Monday, April 28, 2008

Wonderful Weekend

First, let me thank you all for the support and prayers you gave after my last post. In one sense, it seems odd to think that Invisible People are praying for me and mine---and, in another, it seems the most natural thing in the world. I am very grateful for all of you, and so many of you are in my own daily prayers.

And now, for some good news...

My kids and I had a wonderful weekend. I took them to visit my Dear Friend for the first time.
His parish was hosting a concert by Fran McKendree this weekend, and we thought it might be a good time to introduce them to the other side of my life.

Neither of us (the grownups) was sure how it would go. These things can be tricky, of course. The kids already knew and loved him---but there is a big difference between loving someone as an individual, and loving that person as your Mom's Dear Friend.

Given distance (168.8 miles...not that I'm counting) and schedules, there are not many occasions where the four of us will be together, so I'm happy to report that all went about as well as one could hope. The three of them were very easy and natural with one another, and everyone seemed to have a great time. The people at DF's church were lovely to my kids, as they continue to be to me. Fran McKendree was great too! (And I say that as one who doesn't usually much care for contemporary Christian music...)

So, again, I thank you for your prayers. It's clear that Someone is listening.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Hydra

Do you remember that mythical, multi-headed beast? The one that Hercules was directed to slay? The Hydra had many heads, and if you chopped one off, two more grew in its place. It also had one immortal head.

My ex-husband is a Hydra.

His immortal head seems to be hatred of me. The reproducing heads are his never-ending attempts to yank my chain.

He's in full battle mode today because I drew a line in the sand this week about e-mail communications. I told him that any more e-mail discussions of his feelings toward me, or e-mails implying that he wished I had died, would mean that I would cut off e-mail contact and he would have to deal with me directly.

As this is the one thing he very much wishes to avoid, he has moved into dive-bombing me with "fact-based" e-mails about the children. He seems desperate to maintain some kind of emotional hold on me, and now he is using the "welfare of the children" to do that.

It won't work. Mostly because I'm much healthier emotionally than I used to be, and I can see much more clearly just how well the kids are doing.

Last night, I had a brief chat with them about an issue their dad had raised. My son is more close to the vest with his emotions, but still pretty readable. My daughter wears her emotional weather on her sleeve. They were both genuinely puzzled that the Hydra would assess the situation the way he did. The Emperor said "I don't know where THAT's coming from! That may be Dad's perception, but it's not right."

I wish I could find my ex another Hydra to play with. I really do think he'd be happier, and I wouldn't have to keep fighting new heads full of fangs.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Greatest Temptation

Last week I wrote about my greatest fear. I figured this week I should write about my greatest temptation....

That would be this: I have an opinion on everything---and I'm not afraid to share it. I am often driven to tell people what I think, without pulling any punches. Regardless of whether they want to hear it or not...

It is very easy to blame this on the Leo in me.

The Internet offers me an endless opportunity to give in to that temptation. Particularly when it comes to my hot-button issues: the church I love...the faith to which I am committed...the sanctity of commitments and the need, on occasion, to break them...and the welfare of children in broken families.

In general, I have learned, as the result of several painful and embarrassing episodes, to sit on my hands and give myself time to think before I post. For every comment I leave on a blog, there are probably five more that I end up deleting.

That education actually came in quite handy during the worst part of my divorce, when my ex was sending me the most hateful e-mails I could imagine. E-mails in which he tried to push every button I possess---easy enough to do when you've been living with someone for 14 years and know all their vulnerable spots. It infuriated him that I refused to respond.

I had to take my comfort where I could...

(Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. Sigh. I got another one this morning, where the message I got was that it would have been better for me to kill myself than to leave him. But I digress...)

Unfortunately, I am not always successful in my resolve to be temperate. Sometimes I say more than I should. Sometimes I offer opinions that are best left to those who share "meat space" with the person I am addressing.

If you think I am talking to you, I most assuredly am. And for my pride and arrogance, I offer my apologies. They say the first step toward changing is recognizing the problem...let's hope they're right.

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Sometimes we can see things for what they are. We can see that the "issues" that set us off are not really what they appear to be on the surface.They are really only proxies for something else.

For example, as a first-time mother, I quickly found myself embroiled in The Mommy Wars. Violent battles of words raged on the Web between women who stayed home with their children, and women who worked for wages outside the home. Each was trying to "prove" that their way of being a parent was best (or, at the least, not damaging to their children's futures).

For stay-at-home moms, the issue was that they were permanently limiting their own future earning power (and placing themselves at the mercy of their spouses) to be at home with their children. For work-outside-the-home moms, they were sacrificing a significant amount of daily interaction with their children to ensure financial stability--or simply acknowledging that working was something they needed to do as individuals.

The truth, of course, is that there is no one best way to rear children. As in most things in life, "it depends." There are moms who have the great gift of making time at home with their children a wonderful thing, and moms who are much better parents when they can use their talents in places outside the nursery.

(I happen to fall in the latter camp, in case you were wondering.)

Every woman involved in the debate was really just trying to deal with her fear that she was not a "perfect mother" (whatever that means...) and that her children were being damaged by her choices (or by the circumstances that took choice away). We could all quibble about what "best" really means for kids, but the bottom line was that we ALL loved our kids and we ALL felt guilty about our performance as mothers.

