Throwback Thursday Reruns — The Clear and The Fuzzy

Today, I’m sharing an old post. I enjoy going back to see what I was writing about almost 3 years ago. It’s interesting to see the things that were on my mind.

I hope you enjoy this entry from April 2011.


A clear memory: 

I was 9 and in 3rd grade and I went with my sister to spend a weekend with my Aunt Bea and Uncle Alex.  My older brother and my two younger siblings were going to stay with a family from our school.  Mom was making a trip to attempt reconciliation with my Dad.  The whole weekend I was busy doing crafts and playing at Aunt Bea’s house, but I was anticipating Monday.  Monday, my dad was coming back with my mom.  I just knew it.  And then we were all going to live in Rhode Island together.  The nightmare that my parents were getting a divorce was over!

A fuzzy memory:

I have no idea what, in particular, I did during those days.  I remember going to sleep every night and waking up every morning wondering if it was Monday. 

When Mom picked me and my sister up on Monday, I don’t quite remember how it went.  Mom visited with Aunt Bea for a little bit and then drove us the 60 minutes back to Topeka and dropped us off at school.  We were tardy, but I was in high spirits..

A clear memory:

No one said we were moving to Rhode Island, and that Mom and Dad had worked things out…but I believed it with my whole heart.  Why else would Mom have been gone the entire weekend?  They were looking for a house where we could all fit, checking out schools, right? 

At recess, I was sharing my joy with the two girls I talked with/hung out with at recess.  I was parlaying my big plans for our reunion as a family when one of the girls laid it to me straight.  She said, “Michelle…your parents are not getting back together and you’re not moving.  I hate to see you get your hopes up for something that’s not real.”

I cried.  I tried to argue, but couldn’t find the words.  I wanted to scream that she didn’t know what she was talking about.  But at some point it hit me that I hadn’t actually been told for sure.  I mean, my mom said something about how her visit went well with our dad, but he didn’t come home with her.  And I began to realize that without the physical presence of my dad, I couldn’t trust the words that came from my mother and I couldn’t trust my feelings. 

*******

Looking back, of course at the age of 9, I couldn’t process what was happening.  However, in that moment, I was beginning to see the dashed hopes and dreams lying within the falsehoods of my pronouncement.  I can see now that the idea – the dream – that my parents were not getting divorced was entirely of my own making.

I died a little bit that day.  It was the beginning of my realization that Daddy wasn’t coming to get me.  And that Mom wasn’t taking me to him, either.  I remember that as the last day I ever thought or wished that my parents would get back together.  It was the beginning of what became an outlook on life that has stuck with me to this day:  “You can’t rely on any one person in this world.  Suck it up and shut up and move forward.”  Eventually, I learned that I could rely on my siblings and I could rely on God.  I don’t think I’ve ever completely believed again that I could go to my parents with a problem and get true help.

I consult my dad, sure.  We talk about things.  However, there’s a wall there that prevents his counsel from becoming something I completely turn to and rely on.  Bits and pieces of his counsel find their way into my reasoning, but many times I credit that to the fact that my father and I have a similar worldview and I’d probably go that route regardless of whether my father put words to it.

Later – when the days and weeks had passed and I got brave again and asked my mother why certain things were the way they were, I got told many times, “Your dad walked out on all of us, not just me” or “Your dad didn’t want you” and “Your dad doesn’t love us anymore.”  Only as an adult can I see the horror of those statements.  Only as a mother who would never dream of killing her children’s hearts, can I detest the hatred behind those statements and the hurt they inflicted. 

Yes, hurt motivated the statements.  I realize that.  My mother was hurting.  She was rejected.  She was desperate.  But to share that hurt with her children is something I find so difficult to comprehend.

I am blessed that the hurts my children experience are “children-type” hurts…however, it pains me to see my children hurt.  And if I am ever the one to inflict the hurt on my children (and let’s be real, I’m an adult and I’m human, so I have done it…I have hurt my children’s feelings) it absolutely breaks my heart back on myself. 

*******

Part of what led me to counseling three years ago was an experience where I was blessed to hear what I just said from my daughter’s point of view.  And I remember thinking immediately after that…”oh my gosh, that is something my mother did to me and I was so humiliated.” 

That night I pulled my daughter into her bedroom and I hugged her and I told her that I was sorry.  I admitted my fault.  I said I was wrong.  I told her that sometimes, I need to learn to hold my tongue.  I told her that I loved her and that I would try not to talk to her like that again.

And I called to make an appointment for counselling the next day.

 

Thank You, Mom & Dad, for Choosing Life

January 22, 1973 – Roe v. Wade decision effectively legalizes abortion.


November 11, 1973 – I was born. 


I was conceived very shortly after the woeful date in American history that allowed my mother to terminate my life if she saw fit.  I mentioned before, that I often think of myself as a survivor.  


But the more accurate sentiment would be that my siblings born following me were more the survivors.  When I was born, it was kind of a no-brainer that I would live the gestational period, or at the very least, avoid an attempt at abortion, because I was my parents’ second living child (there were two miscarriages before me).  I was born into a family with an older brother who was four-plus years older.  My mother has told me before that in the hospital, she cried tears of joy because she had her “perfect” family, a son and a daughter.  Of course at that moment, she could not see what the future held, so in that moment, she simply felt blessed and grateful for what God had given her.


