Navigating life with a teenager….who happens to have bipolar disorder

Archive for the ‘Storied Past’ Category

Where Were You When…….? A Reflection on Sandy Hook

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I remember, I was sitting on the sofa watching television in the small apartment we had rented 3 months earlier when we moved to Georgia.  It wasn’t home.  It wasn’t a place I felt safe.  It was just a roof over our heads while we tried to sell our NY house and find one here.  As I sat there in this unsettled place, a story came on the news that broke my heart. A shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.  It was the first time one of the increasingly frequent acts of domestic terrorism stopped my world.

I know that for most people, 9/11 effected them in that way.  For me, September 11th was extremely surreal, like I was watching a horror movie on-screen.  The personal emotional effect didn’t hit me right away……but Sandy Hook…..well, Sandy Hook hit me hard and fast.  You see, I know Sandy Hook, I know Newtown.  It is a place ingrained in my blood….a place ingrained in my past.  It was the place my parents grew up, met and got married.  It was where my sister and I spent winter afternoons ice skating with my grandmother….and where I spent Saturday nights indulging in my love of the Muppets with my grandfather.  It was where I first held my breath underwater in the ‘deep hole’……..and where my cousins and I would have adventures in the woods.  It was where generations of my family were born…….and are now buried in Zoar cemetary.

There I was, sitting in this foreign place, hundreds of miles away and Sandy Hook came on the news.  For the first time, it wasn’t like a movie on a screen….it was a real place, real people, real terror.  It took me a while to truly grasp what had happened in that school when the news stories started putting out ‘diagnosis’ theories about the shooter.  My 12-year-old son had just been treated in a mental health facility 6 weeks earlier and diagnosed with bipolar disorder.  He had been exhibiting extreme aggression and anger, with me as his primary target.  So, this new development that the shooting wasn’t in an attempt to make a political statement or an act of retaliation….it was just a boy who clearly needed some type of treatment, that hurt my heart even more….if that could be possible.

When my son came home from school that day, he found me crying….still watching the news.  Once he figured out what was happening, he started asking a lot of questions.  I tried to answer them the best I could and then he asked about the numbers.  He kept hearing 26 killed at the school….but then the reporter would say 28 dead.  I explained that one was the shooter…..and one was his mom, because he shot her first before he left home.  My son looked at me, horrified, and hugged me….hard.  Under his breath he whispered “I promise I will never kill you, mama”.  Just a small sentence, but it was filled with compassion and an understanding of my fears that I am not sure he had before.  Just a small sentence that punctuated a day I will never forget.

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As I reflect on the happenings of that day 3 years ago, I can’t help to be reminded of an assignment many of us had in elementary school.  You know, the ‘Where were you when?’ assignment.  For those of us 80’s children, we were usually told to ask a family member one of two dates…..’Where were you when President Kennedy was shot?’ or ‘Where were you when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon?’.  It’s not that other things didn’t happen during our parent’s and grandparent’s lifetimes….but those were the two that ‘stopped’ most people in our country.

What would that assignment look like if it kids were to ask my generation that question?  I remember school stopping to watch the Challenger launch….and then explode.  I remember where I was when Desert Storm started ……the Oklahoma City Bombing…..Columbine……Binghamton Civic Association……9/11……Sandy Hook…….San Bernardino.   There are so many others to list….but these are the ‘few’ that I can tell you the place I was when it happened.  Can you imagine what this list might look like when our children are our age…..or our grandchildren?  Will they have a list at all or will it be so common place that they won’t even stop for a moment of compassion when tragedy happens?

 

 

 

 

 

Storied Past: Chasing Happy Endings

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Were you like me then?  Did you grow up watching tv shows and movies that wrapped things up all nice and tidy, with a big, pretty bow and uplifting music while the credits rolled?  Are you like me now?  Have you come to the realization that life is not a freaking movie???? I think I figured it out a long time ago……way before I became the single mom of a special needs kiddo. Possibly when I came to the realization about how very human my parents were….maybe when I was a teenager and got my heart crushed and it wasn’t put back together for a really, long time…….maybe when….well, maybe when I grew up and life started happening.  The problem was that, even though I was well aware that I didn’t live in a movie, I used to wish for a happy ending.