I learned early that guilt is the one common denominator for motherhood.

So I refused to fight that war any longer. And when various skirmishes came up (breastfeeding v. bottle, crib v. co-sleeping, circumcision or not, etc.), I just refused to play. And I somehow got much more confident in my parenting when I stopped trying to compare myself to the mythical Perfect Mom.

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Other times, however, we are just too close to an issue and cannot really see beyond our own "stuff." I am in that place about marriage, divorce, and children.

Over the course of many years, I have recognized a pattern in my behavior. Whenever I make a big change in my life, everything that happens to me for quite some time afterwards gets analyzed through the filter of that change.

So when I see a blogger who is struggling with marital issues, or who is feeling depressed and hopeless, I can't help but personalize their struggles. I tend to barge in and pronounce, when what is usually needed is just an ear. Or even silence.

As the Perfect Mom would say, "If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all."

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So how does all this play out in the blogosphere?

I'm trying to figure that out.

But this I know---that the moment when I'm most certain I'm right, is the moment when Wormwood is most in control.

Monday, April 07, 2008

"Write about what you are afraid of...."

The title of this post is a quote from noted author, Donald Barthelme, who celebrates his birthday today.

I got it from Writer's Almanac, which sends me (the poetry freak) a neat little e-mail each day with a new poem. The e-mail also tells me about birthdays of famous writers and other important events in history on any given day.

As soon as I read Barthelme's quote, I thought, "I have to blog about that."

Here is what I am afraid of: I am afraid of pain and illness.

That fear has been present this week, partly as a result of the death of my dear friend's father from Alzheimer's last week, and partly because April has difficult memories attached to it for me. Both my mother and my grandmother were widowed in the same week of April 1997. April has, indeed, been the cruelest month for my family.

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Like anyone else my age, I have seen plenty of pain and suffering among my friends and relatives. My beloved grandfather took 10 years to say The Long Goodbye. He suffered from progressive dementia during that period, and for the last six years, he was bedridden.

My grandmother--who took her vows of "in sickness and in health" with deadly serious earnest--refused to consider putting him in a nursing home. She took care of him herself all that time---changing his diapers, blending his food into mush when he could no longer chew safely, feeding him spoonful by spoonful, for years.

She was no martyr about it, either. She never showed any signs of irritation or bitterness over the ways in which her life changed in those last 10 years. She loved him, and she took care of him, just as he had taken care of her all her life. (She was only 15 when they married, and their marriage lasted 56 years.) It was as simple as that.

When he had a stroke in 1997, my priest and I were visiting them in the hospital. My priest, a loving, kind, and holy woman, had just asked my grandmother if she was considering hospice. My grandfather's doctor, a small, energetic Indian gentleman walked in just as she said this, and breezily brushed my priest off. "He's not dying! He doesn't need hospice!"

Mind you, my grandfather was completely unresponsive at this point. And this doctor convinced my devoted grandmother to insert a feeding tube into my grandfather. "You don't want to STARVE him to death, do you?!", he admonished her.

It took my grandfather three, long, horrible weeks to die. He never once showed any signs of responsiveness after the stroke--and I have learned since then that forced nutrition/hydration to a body that is dying can actually be very painful.

What was done to him was an act of violence---and my grandmother was violated as well. A doctor, who would not admit that death was eminent, used her love and sense of responsibility to my grandfather to manipulate her into doing something against his best interests. (I still have to pray for forgiveness about my attitude toward this doctor...11 years later.)

My stepfather, Larry, whom I also dearly loved, was diagnosed with cancer that same year. He was 53. By the time they found it, the cancer---which had probably started in his lungs (he was a lifelong and heavy smoker)---had traveled to his colon, liver, and pancreas.

Pancreatic cancer is basically a death sentence---to my knowledge, there were no approved treatments for it in 1997, and I do not believe treatment options or survival rates have improved much since then. Yet, I watched them torture him to death with chemotherapy they knew could not succeed. They just couldn't admit to him that he was going to die.

Death is the enemy in America---and we will go to any lengths to hold it at bay.

I am afraid of illness or dementia. I am afraid of pain. I am not in the least afraid of death. I believe that something comes after death, and, although I have nothing other than a deep feeling in my soul to support the notion, I believe whatever it is will be good.

I wonder sometimes what I will do if I am faced with a decision that will involve pain and suffering. I have a low tolerance for pain. I have watched others pursue aggressive treatment for various life-threatening illnesses, and I cannot---even as the mother of young children---see myself doing the same. (Please understand that I pass no judgment at all on those who do--and I support anyone who desires to take advantage of all treatment options. I just don't think I could do that myself.)

Occasionally, I will have this discussion with others, and they will say "Well, Doxy, you say that NOW. But when your life is really on the line, you will change your mind."

Maybe they are correct...I can't say for sure. But I can say that I fear pain and illness more than I fear death.

I have a Living Will that spells out my opposition to certain forms of treatment---and I have even included my opposition to being fed or hydrated under certain conditions, though there is no guarantee that those wishes would be honored. I have tried to face my fear in a practical way, but it remains. And as older family members begin to fail, and friends face terrible decisions, that fear is growing.

Aging is not for wimps. And I fear that I may be a wimp of the first order.

So what do you fear? Take Barthelme's challenge and write about it.