My mother stayed home with the children and my father was in the military.  We were far from the financial stability that most people think they should have before having a family.  Neither of my parents, at that time, had a college degree and my father had a modest income in the military.  We moved around, both in the U.S. and abroad (Korea).  My mother asked the military priest/chaplain after my birth about sterilization and, God bless him, he informed my mother that it would be a sin of self-mutilation (that is how she relayed the story to me).  My mother was convinced by this priest that she should not do anything to sterilize herself.  


When my younger sister was conceived, my mother told me that the military doctor at the military hospital offered an abortion.  According to my mother, this was offered to her without the consent or knowledge of my father.  And according to my mother, she could have had this done completely without his knowledge. Praise God that my mother chose life for my sister!  My life would be empty without her.  While we don’t always agree and most likely it would appear to some that we spend more time bickering than we do loving each other…my life, both as a child and now as an adult, would be lonely without her.


My mother never mentioned that the same offers were placed before her when my next sister was conceived.  We were overseas for the entire pregnancy, and she was born just a few short weeks after arriving back in the States.  Following her birth, my father entered law school, and our family settled in Kansas.  


Shortly after my second sister’s first birthday, my mother was at a health clinic for a pregnancy test and found out she was indeed pregnant with a fifth child.  My mother related the story that she must have turned white and her stomach knotted in fear and a bit of nausea to find out they were expecting another baby.  I gleaned from that information that my brother was NOT planned.  Again, my mother was offered an abortion.  Again, it was pitched to her as something that could be done quietly, without my father’s knowledge or consent.  Again, I praise God my mother chose life for my brother!


Life was not rosy.  We were poor and we didn’t have health insurance.  My father told me how he and my mother made an appointment at the Catholic hospital in town to explain their situation, they set up a payment plan and had the bill paid before my mother arrived to give birth.  It was tight.  We were living on the leftover funds granted my father in loan money for law school education.  My father told my sister and me how he would ride his bike to school every day and have that day’s food money allotment in his pocket.  He would ride his bike home, stopping at the local grocer to buy whatever meat or fish was on special and take it home for my mother to cook for supper.  


I remember every night the family ate dinner together before my father took off for a late night of studying. I remember all of us sitting around the table for an extra 20-25 minutes while my father led us in a Rosary.  One of my sisters related to me that my father once told her, “We were very poor.  I often wondered how we were going to make it through the next day, let alone another week, month or semester.  But we tried to be faithful, we attended Mass each Sunday as a family, and together, we prayed a nightly Rosary.  I believe it was a miracle that there was food on the table every night.”


I’ve told the story before.  My parents’ marriage didn’t survive.  But we children DID.  The years of growing up without my dad would have been absolutely unbearable without my siblings.  As an adult, when I look back on the years healing from the divorce, working through the abandonment of our father, staying on course while our mother got herself through nursing school, the awful memories are there, but there are so many good ones.  I have those good memories of life as a kid because my parents chose life for my siblings.  


I remember summer days in the backyard playing a kickball/golf game my older brother made up.  I remember lazy afternoons playing Spades…one sister and me were a team, my older brother and my other sister were a team and my baby brother floated around sitting on our laps.  I remember walking down the street to the YMCA to go swim at the pool, singing or “rapping” our favorite songs.  I remember walking to the library to get my youngest sister and brother to “Story Time” on Wednesdays during the summer.  I remember walking with my siblings to school and walking home.  I remember swim practices.  I remember that we all survived the social ostracism on the swim team and at school because we had each other.






I don’t talk much about my even-younger sister and brother much.  But they are important to me, too.  My father married again after divorcing my mother.  When I was thirteen, another sister was born.  Then, when I was seventeen, another brother.  While I never lived under the same roof with either of them, they are still an important presence in my life, especially in the role of Aunt and Uncle to my children.  


I am ever grateful to my parents for choosing life and ensuring that I have a say…and that my siblings, too, have a say.


Today, I write this story to share with Father John Hollowell.  


I found his blog through this amazing video


Sometimes I Wonder Why

Sometimes I wonder why God gave me five children.
Seriously.
I don’t have the temperament for it.  
I like my house clean.  
I like my house quiet.  
I don’t like kids running around, carrying on.  
In short, I struggle when kids are just being kids.

