A Home In The Mountains

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Grandpas Resting place

 

We came to this land in June of this year, in the midst of a heatwave. We thought we could make a home from the dust but we left after less than two weeks, frustrated. Our plans foiled.  Maybe it wasn’t time yet. Maybe we wimped out.

And so we left. For two months we traveled between Oregon and Redding, hopping between generous friends and family, trying not to burden, yet knowing five teenagers, three dogs and four cats is bound be be a burden regardless of our efforts at invisibility.

 

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Our Little Homesite

 

I don’t know what I thought I would find when I came back here.  That the trees which stood hundreds of years before would have regrown their roots?  That fallen needles would have replaced the soot and ash left behind by the forest fire that ripped through here just a few years ago? Few trees of decent size remain where giants once stood.  A little bunch hovers over my father-in-laws grave, loyal and protective of the one who’d nurtured their roots in life, as well as in death.

I don’t know if I thought it would all be easy, starting over with nothing but soil and a shovel.  I mean, we had just gotten our Alaska homestead halfway livable when we fled south in pursuit of another project. Maybe I’ve gone soft. Maybe I’m tired.  Either way, the first few days here I wallowed in depression and angst over all that lay before us. I cried in the small space of the motorhome while my teens stared and wondered what to do. The thick red dust, ashes, burned remnants of a quality of life that once thrived here, but now seemed impossible to regain. And the heat, the excruciatingly thick, hard-to-breathe heat that lay over the place. It was too much for our skin. Our eyelids sweated. Our shoulders burned. We didn’t want to do it.  Again.

And so we began to search for a rental house.  It took very few inquiries to discover what we’d suspected all along. Nobody wants to rent to a family with six teenagers, four dogs, three cats and zero rental history.  Oddly, if you own your home and don’t own credit cards, it’s somehow viewed as a bad thing. There’s something backwards in that.

And so we dug our fingers into the land once again. Some things are meant to be. I’m apparently meant to have an outhouse.

Six quarters, for three minutes  of public shower is pretty steep when there are eight of us, so we put together an old canvas shower stall we brought with us from Alaska, bought a cheap solar shower bag and strung it up with a piece of  yellow nylon rope, tied off to a branch. We have found nearby resources for hauling water in five gallon jugs. (read as: we fill our jugs at the local campgrounds when the host is away)  We leveled a spot for the motorhome where the old cabin used to be.  We set up a camp complete with barbecue and a tree stump table.  And Billy hung the door on the outhouse we built when we were here in June.  Camp setup: complete.

We take walks. Luke whips the other boys at poker while Anthony asks me again if I’m certain it’s illegal to gamble professionally at fourteen.  We metal detect old fallen down cabins so deep in the woods we wonder if anyone else knows they exist.  We read…a lot.  We search for arrowheads in the dried creek bed where water once flowed high on the banks. We ride bikes down steep hills (I see an ER visit in my future). Billy proved that the bigger the boy, the bigger the fort.  And on days when the heat overtakes us, we hit the water park in Redding,  we drive up to Lassen National Park and dip our bodies into the cool lake or we throw a line in the water at Hat Creek campground up Hwy 44 where Anthony caught his first trout.

Tonight as the sun set I watched my boys, all four of them, wrestling and chasing each other between the trees where my husband played as a boy.  “Get off grandpa’s grave,” I yelled as Billy and Anthony rolled around near the gravesite, coating themselves in thick dust and memories.

And then I remembered…that’s exactly what we came here to do. We just wandered a bit before we found the right path.

 

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Anthony making it to the top…

 

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Mya IN Lake

 

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Luke At Lake

 

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Robin Enjoying The Lake

 

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Reading As Always

 

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The Original Campfire ring

 

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Billy’s Big Boy Fort

 

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Camp

 

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The Shower

 

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Home On Wheels

 

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Comfy Cat

 

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Yatzee Tournament

 

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Getting mighty snug in here…

 

 

 

 

 

 

What They Did To Me Bum…

If you’ve not been following the sage of the bear/boys/bum injury, here’s a couple of links:

Bear In The Back Woods

Cruisin’ For A Bruisin’

Last week I went in for an MRI at the request of our local clinic doc here in Ninilchik who took one look at this bruising and said, “How long did you wait to come see me?” shaking her head and pursing her lips like my mother when I was a teenager.

Bruise

 

The MRI tech gave me a similar head shake and “Oh My Goodness, honey,” and sent me to an Orthopedics fellow in Homer. But before I could even get to his office he called me, said he’d reviewed my MRI, it wasn’t something he could fix, and he shuffled me off to Anchorage.