Yesterday, I was reading a FB post written by a teenager that said “where is my happy ending?”.  My immediate thought was to respond “Why search for a happy ending when you are just at the beginning?”.  I didn’t…..I kept my mouth shut and my fingers still. Reading it made me think about happy endings, though…… and it made me think about when I stopped searching for them.

Some people might think I stopped looking for happy endings when I met a great man who loved me and my son unconditionally.  Nope….I don’t think a happy ending happens when you fall in love.  Some people might think that I stopped looking when we moved into our beautiful home and started living the life we struggled for years to achieve.  Nope…..I don’t think a happy ending comes with a proverbial white picket fence.  I think I stopped wondering about happy endings at my grandfather’s funeral.

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My grandfather was not an easy man to love.  He was grumpy and strict and proud and stubborn. Sometimes it seemed like his life stopped in the 1940’s and he simply couldn’t get beyond the war.  Like many people of his generation, he lived in the past and expected everyone around him to adhere to his out-dated rules and regulations. My grandmother brought a calm to their home and softened his rough edges.  When we were children, my sister and I would sometimes spend a Saturday night with our grandparents, eat cooked chocolate pudding out of crystal dessert dishes and watch The Muppet Show. We would then get up and go to church with them on Sunday and listen to them brag about their beautiful granddaughters.  As long as my grandmother was around, he was like any other grandfather….with a little bit of a gruff side.

When I was 20, my grandmother died of pancreatic cancer.  That gruff, grumpy man became down-right mean at times.  When I would come home for a visit, he would give me a hug and comment on my recent weight gain or tell me that good children don’t live so far from their family (I had moved 2 hours away).  Very rarely would anything positive come out of his mouth.  This got worse as he got older.  For a lot of us grandkids, we would make ‘required’ visits, but keep them short and sweet. Even at my last visit with him, in a rehab center following a hospital stint, I had no idea what to say to him or what to expect him to say to me.  He was always a bit of a wild card.

After he passed away, at the viewing, a group of us sat in a corner reminiscing and laughing about his stubbornness and retelling awful things he said to us….almost in a fond way.  That was what changed my mind about happy endings.  I remember thinking about my grandfather’s ending…..was it happy?  We weren’t sitting there talking about the loving way he hugged us or his strong sense of family, we were remembering all of the negative things about him and the ways he made us feel bad.

It was then I realized that happy endings have nothing to do with the things we obtain in life….. love, career, possessions…..it has everything to do with how we live our lives.  I hope my ending will be happy….that after I am gone from this earth, people will remember me fondly. I hope they will talk about my love for my family and my efforts to make this world a better place for my kiddo and others like him.

My grandfather lived to be 93…..he had 93 years to create a happy ending that just didn’t happen.  I think we need to stop searching for happy endings and simply start trying living happier lives before the ending comes.

Storied Past: The Fastest Way to Washboard Abs

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In the past, I have told you all about my ‘Lucy’ moments. The times when I really think I have been trapped in a TV Sitcom. These moments started for me at a young age. For example, when I was 7, my older sister and I were playing circus and she convinced me that being a tightrope walker was easy…..and that I could do it on the clothes line.  There were also times, like when I was 15 and I slid halfway down our outdoor staircase on an icy day….only to get my bearings, stand up and slide the rest of the way down in a full split.  Now, one of these examples was due to naivety and trust….and the other one was total lack of judgement on my part…..but then there was the time I fell down the house…..which was due to both. I have mentioned before that I was raised by my dad in Connecticut and spent time with my mom in Pennsylvania on weekends and during summers. One such summer ended with a bang…..literally.

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The summer of 1990 was coming to a close, there were only about 2 weeks left before I was supposed to head back to Connecticut for my first year of high school.  That summer, it was determined that my sister would be staying in Pennsylvania for her last few years of high school.  That meant that this would be the first time I ever traveled home on my own.  Determined to make the most of these last couple of weeks, my sister, her best friend, Leanna and I all decided to have as much fun as we could.  We convinced my mom to let us have a party. She agreed…..and allowed us the space to plan for it however we would like.  That summer, my mom and step-dad had started to put an addition on the back of the house.  It was not yet done, no insulation or sheet rock, but it was complete enough to be utilized in the eyes of teenagers.