**********
I was a kid who had a smart-alec mouth.  I was a kid who ran around, carrying on.  I was a kid who got disciplined for being in places I was not supposed to be.  I was a kid who got smacked.  I was a kid who got spanked with a large wooden board (the kind that left bruises).  I was a kid who got spanked with a small wooden board (the kind that really stung when it hit because it was so light).  
I don’t think my parents could handle normal kids either.  I think my parents preferred that we all be “little adults.”
And so, now, I find myself reflecting on my parenting style and wondering why I stress out about normal kid behavior.   And I know it’s because of my experiences.  
My parents would tell us before we visited places (when we were younger) “Now you kids need to remember that children should be seen and not heard.”
I got my nose put in the corner if I was caught running around, causing commotion at any events we would go to.
Because my parents would say (in the car before entering a restaurant or a party):  “If there is any misbehavior, there will be whippings when we get home.”  (sometimes insert “the belt” or “the board” for “whippings.)
So, as a child, I learned that the best way to control the behavior of my children was to threaten with whippings.  Tell my children to “be quiet” and to “sit down” and to “stay put.”
I don’t know how to let kids be kids.  I don’t.  I don’t know how to set the appropriate boundaries and give my kids some freedom within those boundaries. 
I need to learn how to do this because I find that my actions and words while I try to “control” my children are putting distance between them and me.  
Don’t get me wrong.  I know I need to be the parent.  I know I need to discipline.  I don’t have a problem doing that.  However, I am noticing that I don’t know which behavior actually needs disciplining.  I discipline (at times) for small things…things where my kids haven’t even done anything wrong…they’ve simply been running around and carrying on a little too much.  They just need a gentle push to go outside to let off that energy, not a scolding.  Sometimes they are just loud.  I forget that…Kids are loud and it’s okay. 
Sometimes I forget that my kids need to work their differences out among themselves and I shouldn’t be involved all the time.
So yeah.   

Sometimes I wonder why God gave me five children

Was it so that I have five chances to really screw it up?  Or was it perhaps because I needed to get to the point of stretching myself this thin for it to hit home that there’s no way I can continue to discipline the way I have been and expect to keep my sanity?

I need some help.  I don’t want to push my kids away.

Aunt Bea: It’s Hard To Put Into Words…I’ll Attempt It Anyway

I met my Aunt Bea when I was 10 days old.  Or something like that.  I had been born November 11, 1973 and my parents, who lived far from any immediate family, traveled an hour south of Topeka, KS to Ottawa for Thanksgiving at Aunt Bea and Uncle Alex’s.  My mom always said that Aunt Bea and Uncle Alex were so excited to see me…they were the first family to see me outside of my parents and older brother and they were thrilled.  Probably as thrilled as grandparents might be to see a new grand-baby.
Aunt Bea was my grandfather’s cousin.  Her mother and my great-grandmother were sisters.  She was born December 31, 1911.  Many have tried to capture the qualities and sentiments of people like my Aunt Bea.  She would fall into what historians have called “The Greatest Generation.”  I can’t say that I would disagree that she was a great woman.  She lived through both world wars.  She was in her late teens and twenties during the Great Depression.  She went to college at a time when most women didn’t.  She was a nurse in a few different places and then a teacher of nurses at the University of Kansas.  She had a strong love for children.  Over the years, I gathered enough in our conversations to understand that she desired children with my Uncle Alex, but they married late in life and even though they “tried to have ’em” somehow it wasn’t God’s plan so “they never came.”
God’s plan was for her to be a mother and grandmother for those of us who needed her.
If Aunt Bea was ever unhappy with her life, she never let on.  
When I was very young, I visited Aunt Bea and Uncle Alex on weekends.  As an adult, I look quite fondly on these visits.  I remember that Uncle Alex got up very early on Saturday morning, went to pick up the paper from the driveway, then came in and ate some grapefruit while reading the paper.  I learned that putting a little bit of salt on grapefruit was pretty tasty from him.  After a bit, he usually would go back to bed with Aunt Bea until she was ready to get up.  She was not a morning person.  She even let me come in their bed when I would wake up early.  I remember one time when I did that, but I couldn’t be still.  We ended up talking for a little bit (I think I was 6 or 7 years old) and she told me she didn’t like to get up before 9 o’clock or so.  She liked to sleep in!  The next time I visited, I remember trying really hard to sleep longer so Aunt Bea didn’t have to get up too early.
I thought of this about 10 days ago when I visited Aunt Bea at the nursing home where she lived.  She was in the hospital wing of the home and I visited with a nurse before I left.  She mentioned that they’d really like for Aunt Bea to come out of her room for three meals every day, but she seemed to be making it for only one.  I said, “Well, if you’re serving any meal before 8:30 or 9, she won’t ever want to come to that.”  The nurse chuckled and said, “Yeah, we’ve kind of figured that out.”
The best part of my weekend stays with Aunt Bea was the meal she would cook on Sunday when my family came to pick me up.  Aunt Bea could put out quite the spread!  Roast, potatoes and gravy, rolls (oh, the rolls!  And the butter!), corn (sometimes a special treat would be corn on the cob!), green beans, salad, and all of this just for Sunday supper!  She made the best snack mix ever.  Yeah, Chex makes their mix and it’s okay, I suppose.  But Aunt Bea’s snack mix puts it to shame every time.  I have the recipe somewhere…it’s all in how she baked it…you literally could not stop eating that stuff.  She made it for us all every time we’d visit her.  We’d always get to take an old coffee can of the stuff home with us.  Of course, she could make desserts with the best of them, too.  I think her use of butter might even put Paula Dean to shame!