Monday the husband drove me up to Anchorage, about a four hour drive, to meet with Dr. Powell, orthopedic surgeon, who diagnosed me before I even left the waiting room based on the way I was hanging half my ass off the edge of the hard plastic chair.

“We’ll do the surgery tomorrow,” he said. “The sooner the better before it gets worse.”

Come to find out, two of the three tendons that hold the hamstring to the pelvic bone had ripped clean off and were just dangling around in the back of my thigh.  Ouch, is right. The fear is, if left too long the nerves can get all twisted into the mess and cause permanent damage. We can’t have that, can we?

So Tuesday morning at eleven I arrived at the Anchorage Spine Center for my appointment where I was promptly given my very own open backed blue gown, fuzzy socks, and a hair net.  A good look for me, I think.

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Here is a link describing the surgery they performed, complete with gory pictures and what appear to be forks ripping into the thigh. I’m pretending mine was much prettier. SURGERY LINK

Apparently what they did was slit a hole across the bottom of my right butt cheek from inner to outer thigh, somewhere around 6 inches across. I’ve not seen it yet, it’s well packaged up. But boy, can I feel it.

Then they fished around until they found the dangling tendons and hamstring so they could reattach the little buggers.  They drilled HOLES in my pelvic bone and hooked the tendons in place with some kind of super strong wires, then sewed the whole mess back up.

Then an hour later they stuck me on crutches for the first time and sent me on my way.  No dilly-dallying around the hospital these days.  Just a few crackers and you’re outta there.

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The husband planted me in a hotel room with flowers, peach yogurt, crackers and my cell phone. He knows me so well. And we spent the night in neighboring beds, him snoring, me whining, and then after a checkup with the doc, we drove home today.

I’ve been instructed in no uncertain terms by Dr. Powell to lay here in this bed in the middle of the cabin for the next six weeks.  I’m not to use my right leg, not to hop around trying to do things for myself or others and I’m not under any circumstances to chase any more bears.

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My view for the next six weeks…

I think I can follow thru with most of that.

I’m not gonna lie…I’m in a lot of pain. The meds they gave me make me sweat a lot and my breathing feels funny, if I take the full dose so I cut myself back to half which controls the pain, but doesn’t take it away by a long shot.

We were brought a halibut dinner by one dear lady, another came and picked up the boys for an overnighter, the girls are gone and the husband went right out to push some more gravel onto our driveway before the sun set.  So I’m alone in my little bed we put it the middle of the cabin, wincing at the pain and trying to look at the brighter side of things.

I aint dead.  I’ll get out of dishes for the next six weeks. And as was pointed out by so many readers…at least I’ll have more time to write.

 

 

 

May 17, 2014

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After spending six months pretending we were on Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, the adjustment back to cabin life has been a bit of shell shock. Frozen water pipes and batteries didn’t help to ease us back into the woods with grace, but rather encouraged tantrums and big-baby-fits by all. We’ve since gotten the water to thaw and flow enough to trigger the on-demand-hot-water-heater we adore, giving us a trickle of a shower…even if it is in the dark.

With four dead batteries running 400 bucks each, we’re back to flashlights and kerosene these days while we await a couple of paychecks and recuperate from the $7 per gallon fuel on the return trip through Canada. Life on the road is expensive. Multiply it times five kids, three dogs, two cats, six months and a fuel guzzling diesel, you’ve got one mighty spendy trip. Who needs retirement, anyway?

And so a flashlight dangles from a nail just above the shower wall, a magnetic flashlight shines across my cook top and a lantern sits upon the counter waiting for the Alaska midnight sun to fade beyond the volcano dotted skyline before being lit.

It’s just before one a.m. and since a gaggle of giggling teenagers are sleeping in a tent on my back forty, I’m awake and on guard. Cooked by flashlight, I’m devouring a mushroom/egg breakfast burrito in the dark while typing away on my laptop with exactly 13 minutes remaining before I fade into the dark, just me at the distant giggle of girls in the woods.

It’s good to be here, though, despite the trials of adjustment.  And as life gets back to normal and our spoiled selves get back in tune with the difference between want and need, I’m sure we’ll remember why we came out here to the woods.  I’m sure of it…any day now.  Six minutes of battery life….goodnight.

 

 

Dreams Delayed

Me Graduation

In the spring of ’03 I had just finished up the third year of my writing degree at Linfield College. My fellow students were planning their summer vacations, jobs, going home to a family.

I was raising one.

One morning my professor handed me a piece of paper with a circled ad.  It was for an internship at a publishing house in Portland.  ‘Apply for it,’ he said, emphatic.  And so I did.

