry, someone would have found it by now.

It's part of who we are and it's part of how we learn.  Singleton children vs. siblings have very different advantages in the world.  Singletons get more attention from parents, but miss out on some of the built in playmate companionship. We have our daily re enactments of The Lord of the Flies. My husband often will look to the back yard and ask "Have they killed the pig yet?" Meanwhile, I find myself yelling at the top of my lungs after 3 rounds of Hi Ho cherry O and a rousing reconstruction of our house with popsicle sticks, "If I wanted to play with you nonstop, you wouldn't have any siblings." To which the little cretin responds, "What's a sibling?".

Siblings are brothers, sisters. They are housemates and sometimes roommates. They are your best friend and your worst enemy. They hold all of your secrets and will hold them for ransom. Today, after a race gone ugly, I hear Lily screaming at the top of her lungs  towards Kiera "You are NOT my favorite sister anymore either!"  Much preferable to the "hate" word, but still packs sting.  I fortunately only had one brother and was often told how I was my mother's favorite daughter. I have since passed on that complement to my son who took it at face value. When his sister accidentally overheard it- she started hollering that he had to be because he was my only son and then she promptly demanded to know who my favorite daughter was.  To which I reply, Phillip. Fortunately Phillip can take a joke and it gets me off the hook with Kiera because I just insinuated that her brother was a girl.  I have tried explaining the whole "I like you all for different reasons" thing and it doesn't work. It results in too many questions and eventually the release of information that will probably be used for blackmail down the road.  I have found the quickest resolution is to merely make stuff up. For example, "why does Phillip get to have a cookie?"  answer: "Because Phillip is my favorite and I reward my favorites with cookies."  The response to that is:  "No, really, why?"

Kids get that they each bring different things to the table. They can't quantify it or express it, but they get it. When we sit down for dinner- Kiera is the entertainment. She talks a mile a minute and there is no hope of stopping her unless it is a McDonald's or pizza night.  Even then it only buys you a minute between chews. One of the biggest problems is that if anything is out of sight, it is out of mind. I could spend the whole day chatting with Lily about something, but she will still try to one up Kiera. For example- Kiera had been studying up on knock knock jokes to tell us at dinner. After 2, Lily has a turn. Knock Knock- who's there?- Lily-Lily who? Lily Mallory, haaaa haaaa haaa.  It doesn't get any funnier after the 5th time. But Kiera has the floor and in that minute, Lily wants to share in that.

They will always battle for 1st place. You can tell them until you are blue in the face that there is no 1st place, but they keep track. As humans we are competitive- we are programmed to survive. Back in the cave days- the best monkey child would get the best pieces of meat which may have meant the difference between living and dying. Today it may just mean the difference between who gets to ride in the front seat of the car.  Siblings teach us how to deal with crisis by creating crisis. Parents are there to remind the little cretins that the family pet(or in our case youngest child) would in fact, not taste very good barbecued. If left to their own devices, I think they would eventually figure it out. It would be ugly and there would be much carnage, but they would find their niche. We all have our place in this crazy world. Experience helps us define that. Ironically though, the more we experience, the less we know for sure. But here's the thing- we get to mold these little humans.  They have this boundless supply if energy and were put in our lives for no other reason than so we can finally understand how our parents could predict with 99.9% accuracy the amount of time before wrestling becomes a trip to the medicine cabinet for band-aids.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

The art of helping

 It was yet another furlough Friday leading into Drill weekend for Phil which means exhausted mommy. Pair it with 2 doctor's appointments the day before for Lily and everyone was a little on edge. I decided it was best to keep the kids active to try and circumvent the usual bickering. We went for a walk and played at the park and came home and started painting the Lemonade stand. It seems like everytime I breathe, someone is screaming. And not so far from that screaming is Phillip. As the eldest- he is burdened with "knowing better" for just about everything. The younger ones are adequately(well, consistently might be the better word- if it was adequate they would stop and I wouldn't have to make sure they were) punished and Phillip chastised for his role. I do appreciate that he is old enough to reason with now and try to spend time explaining to him why- although good intentioned, his efforts are sometimes misplaced.

Before we went for our walk this morning, I told Bella to turn off the tv. She is 4. Turning off the Tv is not her forte. Phillip swipes the remote from her and she begins to belt out notes that make my ears hurt. I know part of this is the genetic sex linked trait to be commander of the remote. Part of it is Phillip trying to help me.  I explain to him in my slightly louder than normal voice that it is not his job to enforce her behavior that no good comes from him getting involved when I am dealing with the girls.

Later, after our walk- Lily was pouring lemonade. Phillip saw that she was going to spill and intervenes by moving the cup. Don't ask me here why this course of action seemed to be the best in his mind- but it resulted in Lily ceasing to pour to avoid spillage. So basically if that was his hope- it worked. The down side is that the most probable outcome from this behavior will be spillage and screaming(most likely mine) and I am about to reason it out with him- but Lily is screaming like he cut her hand off. I remove her from the situation and counsel him on the errors of his ways in my slightly louder than normal voice. 1)removing a cup from the path of liquid generally results in spillage. and 2) it greatly increases my stress levels when he does stuff to make her scream. It isn't helping.  

Phil arrived home earlier than usual to take the kids to a movie. I ventured upstairs to bask in the quiet and found this laying on my bed..... 

So I learned a couple of things after the mommy guilt wore off and I stopped feeling like all of my efforts in the parenting realm were in fact misguided and not helping.
1) He does hear me and is very good at drawing cartoon emotions 2) Relationships are this sticky amoeba like thing that you can't define- so is life. That and apparently Catholic guilt tripping is genetically linked.