While we’re on Aunt Bea’s cooking ability.  Anyone who ate my Aunt Bea’s Fudge would just ooh and ahh at how delicious it was.  I had people I worked with who clamored for “Aunt Bea’s Fudge” even though they had never met her.  Any of us who knew the ingredients of the fudge knew that it tasted as good as it did because of the overdose of love Aunt Bea put into making it.  The ingredients themselves were not all that spectacular…just your regular run-of-the-mill fudge…unless Aunt Bea made it.

One of my favorite things Aunt Bea said was “Toodle-oo!”  She would say it when she was leaving the room, but coming back in a bit.  Or she would say it when she knew she’d see you again, whether soon or not.  I remember her saying it a lot when I was little.  It’s one of my fondest memories…”Toodle-oo!”  she’d say as she waved good-bye after a visit.  “Toodle-oo!” she’d say when she set me up with paper and crayons to draw and she was heading to the kitchen to cook.  
One of the best memories I have are of Uncle Alex and Aunt Bea standing arm in arm waving goodbye.  Whenever I went home with my parents, heck…whenever we left Aunt Bea and Uncle Alex’s house…they’d come out on the driveway and wave at us as we pulled out…then wave at us until we couldn’t see them anymore. 
Growing up, my school had “Grandparents Day” once a year.  Grandparents got to attend school with their grandchildren.  There were usually fun activities planned, a special lunch, all that stuff.  My grandparents didn’t live close enough to come for it.  But Aunt Bea and Uncle Alex came and they were so cute.  You could tell they really enjoyed it.  They would split up…one came with me and the other with my sister (the youngest two were not in school yet and my older brother was in high school).  They seemed to get such a kick out of the day.  They seemed so honored to come and be our Honorary Grandparents.  I know my Nana and Grandad were pleased that they could do this, too.  It meant so much for us kids to be able to have them there.
I remember when I came back to Kansas to go to college after graduating high school in North Carolina.  If I could get someone to drive me down to Ottawa, I’d promise them they’d never be disappointed in the meal we’d get while we were there and the company was even better.  I spent many evenings over the course of my five college years visiting Aunt Bea and Uncle Alex.  They would give me advice (solicited or not) on what I should do, what I should study, all of that stuff.  Uncle Alex was pretty disappointed when I didn’t get my CPA certification.  If Aunt Bea was disappointed, she never let on.  She was always supportive of anything that meant I was working hard, secure in a job and saving a bit of money somewhere along the way.
The evening dinner visits were much the same–A huge spread of food, great conversation and a coffee can filled with her snack mix for the road.  She would come out on her porch and watch us pull out of the driveway and wave to us until we couldn’t see each other anymore.

Uncle Alex and Aunt Bea had an inter-faith marriage.  If there was ever anyone who had the patience, wisdom, courage and understanding to live out marriage as a Catholic to a non-Catholic, it was my Aunt Bea.  She never said it was easy.  She always said it was hard work.  And she always acknowledged that sometimes it meant that she went to Mass early in the morning so she could attend services with him later.  I know he attended with her sometimes, too. 