I can still smell the copy and bindings, slick sheets of creamy paper heaped on desks, shelves to the ceiling, books and boxes piled high.  I wore borrowed slacks and stumbled through my first, and only, real interview at thirty-two years old.  They hated me, I just knew it. Before I got home there was an email waiting, asking when could I start.

I came from my computer elated, floated into the living room excited to tell the news.  I remember this moment like it wasn’t eleven years ago. People always remember the moment their lives changed.

But I remember the moment mine didn’t.

Because when I walked into the living room all seven of the children who lived with me sat. Sixteen, fifteen, twelve, ten, nine, six, and four years old, all flopped down on the floor watching Blue’s Clues, heads turning to me because that’s how we were, them and I.  And I knew. I knew I couldn’t take it.

Forget that over half of them were special needs. Forget the diagnoses, the histories of some of my kids. Discounting the DD, FAS, ODD, RAD, SID and every other acronym bombarding them.  Forget the caseworkers, the visitations, the court cases and eminent reunification or adoptions. Forget the turn-of-century house remodel and the husband who already carried me. Heaving that heavy load aside…I could have made it work.  Maybe I could have anyway. I don’t know.

What I do know is that the forty hours a week, unpaid  internship that I couldn’t accept…would have changed the course of my life. I would have walked away with an education college couldn’t offer and the experience to maybe land the job of my dreams. I would have walked away with connections. I would have walked away with a different life. Better? I don’t know. Maybe just different.

It’s the proverbial fork in the road where we are forced to choose a path and sometimes we have to take the paved route. Not easier. Certainly not easier. But smoother…for those along for the ride.

And you will say, ‘Oh,Keri…but look at the lives you’ve changed with your kids…and how you’ve built a family…and how they love you. Blah…blah blah…” And I know. Life is about choices and at that moment, those kids needed me more. I know this is true and I pat myself on the back when nobody is looking but sometimes… I just want it to be about me.

Sometimes I want to climb to the top of the laundry heap and scream, “When? When is it my turn?”

Oh, but if I’d chosen that rutted, twisted path through the woods, how different things might have been. And most days…honestly…I’m tempted to trade a kid or two for the chance to find out.

And the husband says to me, “We’re almost there…hold on…” But I fear, in the deepest part of me, that he is wrong.

 

 

 

 

Things I Don’t Tell You

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Me today…and how I look 98% of the time.

The other day on my Facebook page, I commented something about having a bad day.  A reader replied, saying she was relieved I was having a bad day because it seemed like I always knew what to do…or something like that. I laughed out loud…shook my head…and started to type.

It’s so easy to appear, in the world of the internet, as if we’ve got it all together. But the reality is, there’s much, much, much more to my life of dysfunction that I don’t share. Not because I want to come across as some super-parent who knows all the answers…but because my kids deserve SOME privacy. And honestly, so do I.

And so I don’t tell you every time I screw things up. I don’t sign on here and say, “Hey, I just lost it on my kid and I feel like shit now.”  But trust me…every…single…day…I screw up.  Just like you. I’m here to entertain…not to depress, and so I keep much of my life to myself and only share what I think will either A. be helpful or B. entertain.

Here is a list of some of the things I don’t tell you:

I cuss.  Not a little. A lot. Like when I stub my toe for the sixteenth time, or bite my tongue. Watch out. Sometimes, ‘Oh Fudge’ just doesn’t cut it.

I’m a yeller. Ask my kids.

I don’t like to cook. I have no idea how my family is still alive.

Anthony is one of 9. One died from abuse and one died of bone cancer. Three of those remaining have severe mental health issues resulting in long term residential hospitalization…as children. His odds of ‘normalcy’ are not good.

I don’t tell you when my kids do really, really, really stupid things. Which happens OFTEN. They deserve SOME privacy.

One of my kids will live with me well into adulthood, if not forever. I’m terrified of that commitment.

We almost didn’t adopt Robin because her voice was so high pitched; it was painful to listen to her. Only dogs knew what she was saying. Adenoid removal saved her.  Plus, she’s cute.

I have a double chin I hide in all photographs.

The things I can’t tell you…are really the most entertaining.

People who don’t know me think I’m patient and kind with my children. People who know me are laughing right now as they read this.

I wish I could get a do-over with my first couple of foster kids…I had no idea what I was doing and probably did more damage than good.

I hardly ever cry over anything.  My kids say I’m dead inside. This morning I lost it, like heaving, sobbing, lost it.

I left high school half way through my junior year because I was pregnant.  That sucked.

I’m afraid of the water. But I love to boat. Go figure.

My whole family is sarcastic and sometimes people think we are rude…but really we are just hilarious. To us.