Tina, Leanna and I spent and entire day setting it up with decorations, bean bag chairs and twinkle lights. When mom had gone out shopping for the party the next day, Tina ended up going inside to babysit our younger sister leaving Leanna and I in the addition to finish up.  At this time, my younger sister, Mel, decided to be a prankster.  Due to the fact that the addition wasn’t complete, the door to it was still an exterior door off of the kitchen…….that locks from the inside. With her 6 year old, high pitched laugh, she locked us in and ran.  We banged on the door, but apparently, Tina didn’t hear us from her room on the other side of the house. Taking matters into our own hands, we decided to climb out the sliding glass door that was meant to lead to a deck that had yet to be built.

Opening the door, we looked down to determine how far of a drop we had and saw the sill to the basement window below. It was just close enough that if I hung down, my toes would reach it.  We used a blanket to soften the bottom track of the door and I slowly lowered myself down onto the sill and then jumped to the ground.  Leanna slowly followed.  Feeling like we just had a great adventure and proud of ourselves for outsmarting a 6-year-old, we ran around the house and into the front door laughing.

Fast forward about 1 hour.  Mom returned from the store and we were very excited to show her all of the decorating we had done.  We all went into the back room….and again, Mel locked the door. This time, though, she came into the room with us and closed the door behind her.  Now we were all locked in.

“No Problem!” I told my mom.  We did this before.  I will just go down the same way and come around to unlock the door.  In a rush to get everyone out of the addition, I forgot to put the blanket down on the door track.  This time, when I tried to lower myself down to the windowsill, the track cut into my hands……and I let go. I slid down the side of the house and bounced off of the sill and ended up landing on my knees on the ground, stunned. The way my mother describes it, I looked like a cartoon character being pushed down a washboard.

An ER visit and almost 25 years later, it is still one of my biggest Lucy moments of all time.

 

 

Storied Past: Blankets of Stars

Sorry for the silence, everyone.  I needed some time to gather my bearings with lots of changes that are going on around here.  Since my month of blogging in November, I have been thinking hard about what I am writing on this blog.  My intent when I started this was to share my experiences as the parent of a child with mental illness.  My hope was to help other parents in the same situation feel less alone….and to maybe open up other’s eyes to how society treats people with neurological challenges. My plan is to keep on doing that.  However, during my month of writing, I found that people tend to like my silly or sweet stories about people who have touched my life.  I have decided that I will continue writing those as a series I will call Storied Past. I think I will try to post them on Thursdays….you know, my way of celebrating Throw-back-Thursday. I thought I would initiate my return with just such a story that came to mind while I was decorating one of my Christmas trees.

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When CJ was a baby, I got an administrative job in the GI department of our local hospital.  Due to the nature of the office, most of our patients didn’t come on a routine basis.  Because of this, you didn’t have a chance to really get to know that many people well.  We did have a small handful of people who came for monthly appointments……and one of those people was Jane.

I met Jane the first month I started working at the hospital.  She was in her late 60’s, sweet in nature, always had a smile on her face.  The reason I remembered her among the hundreds of faces we saw every month was the fact that she always brought us chocolate.  She would say “Eating chocolate every day keeps the doctor away.  Clearly I never ate enough in my youth, so I am trying to help you learn from my mistakes”.  She and I always exchanged pleasantries as she checked in for her appointment, but our conversations never went beyond that.

After working there almost a year, I came in late one day following the court hearing to finalize my divorce from CJ’s dad. I walked in to find flowers on my desk from my co-workers.  My office mate, Lacey, made a point to tell everyone who asked that ‘no, it was not my birthday….the flowers were to celebrate my divorce’.  This usually got odd looks and sometimes apologies, but not when Jane came in.  The minute she heard that I had gotten a divorce she said “Good for you” and proceeded to tell me hilariously inappropriate stories about her past husbands. This began a very interesting friendship.