I remember my first basketball game at Allen Fieldhouse…Aunt Bea took me.  Of course, I was too young for it (it was on one of my weekend visits and I was probably 6 or 7 years old) and I think it was more of a hassle than she would have ever wanted.  I remember saying I couldn’t see and I remember asking if the game was over yet.  I think eventually, she really enjoyed seeing my passion for college basketball, and specifically for the Jayhawks.  I think she was glad to know that somewhere along the line, I “got it” about Kansas Basketball and how special it was.  She had retired from KU and had season tickets to football and basketball games.  She finally had to give them up when Uncle Alex and she could no longer navigate the stairs and the driving safely.  When I was in college, she allowed me to attend a couple of games with friends over the couple of years that I was in college in Topeka before I transferred to KU.  They had pretty good seats and we got to go to some good games.
 I remember when Uncle Alex died.  I remember when she called me.  I was living in a small apartment in Topeka, but working as a Relay Operator in Lawrence.  She sounded sad on the phone.  We had known it was coming, Uncle Alex had been sick for awhile.  Aunt Bea had taken care of him at home up to the end.  I remember sitting with her in their living room after he died.  It was about a week or so after the funeral.  (Details are fuzzy…maybe it was longer…maybe it was shorter.)  She was crying.  I had never seen her cry.  And I never saw her cry again.  But she was crying then.  I just sat there with her and let her cry.  I cried, too.  And she said, “It’s really hard.”  And I remember nodding and getting up and giving her a big hug.  And then crying some more.  I cried because I missed my Uncle Alex, for sure.  But I cried, too, because I was sad that Aunt Bea would go forward in this life without her sweetheart, her love of her life. They were married 49 years. I had seen 24 if those and had been unable to understand the sacrifice and the example the showed because I hadn’t had the life experience yet. 
Aunt Bea got a special place to sit at our wedding.  She was walked up as an honorary grandmother and sat next to my grandparents.  She got a corsage and everything.  Because she held such an important place in my life for all of my life.  She was always one of the first people I’d tell about a new pregnancy.  Of course, she worried about us…a woman who lived through the Great Depression worries about a family with many mouths to feed.  But she was always appropriate with her concerns.  
Of course my children have adored her.  These past few months, it has been difficult for them to be unable to come and visit Aunt Bea.  They have missed her.  They have prayed for her.  Today, when I told them she died, they were all sad.  But they also understood, somehow, what I meant when I told them she’d lived a long, good and faithful life.  It was time for her to go and be with God.  
I can’t help but feel blessed that I was able to visit her about 10 days before she died, and four days before she entered the hospital for the last time.  I was at her bedside for about an hour.  We talked.  She told me, “Yeah, a couple of times I thought I was a goner!”  And she also asked me to help take care of the things in her room when she was gone.  She was so happy to see me when I walked in…her face just lit up.  A little bit into the visit she said, “I almost didn’t know who you were at first.”  And so I decided to ask her if she knew who I was and she got that exasperated tone to her voice and said, “Yes!  I know who you are…you’re Michelle!”  I held her hand and rubbed her arm.  I told her I loved her….so many times.  I asked her if I should bring her anything and she said (true to Aunt Bea’s form) “No!  Save your money.  I have all I need, they take good care of me here.”  I told her I would come back and see her and she said, “You take care of your family…you don’t have to come here all the time.”  I had brought her a blueberry muffin and she asked the nurses if she could have some butter.  She ate about a quarter of the muffin while I was there.  We were sure to wrap the rest of it up so she could eat it later.  She asked if she could have salt for her eggs.  When the nurse said, “I’ll have to check on that one.” Aunt Bea leaned toward me and said, “That means NO.”  So, she didn’t eat the eggs sitting on her table.  We visited a while longer, but I knew she was staying up for me, so I told her I’d get going, but I’d come back in a couple of days.
My older brother and his family, my sister and her family and me and my family are the closest related family Aunt Bea has.  She has great friends in her town, particularly one who was good enough to call and let us know Aunt Bea’s state of health so that we could be sure to come and visit her.  I know my first priority is always to my family.  I thank God for my husband who was so good and supportive whenever I wanted to drive to Ottawa and check on Bea the last 10 days.
When I returned about 3 days later, it was clear that Aunt Bea was a bit more tired and not doing so well.  I kept my visit much shorter, but she did see Vincent, since I brought him with me.  She always loved the babies, and this day was no different.  She looked at him and smiled at him.  Of course, she mentioned how sorry she was she couldn’t hold him.  But I got him close enough that he might have slobbered a little bit on her, but she loved it.  Shortly after I left, they took her to the ER and she was admitted to the hospital.
Tuesday, I got the word that Aunt Bea’s body wasn’t fighting this pneumonia like it had other times.  The antibiotics weren’t able to do their thing because Aunt Bea’s body just wasn’t up for it.  Craig brought me an overnight bag to my work and I went down after work to spend the night with Aunt Bea in the hospital.  She was having a good night when I saw her.  She was pretty feisty.  She was telling me what to do (“Go to sleep!”) and fidgeting around under her covers…when I asked her if she was okay, she said, “I’m just tryin’ to get comfortable!”  She joked with the nurses and told them she liked their hair.  When I left, I told her I was leaving to go to work and she apologized that I’d been there all night.  I told her not to apologize, I wanted to see her, I didn’t want her to be alone and that I loved her.  I also promised her I would be back in a couple of days.
The priest in Ottawa came on Wednesday and Bea received the Sacraments of Reconciliation, Holy Communion and Annointing of the Sick.  I was so relieved when I heard this had happened, because it was something I was concerned about. 
On Christmas Eve, I was in tears as I drove toward Ottawa.  I was thinking of Aunt Bea, all alone in the hospital on Christmas with no one to be with her.  I knew I couldn’t stay long, but I had to stop in and check on her.  I was overcome with positive emotion at the sight of Uncle Alex’s grandson, whom Aunt Bea treated as her own grandson, too, who is a diocesan priest in Kentucky sitting there next to Aunt Bea.  She wouldn’t be alone after all.  I sat on her bed for a little while.  She was in a semi-conscious state, it’s common for end of life.  She had a full oxygen mask on to help her breathe and she was on her side a little bit.  Her eyes were closed, but the one closer to the pillow was a little bit open.  I looked at her, I stroked her hair.  I held her through the blankets.  I talked to her.  I told her I loved her.  I told her we all loved her, my sisters and brothers, my parents…she was so important to us all.  My life was infinitely better because I had her in it.  She squeezed my hands a little through the sheets on a couple of occasions.  I felt like she was letting me know that she heard me and knew I was there.  When I left, I hugged her, kissed her cheek and her forehead and told her I loved her and Merry Christmas.  
On Christmas morning, I got the call that she had passed away.  I think perhaps I was the first person he called.  With it being Christmas morning, I made some quick calls to get the word moving, but hadn’t really had time to process it all.
But now, I am sitting here and as I write all of this…the tears have finally come.  I’m not sad for her, though.  I miss her, sure.  I’m sad that I won’t have her here with me in this life anymore.  But, for the last 5 years, she’s been pretty forthright in letting us all know that she was ready to go, when the time came.  
I think about all the things she lived through and the events that impacted her and made her who she was.  I think about the people she influenced and touched in this life.  She means so much to me that I am really not doing it justice with what I’ve written here.  There is a hole in my life now that she’s not here.  There haven’t been large dinner spreads for many years now and no coffee cans full of snack mix for about 5 years.  But those were always just material/physical representations of the love she had for us anyway.  She has continued to love us all.  She spent time with us.  She enjoyed our children.  She gave so much love to us that it’s hard to imagine I could ever experience such a thing in my life from anyone else.  She loved in a motherly way.  She loved unconditionally and fully.  You know, she had a strong devotion to Mary through the Rosary.  I wouldn’t doubt that our Blessed Mother Mary was extending her love to us through Aunt Bea.
A little over a year ago, on one of my visits, Aunt Bea mentioned that she had flipped on EWTN when she had awakened in the middle of the night recently to see that Brother Andre had been canonized.  She relayed the story about how in 1934, she shook his hand.  What a blessing for Aunt Bea to see that a man she knew about, had encountered in her life, a man she had touched, was in Heaven with God and all the Angels and Saints.  
So, as I wrap this up tonight, as I think about Aunt Bea, I am comforted that she departed this world in the friendship and communion of our Lord, Jesus Christ.  I hope that she is reunited with her husband and her father and her mother and her sister and brother, her cousins…especially my Grandad and Nana who loved her so.  
I will miss Aunt Bea, for sure.  But I have faith that she left this world well on her way to sainthood.
Toodle-oo, Aunt Bea.