One of my kids, on their first day in my home said, “I don’t let nobody under my blankets anymore…” I will never forget that sentence.

Mya’s mom was my foster daughter. She was fourteen when she had Mya and left us at eighteen.  I don’t talk about that either.  Someday, with her permission, I will. It will be a best-seller.

When people tell me they understand my life, because they have kids too…I secretly want to smack them down.  They have no clue.People raising adopted fosters are nodding their heads…those who are not may be offended by that statement. That’s okay. I don’t know what it’s like to be you, either.

Billy is my favorite even though he makes me crazy. I think it’s because he needed me the most. Don’t tell the other seven.

Sometimes I wish I had never adopted any children.   

Sometimes I want ten more.

I sleep with multiple stuffed moose and my husband has individual voices for each one…they wake me up in the morning.

I would love to live completely remote. I don’t really like people.

I had an abortion when I was young. I live with that. Maybe that’s why I take in kids…to right the wrong. I don’t know…

If I could never step into a mall, department or grocery store again in my life, I would be immensely happy.

I know every detail of every episode of ‘Friends’.

Destini and I have non-stop witty banter. We never stop. We crack ourselves up. The rest of the kids just stare at us.

I parent my kids with a sort of military commander style. I have to…if I don’t they’ll take over.

The year I was eighteen, I went a little crazy. Divorced, two year old daughter…I went into party mode and my mom raised my kid for a while. I’m not ready to talk about that yet.

Statistically, three out of four foster children have been sexually abused.  I don’t talk about that here.

I cautiously believe in the phenomena of psychic ability. I’ve had some experiences that leave me wondering.

I smoked enough pot when I was eighteen to medicate the state of Colorado.

I graduated magna cum laude from a top private college at 34 years old and wish I could go back and do it all again. I’m proud of that.

I rarely put my laundry away. It travels directly to my bed, to the floor, to my bed, to the floor….

I wear contacts and am pretty much legally blind without them. My vision is like 20/525.  I want surgery.

Luke speaks so quietly that nobody can hear him. Like that girl on Pitch Perfect.

Two of my kids have the same RAD diagnosis. If you’ve parented RAD you are cringing right now.

My older brother is awesome at everything he has ever done and I hate that he’s so nice I can’t even hate him.

Destini’s name came from the Eagles song, The Last Resort.  “In the name of Destiny, and in the name of God…”

I have played, and completed, every Zelda game since the first Nintendo came out.

I provide birth control for my kids because I was a mother at sixteen and I don’t wish that on them.

Adopted kids and biological kids do not evoke the exact same emotion. It’s not the same. You don’t love them less…you’d still throw yourself in front of a bus for them. It’s just different.  That sounds bad. But true.

I am obsessed with old books. Any old book. It doesn’t have to be valuable…just old. (Keri Riley, PO Box 39288 Ninilchik, Alaska 99639 for those feeling the urge to send me old books. Or money…)

I was married from sixteen to eighteen to Heather’s dad.  I have some really good memories mixed in with that horror of a marriage.

When I was seventeen years old, I attended ten weeks of Nail Technology School and learned to do acrylic nails. I barely passed.  I don’t know who that girl was…

Heather, Destini and I sound exactly the same when we speak.

I can’t write on command. This is why I rarely blog.  When it comes to me it pours out of my fingers and I don’t care if I’m using proper grammar. I write, how I think. And I rarely edit. That’s what makes my words real.  Like this.

Child of a Child

I was just two weeks into motherhood when I took a job at the Dairy Queen on 28th drive and Cactus in Phoenix, Arizona and made the first of many bad parenting choices.  A few days past my seventeenth birthday, I was still fresh from prom nights, backseats and football games, not quite ready for the impromptu marriage and screaming baby I’d locked myself in to.  But locked in, I was.

Just two months before I’d been home in Alaska, safely ensconced in my parent’s basement, watching as my teen body engorge into a woman.  Brian left state long before I was showing and headed off to college while I stayed home and wailed to my parents about undying love.  Finally, eight months, in they acquiesced to my request to marry. I wondered, even then for brief seconds, of the future.  But reason is rarely in the forefront when love and immaturity are involved.

I flew to Phoenix and stepped from the plane into the stifling night air where Brian didn’t run from my swollen belly and hopeful eyes.  He took me home to a house he’d rented with four other college boys in a neighborhood better known for traffic in the obscurity of night than for lawn ornaments and pool parties.  We rented a back bedroom with no air conditioning or fans.  The unfamiliar heat clutched my pregnant body, suffocating my already tilting will.  The incessant late night traffic stops in front of the house; the coffee table engulfed in melted candle wax and zigzags; and the early sixty’s corvette tarped in the back yard should have been an indicator that more was going on in the house than studying but I kept to my bedroom, splayed out on the bed sparsely dressed, and tried to remember why I’d ever wanted to leave my parents basement.  It was a lonely time.