I worked in that office for four years and saw Jane almost every month the entire time. When she came in, instead of being seated in the waiting room, she would sit by my desk and chat. She would tell me stories of her life.  Her shop girl years working at the NYC Macy’s during the 60’s and funny stories about men she had dated or married….but it was when she told me stories about her daughter and granddaughter, her eyes would light up and she would get sentimental.  She would always tell me that I reminded her of her daughter, who she rarely got to see, due to distance.

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Now, every time I make a quilt, I embroider a small star in the bottom corner.

One day, I had brought in a quilt that I made for a friend’s baby shower to show Lacey.  As I was putting it back in the bag, Jane walked into the office.  She insisted on seeing my handy work.  She looked at the yellow and blue celestial print and proceeded hug the blanket.  She told me that every time her granddaughter would say ‘I miss you’, she would tell her to look up to the night sky, because all of the stars in the sky were filled with her love and good wishes.  Jane looked at me with tears in her eyes and said “you are covering that baby with your good wishes”.

As Christmas approached, I decided to make Jane a gift.  I sewed her a lap quilt covered in stars.  The day she came in for her appointment, I handed her the gift.  After opening it, she asked why I had taken so much time to do something for her.  I told her that I had made the decision to move away in the next few months and  I wanted to make sure I gave her my good wishes before I left. Jane asked when I would be leaving. I let her know probably by March or April.  Her response was “Good, I plan on moving to my daughter’s in February and I couldn’t imagine coming in here even once without seeing your face. “. She then reached down into her bag and handed me a gift box. Inside it was an antiqued metal Christmas star and the note attached said, ‘With love and all my good wishes’.

tree pics

I make sure to put my star onto one of my trees every year. This year it’s on my kitchen tree, because it reminds me of a cut-out cookie.

The Eyes Have It

Everyone seemed to enjoy my little family story yesterday….so I thought I would share a little family joke with you all, as well.

One day, when we were teenagers, my sister, Tina, had spent the night at a friend’s house. After stopping at the grocery store, my sister got some gum balls out of a machine by the entrance. My mother was trying to have a serious conversation with her on their ride home, but being over-tired and in a very goofy mood, my sister was not paying attention to a word my mom was saying.

After getting frustrated, my mom started grumbling.  Tina took one of the gum balls (that happened to look like an eyeball), sat it on mom’s shoulder and said ‘I’ve got my eye on you’.  Once my mom looked down at her shoulder, my sister threw the gum ball out the window and said ‘keep your eye on the road’.  Thus began Tina/eyeball jokes in my family, years and years of eyeball jokes……..and every conceivable eyeball gift you could find.

Last year, during the Halloween season, I happened to see eyeball ornaments at Target. I decided to go back and get them, but they were sold out.  I did a little digging online and ended up finding some.  I purchased 4, one for me, my 2 sisters and my mom. I gave them with the rule that we each needed to put one on our Christmas tree.  Tina, knowing how unbelievably o.c.d I am about my Christmas trees, told me that she would hang hers, as long I featured mine front and center….and didn’t hide it in the back. I agreed….and spent my holiday explaining the big eyeball in the center of my very traditional green and red tree.  I plan on doing the same this year.

eyeball ornament

The Uneaten Cookie

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Holiday traditions tend to start during times of change.  When couples meet, get married, have kids, buy a new home. There once was a drastic change in my life that caused such a tradition to start.

My older sister, Tina and I were raised by my dad in Connecticut.  When we were in elementary school, my mom and step-dad moved about 2 hours away to Pennsylvania.  For many years, we spent weekends, school breaks and summer vacations travelling back and forth.  She and I had our ups and downs, as all sisters do, but  throughout our lives, we were each other’s constant.

The summer I was 14 I found out that I would be returning to my dad’s on my own.  Tina would be finishing out high school living with my mom.  I was devastated. I didn’t know what I would do without her.  I started high school as an ‘only’ child for all intents and purposes. It was a strange feeling for all of us.