Toodle-oo. 

Memories and Reflections

And there we were…a brother and a sister…praying together.
Last Monday, I prayed with my brother before his surgery.  As we began, the memories flooded my consciousness…
*********
I was young…maybe 3 or 4 and I had told on my brother for something.  Punishment was coming for my brother and I panicked and tried to stand between my parents and my older brother and beg they not punish him.  My parents (while chuckling and trying to hide their amusement) asked me if I lied about what I’d told them.  Of course I hadn’t and told them so.  And my parents assured me that since it was true, that my brother needed to be punished.  I cried again, “Please, don’t hurt him!”  In the end, it didn’t matter…he was punished, I couldn’t protect him.
I was 6 or 7…our family prayed the Rosary an awful lot.  We also went to Church an awful lot.  One time we had a statue of Our Lady of Fatima in our house for a week (or was it 10 days?) and we prayed the Rosary in front of her every night.  My older brother was old enough to be expected to stay on his knees for the entire Rosary.  I saw him many times praying on his knees even when we weren’t praying as a family.  He told me that the statue was in our house to try and help our parents save their marriage.  He told me to pray very hard that our parents would stay together.
Then, I was 8…and Dad and Mom were fighting even more and I was scared.  I don’t remember the exact words, but my brother informed me that the end was near for their marriage.  He was almost 5 years older than I was, and much more aware of many more fights in his lifetime.
And, I was 11, and a girl on the swim team called my brother a mean name, true to my protective form, I stepped up and I told her to stop.  My brother said I shouldn’t say anything…that he didn’t need me to protect him…he could handle his own problems…he didn’t care what they called him.  I remember being sad that no matter what, I couldn’t keep that from happening to him.
I was in high school and didn’t know what to do with the kind of attention I was getting from not-so-well-meaning-boys.  And my brother was talking to me and telling me parables and stories and trying to help me see that these boys were not good for me.  He was trying to make me see our situation the way not-so-well-meaning-boys would see our situation.  No father at home.  A mother who was busy trying to take care of her children.  A girl searching for love and acceptance from a male figure.  These boys didn’t respect me and didn’t love me.  They didn’t want the best for me.  And most likely, they didn’t realize they viewed my situation opportunistically since they were just boys, too.  But my brother was doing his best to help me.
 
I came to college (I came “home” after two years in North Carolina) and my brother was there to hang out with me, to set me up with a “good guy” who was much better than those I’d called “boyfriend” in high school but who still wasn’t good FOR me.  But, it was a vast improvement.  My brother also got me involved with the crew at college which was a positive experience.  And my brother helped me select a bunch of classes my freshman year that I really had no chance of doing well in…but that’s okay, I worked it out the next semester.  At this time, my brother was in a bad-for-him relationship, too.  But, with my troubled past in judging relationships, I didn’t feel like I was in any position to guide my brother differently.  However, through all of this, we had each other.
*********
Over the years, my brother and I have spent varying amounts of time in each others’ lives.  We both got married the same year (only a month apart).  His wedding was a last minute deal and some of my dad’s family put forth quite a bit of expense to come for both of our events.  Our marriages have seen different trials and endured through the years.  Through it all, though, one thing is constant…if we’ve known the other needed anything, we’ve tried our darndest to deliver.  
If there’s one thing I know about my siblings, it’s that we all think of each other as completely indispensable.  We need each other.  We rely on each other.  We support each other.  We guide each others’ children.  We revel in the success that each of us has.  We cry with and for each other when life deals us our lumps.  Somehow through all that life has thrown at each of us…we have been able to maintain a bond stronger than most siblings.  I can’t speak for the spouses…but I know I am very appreciative of my husband’s innate ability to understand the bond I have with my siblings and that he’s not jealous of it.  And he never underestimates it.  
I don’t know that I can provide an environment where my children can form as strong a bond with each other.  I believe my siblings and I formed ours out of necessity, due to our parents’ divorce and our situation with our mother and an absent father. 
As one of the older siblings, I had an inherent desire to protect them all (older brother included) from pain, suffering, name-calling…whatever.  It always pains me when I cannot protect those I love, even when it’s neither my place to do so nor within my capacity.
Last week, as my brother prepared to have a heart catheter inserted, again, I couldn’t save him from the fear or the pain.  But our Lord brought me there still.  To hold my brother’s hand and pray our comforting and familiar prayer.  No, I couldn’t protect him from a heart attack or from the impending surgery…but I could be there.  And so I was.  