Brian worked nights for the United Parcel Service, throwing boxes late into the night in a sweaty warehouse, and then studying afterward for his classes the next day.  A Business Management major fast tracking through a B.A. in under three years, Brian had his goals set, his life before him and dreams coming true.  Until he’d knocked up his teenage girlfriend.

Eventually we found our own apartment and my parents sent us the money to move. My father had not talked to me since I’d left home, unable to utter a word to the daughter who lived in sin.  Or perhaps he just couldn’t swallow the fear in his throat long enough to speak.  Either way, we’d promised to marry and so we did and then my father sent some money. It was a fair trade.

We found home in a brown stucco complex, a one bedroom apartment on the bottom floor with swirled orange countertops and supersized cockroaches.  We owned a striped corduroy couch given to us by an elderly lady and carried three buildings over, a cinder block book shelf, a small dresser and a wind-up baby swing I’d traded a twenty dollar bill for in a time when minimum wage was $3.35 an hour. And then we had a baby and Heather slept in a dilapidated dresser drawer on the dingy floor.

I took a job at the Dairy Queen two weeks after giving birth, where breast milk dampened my uniform shirt front and tired feet barely held me to the tiled floor.  By night I kept alive a living creature, so delicate and dependent.

I was to be at work by noon, yet Brian had class and would not arrive home until quarter past.  I needed that job badly.  I was young. I was painfully shy. I was selfish. I was a child.  And so each day at five till noon I’d swath my immobile infant tightly in a blanket, prop her into the swing and strap her snuggly around the middle.  I turned the knob quietly, soothing her as I did, helping her to find her tiny thumb and push it far into her mouth, suckling until she slept.  The swing pushed her gently back and forth, no different really than a mothers pulsing sway, I told myself. And then I walked out the door.

I’d run across the complex in the heat, my heavy, milk-filled breasts aching as my heart. Fifteen minutes, I reconciled.  Only fifteen minutes would she be alone and she was fine, wrapped so snug.  Brian would be home and he would call me when he arrived in just fifteen minutes.  Fifteen very long minutes. And Brian would push the pedal on that old Gallaxy, always arriving home just in time. And so it went for weeks.  Until one day my schedule changed and we no longer had to do it.

I was young, I could tell you.  I was naïve.  Sometimes all you  have to give just isn’t enough.  I was just a child myself…and I’d like to say I didn’t know.  But I knew what I was doing.  I knew.  And after the first couple of times, it wasn’t even really that hard…

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Related Stories:

Sixteen And Pregnant I

Sixteen And Pregnant II

Fragments Of Sanity

 

 

 

This Is My Land

It was more than forty years ago that my in-laws, just after giving birth to their seventh child (my husband) purchased an acre of land. An escape, they said, from the L.A. life they found themselves living. Bud worked the assembly line at General Motors in Van Nuys, and Patricia worked in a medical office.  An escape from the city was just what they needed. And so, sight unseen from a brochure, they bought an acre of paradise just outside of Redding, California.

I can’t adequately describe the years of family time on that little acre in the woods.  For those parents, their seven children, the grandchildren and even great grandchildren to follow, it was where life found joy, kids found innocence and adults found their youth again.  For the Riley family, it was where life began…and even ended.

When Bud passed away his ashes were placed in a memorial rock on the site.  Those who knew him had no doubt that is exactly as he would want it to be, and so it was.  Photos were placed on the spot, memories recited, and grandchildren who didn’t know the man learned of his life through stories and tales swapped over the campfire.  For the family, it was a place where siblings, not always close, could get together for a weekend and emerge reunited, as if time had never passed and life had never eaten at the bond.

And last week, in a wildfire sparked in the hot summer California sun, it burned.

Communities were evacuated, homes were lost, families devastated by the loss of all they owned. The land around the property scorched unrecognizable.  An old camper left nothing but remnants, a grandchild’s red wagon a blackened shard of metal.  The fire pit where family remembers 40 years of marshmallows and laughter is left unusable.

And not twenty feet away, a circle of life remains.  A memorial to a man who worked nights on the assembly line for thirty years and raised seven excellent kids.  A man who’s smile will carry on in his sons and whose love for chocolate milk in his daughters, who wasn’t perfect but was perfectly okay with that and a man who’s love for his family shown through his gruff toughness and devotion.  That circle surrounding where his ashes lay to rest, remained untouched.