Christmas time came and Tina decided to come spend it at my dad’s house.  On Christmas eve morning, we decided to bake some cookies……something we hadn’t done in many years.  There was a special sugar cookie that we made, it was shaped like a heart and had colored sugar in a rainbow pattern. Once they were in the oven, I started to feel ill.  I ended up spending Christmas eve in bed with a fever and upset stomach. After the cookies were done baking, Tina came in and gave me the special sugar cookie.  Still not feeling well, I put it under the little tree that sat on the nightstand in our room.

Once the holidays were over and I was putting away decorations, I realized that the cookie had gotten stale….but I didn’t want to throw it away.  I sat it in a little basket on a shelf in my room.

The next Christmas came around and, as a joke, I wrapped up the cookie and gave it back to her.  This became a long-standing tradition.  After about 5 or 6 years the original cookie started to crumble, so we decided to bake a new one, used beads instead of sugar crystals and put a clear coat it.  This year will be our 24th year to pass the cookie…..by far, the longest standing tradition in our family.

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Just Skating By

The past couple of years, around this time, I find myself shopping for new roller blades for the kiddo…..and I always end up transported back in time, lost in my memories of my childhood. You see, my family was founded on 8 wheels.  My grandparents met at a skating rink.  They skated throughout their marriage, participated in skate clubs and ‘danced’ their way through life on wheels.  They raised their children to do the same……and so on, and so forth.

Growing up, I used to joke that, while others went to church on Sunday mornings, our family went to a different type of chapel….it was called Rollerland. From the time I was 3 or 4, every Sunday morning, my sister and I would wake up and get dressed in our favorite skating skirts and leg warmers(it was the 70’s&80’s folks). My dad and his girlfriend would load us and our skates into the car for our weekend ritual. This happened every Sunday until I was in high school.  Even afterward, my dad would still go to an adult skate night….and once I was 18, I would join him when I was home for visits.

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Former Rollerland in Danbury, CT

 

It may not have actually been church, but like the community you find at church, it was our family, all moving in the same direction(literally)…..with one goal…..to preserve our traditions. Even as they aged, my grandparents still attended their rink regularly.  Every Halloween, we would all get dressed up and head to Long Beach Skateland for a costume contest.  Some of my favorite memories of my grandparents happened in that rink.

In 1995 my grandmother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and was instructed to take it easy for the time she had left, but she insisted on skating.  The last time I saw her, she was slowly skating around the rink.  Once she got too sick to leave the house, she refused to allow us kids to see her.  She didn’t want us to remember her as being sick.  So my last mental image of her is in a place we both loved….on wheels.

When I married my first husband, my dad and I had our father/daughter dance and it felt wrong.  It was the first time we had ever danced together without skates on.  Later on, when Michael and I were planning our wedding, I remembered that feeling and I considered having our rehearsal dinner at a skating rink, just so my dad and I could skate.  My dad is the one that convinced me that it wasn’t really considerate to the group of other people attending….just so I could skate with my dad. So we danced…..and it still felt wrong.

As I got older, I skated less…..and then not at all. When you have a kiddo with sensory issues that includes a vestibular dysfunction, which affects balance, it is not a fun activity.  He always felt like he was missing out on family tradition when he had trouble skating. Then we moved to Georgia. CJ’s best friend, Megan (the bonus kid), was a skater and he decided to give it a try again.  For some reason, roller skates just don’t work for him….but he found that he has much more control when wearing roller blades. So we returned to a life where skating exists.

One of the best parts about skating again was meeting the woman who owns the local rink.  She was a competitive skater in the 60’s and actually knew the owners of Long Beach, where my grandparents skated.  She, on occasion, would participate in their skate club. I was able to share with her, articles and pictures that I had from that rink. It was like rolling right back into the past for both of us.

I always love shopping for skates for the kiddo, it helps me remember how great this family tradition made my childhood.  I don’t always remember family holidays.  Having divorced parents, you don’t always have specific holiday traditions since where you are tends to change from year to year. The times I do remember, without fail, all happened inside a skating rink.

rollerskating unicorn

Sorry, has nothing to do with the actual post….but it cracked me up.