And there we were…a brother and sister…praying together.

The Clear and the Fuzzy

A clear memory: 

I was 9 and in 3rd grade and I went with my sister to spend a weekend with my Aunt Bea and Uncle Alex.  My older brother and my two younger siblings were going to stay with a family from our school.  Mom was making a trip to attempt reconciliation with my Dad.  The whole weekend I was busy doing crafts and playing at Aunt Bea’s house, but I was anticipating Monday.  Monday, my dad was coming back with my mom.  I just knew it.  And then we were all going to live in Rhode Island together.  The nightmare that my parents were getting a divorce was over!

A fuzzy memory:

I have no idea what, in particular, I did during those days.  I remember going to sleep every night and waking up every morning wondering if it was Monday. 

When Mom picked me and my sister up on Monday, I don’t quite remember how it went.  Mom visited with Aunt Bea for a little bit and then drove us the 60 minutes back to Topeka and dropped us off at school.  We were tardy, but I was in high spirits..

A clear memory:

No one said we were moving to Rhode Island, and that Mom and Dad had worked things out…but I believed it with my whole heart.  Why else would Mom have been gone the entire weekend?  They were looking for a house where we could all fit, checking out schools, right? 

At recess, I was sharing my joy with the two girls I talked with/hung out with at recess.  I was parlaying my big plans for our reunion as a family when one of the girls laid it to me straight.  She said, “Michelle…your parents are not getting back together and you’re not moving.  I hate to see you get your hopes up for something that’s not real.”

I cried.  I tried to argue, but couldn’t find the words.  I wanted to scream that she didn’t know what she was talking about.  But at some point it hit me that I hadn’t actually been told for sure.  I mean, my mom said something about how her visit went well with our dad, but he didn’t come home with her.  And I began to realize that without the physical presence of my dad, I couldn’t trust the words that came from my mother and I couldn’t trust my feelings. 

*******

Looking back, of course at the age of 9, I couldn’t process what was happening.  However, in that moment, I was beginning to see the dashed hopes and dreams lying within the falsehoods of my pronouncement.  I can see now that the idea – the dream – that my parents were not getting divorced was entirely of my own making.

I died a little bit that day.  It was the beginning of my realization that Daddy wasn’t coming to get me.  And that Mom wasn’t taking me to him, either.  I remember that as the last day I ever thought or wished that my parents would get back together.  It was the beginning of what became an outlook on life that has stuck with me to this day:  “You can’t rely on any one person in this world.  Suck it up and shut up and move forward.”  Eventually, I learned that I could rely on my siblings and I could rely on God.  I don’t think I’ve ever completely believed again that I could go to my parents with a problem and get true help.

I consult my dad, sure.  We talk about things.  However, there’s a wall there that prevents his counsel from becoming something I completely turn to and rely on.  Bits and pieces of his counsel find their way into my reasoning, but many times I credit that to the fact that my father and I have a similar worldview and I’d probably go that route regardless of whether my father put words to it.

Later – when the days and weeks had passed and I got brave again and asked my mother why certain things were the way they were, I got told many times, “Your dad walked out on all of us, not just me” or “Your dad didn’t want you” and “Your dad doesn’t love us anymore.”  Only as an adult can I see the horror of those statements.  Only as a mother who would never dream of killing her children’s hearts, can I detest the hatred behind those statements and the hurt they inflicted. 

Yes, hurt motivated the statements.  I realize that.  My mother was hurting.  She was rejected.  She was desperate.  But to share that hurt with her children is something I find so difficult to comprehend.

I am blessed that the hurts my children experience are “children-type” hurts…however, it pains me to see my children hurt.  And if I am ever the one to inflict the hurt on my children (and let’s be real, I’m an adult and I’m human, so I have done it…I have hurt my children’s feelings) it absolutely breaks my heart back on myself. 

*******

Part of what led me to counseling three years ago was an experience where I was blessed to hear what I just said from my daughter’s point of view.  And I remember thinking immediately after that…”oh my gosh, that is something my mother did to me and I was so humiliated.” 