As if the fire knew he was not to be trifled with.

And so the family will clean, will rebuild, will still gather.  They will grow from that small circle of green grass and standing trees, drawing on the memory of the man who once stood strong on that spot, forty years ago with his children at his side and said, “This is my land.”

This Blog Is Not Real

 

Last night a young lady with a history much like my children’s wrote me a message and asked for advice.  But before she asked, she spent several paragraphs telling me why she wasn’t worthy of my time.  “…as if reading your blog somehow makes me worthy of placing myself in your life,” she said.

As if my time, my attention, my compassion was something of value and she…was not.

I can string words together in a way that is appealing to some, and I can make people laugh or cry… but that does not make me any more important than she.  It does not make me special.  It doesn’t make me somehow more worthy than  anyone else.  Nor does it make me any less in need of help, attention, or advice.

Because this blog is not ‘real’.  The internet is not ‘real’.  These are just words I put out there, only part of the whole, a fraction of what or who I am.  It is, in some aspect a persona created by me…not really ‘me’ at all…

It doesn’t make me anything, really.  Just someone who writes things down. And just like Tom Cruise, or that guy who stands on the street corner, my tummy rumbles when I eat Mexican food.  Because when it comes down to it…we are all exactly the same.

My everyday life is real.  My soft cheeks, my waistline, and dirt under my fingernails…those things are real.  Fights with my husband; saying things to my children I can’t take back; having a baby at sixteen and never really outgrowing the stigma; and raising other people’s damaged children and wishing I wasn’t needed.  Real is the arthritis that plagues my fingers as I type; the pain in my children’s soul when they open their memories to past abuse; watching my parents grow old and knowing I am doing the same; the fat cat that sleeps by my feet as I write.

All real.

Wondering if my children are more messed up than when they came; my spare bank account; crooked teeth; occasional deep down self-loathing; and the painful words of this girl who has never met me, whose history haunts her to the point that she writes to me…a stranger she hopes has some answers.

Those things are real.  And sometimes I come on here and write when my mouth can’t find the words and somehow my fingers can. And I write, and people say, “Oh, I love your honesty…” and I think, “Oh, if you only  knew the mess I am inside…”

Being able to write it all down is just a skill I possess, like some can swing a baseball bat, sing, knit a scarf or multiply without a calculator.  Having writing skills doesn’t make me special and it certainly doesn’t entitle me to deem my time more worthy than this strangers needs.

And because deep down we all suffer the same insecurities,  when this girl came to me, with her beautifully written words of pain and struggle, telling me she is not worthy of my time…my first thought was,

“But, honey…what makes you think I am worthy of YOURS?”

I Am Mom…Do I Work?

Last year my daughter was assigned to interview a person about their job for school.  She asked, “Can I interview my mom?”

“Does she work?” asked the teacher.

Hmmmm…do I work…

For the better part of my adult life I’ve been at home with my kids.  I don’t have a ‘job’.  I don’t get a paycheck.  I don’t get fifteen minute breaks, paid vacation or accrue overtime.

I am the cleaner-upper when a kid vomits all over her waste length hair at two a.m

I am a crawl inside the tub of icy water, hold the baby close because she’s burning up with fever…and know her screams are caused by my own hands…mom.  That’s MY JOB.

I am the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, and Santa.  I am a stealth wrapper, stuffer, hider and under-pillow-slider, moving through the house like a silent breeze, leaving behind magic, wonder, faith and awe.

I am a calendar.  I remember clarinets, swimsuits, science projects, lunches, homework, gym clothes, snow pants, boots and backpacks all in the ten seconds before walking out the door.

I am a detective.  I know who brushed their teeth and who only ran the water.  I know which one didn’t put on clean underwear.  I know if that quarter belongs to that child.  I know what pot smells like…and what ‘high’ acts like.

I am a lie detector.

I am a cookie maker, car-pooler, laundry-doer, rash-investigator, plate-scraper, booboo kisser, homework checker.

I am the bench-sitters biggest fan…at every…single…game.  I’m the picture-taker, the memory-maker, the Facebook photo poster…so the moms who have to work…who pout and stomp their feet and still have to miss the game…can get a glimpse at their child’s best moment ever…and know I was there to love in their place.

I am an advocate for special needs education.  I am a lazy teacher’s worst nightmare.  I am a good teacher’s biggest defender.

I am hope for the ‘over-coming’ one.  I am a fixer of broken children.

I am a bedtime reader, snack-giver, milk pourer, ear cleaner.  I’m a knock-knock joke ‘who’s there-er’, a home-made necklace wearer, and an “I-made-this-for-you” collector.