That night I pulled my daughter into her bedroom and I hugged her and I told her that I was sorry.  I admitted my fault.  I said I was wrong.  I told her that sometimes, I need to learn to hold my tongue.  I told her that I loved her and that I would try not to talk to her like that again.

And I called to make an appointment for counselling the next day.

Unfulfilled Expectations

About the only thing I remember about the time of year when my parents informed us of their impending split was that it was winter.  I can’t remember if it was Christmas break or if it was just some other winter day.  I remember it was cold.  I remember that my father was stationed with the Navy somewhere really far away (as in, not down the street where I could see him all the time).  I also remember that I still had really long hair, so I must have been in 2nd grade, which means I was 8.  

All of us kids were on the floor sitting “Criss-Cross-Applesauce” as they call it these days.  Back then, they called it “Indian Style”.  I think my mom might have been holding the baby.  This would have been around 1982, so my baby brother would have been about 19 months or so.
The word DIVORCE fell like a bomb.  Oddly enough, my older brother seemed completely ready for it and acknowledged it as if it were a foregone conclusion that this is what was going to happen.  But me?  Tears flowed quickly and ferociously…and I remember thinking…wondering…would he say next that I was going to go with him?  I would sure miss my sisters and brothers, but surely I was going to stay with my Daddy.
But those words never came.  I don’t know if my brother asked what was to become of the children or if my parents just moved right into that part, but it was made clear that we would stay with our mother.  I didn’t understand.  Why would I stay with my mother?  Didn’t my dad want me?  I mean, I didn’t understand why he’d leave at all…but surely (in my 8-year-old brain) he couldn’t bear to just leave me there?!?!
I don’t remember anything else about that particular day.  It’s very hazy.  It’s probably best that I don’t.  I’m sure there was a lot of crying from my mother.  I think I was probably in some sort of state of shock.  I don’t remember feeling angry necessarily…just very confused and very unsure and maybe a little bit rejected and unloved.  I don’t remember if I hugged my sister that was old enough to process what was going on (she was 6) or if I hugged my brother.  I really only remember sitting there, wondering why I wasn’t going with my dad.
*******
I started seeing a therapist through Catholic Charities about three years ago.  My reason for starting was because I had all these pent-up, unresolved feelings about what happened to my Dad and to me.  I realized through talking it out that what I suffered was abandonment, in the classic sense of the word, though it took quite a few sessions for me to term it what it was and really accept it.
I’m really happy that I talked with this therapist about this stuff.  She reminded me about the climate for our situation in the early 1980s.  
It would be quite a fight for my father to “fight” for custody for me or for any of the children.  Especially since my mom had been and still was (at the time) a Stay-At-Home-Mom.  My father would have to try and prove my mother to be an unfit mother in order to have any sort of chance, and there was practically zero chance that a court would see my mother as an unfit mother…because, well, she wasn’t.
Besides that, my mother had cared for the home and children while my father had attended and completed law school.  My mother had cared for my father, the home and children for 16 years, while my father had been in the military, stationed in several different locations, including internationally.  
And…my father, in my adult opinion, “wanted out” and didn’t want to mess with a messy court battle that would upset the children or even my mother.  As it was, I am fairly confident that my father wasn’t getting a lot of support from his own parents with this move.  So as a man on his own, doing what I have come to see as what he felt he had to do…trying to take me with him was not going to be a very smart move.
The only way I might have had a chance to go with my father would have been to ask for it, to beg for it, to let the screams of my desires reverberating in my brain to overflow out of my mouth.  And, well…that’s a tall order for an 8-year-old, seeing her mother crying on the couch, being told by her father that he’s leaving and not knowing what that really means.  I mean, as an adult, I can look back and see that my parents’ relationship was far from healthy and that my father was trying to “get out” of a bad relationship.  But when I was 8, it sure felt near impossible to see my father leaving as anything but leaving ME.
*******
I realized after my post the other day, that perhaps writing about this stuff might cause some people to misconstrue my intent or my relationship with  my father.  While my relationship with my father is nothing like it would or could have been, I consider it strong at this point in my life.  That is possible only through the power of God’s forgiveness and the Grace He has bestowed on me to accept my father with all of his failings…as my Dad.  
God has granted me the GRACE to see as an adult what I could never see as a child.  
God has bestowed upon me precious gifts of my husband and my children to show me that the evil of divorce doesn’t HAVE to be a cycle and that I have a choice to love beyond myself.  Through these gifts, I am able to see that my dad was broken (as we all are broken) in sin and God has enabled me to believe that my dad really did love me and that it was probably very hard on him that loving me and my siblings wasn’t enough.  As a mom, I can’t truly empathize with it, but I can see it just enough in the way my dad has handled our relationship since I’ve been an adult to know that it was painful for him to be separated from us…because he was separated from God as well. 

Anyway, as I write of these experiences, I am still on a journey of discovery and forgiveness.  I’m able to write about this part of the journey BECAUSE God has enabled me to reach the point where I understand and God has touched my heart just enough that I can see the situation the way that I do.  I can’t predict how long this journey will continue as I am currently processing much related to my mother and her role in all of this, but I feel confident that I have resolved enough with regards to my dad, that I am able to share.