I am the one who is often jealous of those women who have a “job” or a “life” outside of their kids.  I envy their self-worth, their active brain cells, and their non-sweats-wardrobe.  I’m glad they can do it all.  I’m happy if they’ve found a balance…and I’m sad if they haven’t.

But I am also a thankful, husband-loving, kid-raising stay-at-home mom…grateful every single day that I was given the opportunity to CHOOSE this life.

I am a mom.

Do I work?  Hell yes, I do.

SNOW DAY!

Anderson Hill, near Ninilchik, Alaska…

In celebration of our first completed week doing our schooling at home…and after all the kids were finished with their work…we hit the sledding hill down the road.  Billy built a jump…and it was all ‘downhill’ from there!

Luke…has…no…nerve…endings. He bursts throug the jump…
He face plants...
And he comes up smiling!

 

And then he does it again!
Mya takes the plunge...

Billy attempts snow boarding…

 

It doesn't really work out for him...

 

Nice landing...
Billy watches the kids take the jump...

 

Steven has a style all his own...

 

Smiling as always...

 

Robin bursts into the scene...

 

And since she also has no nerve endings...

 

She survives the hit...
Robin takes a break...
Billy goes again...

 

Luke kept losing his sled down the hill...so we told him to HOLD ON to it...

 

And he does...to the bitter end.

 

 

He starts to twist...

 

Figures he may as well attempt a backflip...
Such style...
Robin hits the scene in reverse!

 

Keeps on going...

 

And lands with style!

 

Three Small Things

Originally written in May, 2011…re-posting.

A small brush fire near my home last night brought a trooper to my door saying to prepare for the worst…the wind was taking it our direction…be ready to leave without warning.  Warning. Wasn’t that what he just gave us?

I went back into the house and gathered the children.  “Pack your school backpack with some good clothes,” I told them.  “And three small things that are important to you.”

Three small things.  It seemed like a good number.  Then I Facebooked what was happening…because what else would I do?

I went to my bedroom closet and pulled out two tubs of photographs.  I grabbed my childhood teddy bear from my headboard and stuffed him in the box.  I loaded my laptop, my camera, my hard drive and my photos into the truck. Done.  I went to check on the kids.

Anthony was in his room carefully scanning his things.  He’d loaded a shoe box of special books, his drawing notebook, and three dirty socks.  He then shoved his six dollars into his pocket.  He left behind the tattered stack of photos of his birth family that had been lying next to the money.  Interesting.

The two small boys, who’ve only been here since February, were carefully watching the commotion.  They’d each put one pair of jeans and a shirt in their bag and waited by the door.  That’s it.  That is all they wanted.  Kids who shuffle through the system don’t attach to anyone…or anything.  Everything they’d ever needed was standing next to them, holding a matching Spiderman backpack.

I stood on the back deck.  Our normally silent neighborhood was filled with sirens, helicopters, spotter planes circling overhead.   The road that passes our house, usually used once a day by one neighbor checking on his horses, was a superhighway of curious onlookers…checking what was happening…seeing how much time they had to find their three small things.

Text messages came in from people on scene. Someone had fired up a dozer and was building a dirt wall around a friend’s home.  Firefighters from 50 miles away were on scene along with our local volunteers, fighting to save their neighbors’ homes.  Within minutes of the first sign of smoke help flooded in from all over. Miracle workers…ordinary people…risking their lives for us.

Billy emerged from the shop where he’d scanned the tools, deciding what daddy would want…since he was helplessly at work, waiting to hear news.  He and I loaded our best four-wheeler into the back of the truck, glanced at all the snow machines, the off-road projects, the plow truck, the 1200 square feet of wall to wall tools, the years of compilation…and then looked away.  Nothing we could do.

Robin leaned against the rail of the deck, watching the commotion.  She’d put Mya’s hamster in the truck, since Mya wasn’t home, and had her history book in hand…ready to throw it to the flames.

“That’s the great thing about being adopted,” she said in her sarcastic way.  “No childhood memories to pack up.  I’m ready to go.”

Destini came from her bedroom with a duffle bag, her purse, and Patch, her stuffed Dalmatian.

“That’s all you’re taking?” I asked.

“It was weird,” she said.  “I stood there in my full room, looking around at my clothes, all the collectibles, the things I’d had forever…and suddenly none of it really mattered.”

None of it really mattered.

When it came down to it…when we thought we may have just minutes to gather our most important things…each one of us on our own had made the split second decision to leave it all behind.

I’d packed my photos and the computer that held my photos and didn’t even consider anything else.  Destini had left behind 17 years worth of living and carried a favorite stuffed dog.  Billy had brought nothing of his own…but tried to salvage things for daddy.  Robin had pondered the bright side of having no memories to gather, and thought only of the pets.  Anthony had abandoned his birth family photos in favor of six bucks.  And two boys who’d never had anything to begin with walked away without even flinching…like they’d done so many times before.

And now I sit here in all my clutter of crap and wonder why we spend our lives accumulating things that in the end….never even mattered at all.

The Shield Of Confidence

 

In 2004 I graduated with a 3.89 GPA from one of the highest rated private colleges on the west coast.  And I did so, while parenting eight children, six of whom had some kind of special need.  My final semester I managed 25 credits at two different colleges, picking up some missing credits at the local community college so I could complete my B.A. in the four year time slot I’d given myself.

I’m smart.  I’m capable.  I’m a survivor…and I know this about myself.  Without doubt. I feel good about my accomplishments and I’m proud of who I am. I say that…with confidence.

And yet, on a daily basis, I question myself.  I experience self-doubt over everything.  And I continually assume people are looking down on me for something, anything, everything.

It’s called self-value and though most days I feel quite solid, the smallest, most meaningless comment from someone…even a stranger…brings up in me once again, that lack of confidence I carried as my shield and crutch, for so many years.

It has been my constant companion, these four decades, and I’m tired of it.

I don’t dress fancy. I don’t own a dress. I don’t spend more than sixteen seconds on my hair and my mascara tube has long ago dried up.  And more often than not, I’ve coffee dribbled down the front of my shirt just seconds before walking into a meeting, like I did this morning.  My words don’t come out the way I want them to and I worry I sound “backwoods” when I speak.  My thoughts, though they make perfect sense inside my head, often come from my mouth in seemingly some illogical jumble of miscommunication and I wonder if I sound like the incompetent child that is hiding inside.

And then I want to crawl back into the hole of hiding, behind the shield of protection I carry, where nobody can judge me and where I can again, feel good about myself.

I wonder, as do so many I hope, how to heal those old scars.  How to finally feel like a “grown-up”.  How to place myself on an even plane with the rest of the world.

It’s interesting, actually, how others seem to ooze self confidence while I pretend to do the same, all the while feeling like a little girl dressed in her mother’s high heels, playing grownup and hoping nobody notices I’m not what I pretend to be.  I’m wondering how long before the world catches on that I’m really just twelve, in a grown-up shell, still lost and floundering, not knowing what I want to be when I grow up.

And I say these things not so people will tell me good things, or pump my ego with cry’s of support.  I say them because they are real, these annoyances of self-doubt that run my life.  They are inside me…and I wonder if I’m the only one.

Tell me I’m not the only fairly successful, confident person out there who struggles with this.  Tell me, now that I’m in my forty’s, that this will go away!

Tell me…I’m not crazy!

 

 

Children Will Remember

As parents, we spend our lives trying to be good enough.  Trying to keep up.  We worry that we’ve failed.  We worry that we’ve screwed up our kids to the point of no return because somehow we’ve not been good enough…as parents.  But let me explain something.

Our children will not remember their childhood the way we think they will.

They won’t remember if your hair was doing that ‘woohoo’ thing at their Christmas concert.  They will remember that when they entered the gym, their eyes scanned the bleachers and locked with yours.

They won’t notice if they found their cereal bowl in the cupboard or in the dishwasher or even if they had to wash it themselves once in a while.  They will remember that on Sundays, you made happy face pancakes.

They won’t have a clue that one Christmas you were flat broke and they got fewer toys.  They will remember that you made them a quilt out of old t-shirts and they will use it to swaddle their own children.

They will not remember that you cleaned and scrubbed while they were playing outside.  They will remember that once you knelt in the dirt pile and vroomed Hotwheels with them all afternoon.

They will not see the holes in their jeans, care about mismatched socks, or remember what brand of purse you carried.  They will remember the smell of daddy’s t-shirt he let them wear to bed…long after he’s gone.

They won’t remember going to the theater with friends.  They will remember being pressed against your thigh on the couch, watching a movie, one hand in the popcorn bowl.

They won’t remember that you didn’t hike as fast as they did.  They will remember that you climbed to the top of the steepest mountain, just to show them the view.

They will never recall the smell of the fancy dinners you prepared on the holidays.  They will remember  every single hotdog they cooked over an open fire and the way you knew they didn’t like mustard.

They won’t care if their bed was never made or that the blanket didn’t match their curtains.  They will remember the way it felt when you tucked the blankets around them and called them a burrito baby.

They will not care what you looked like in a swim suit.  They will remember that you went on the field trip to the pool anyway and were the one parent who didn’t sit to the side and watch.

They will not have lifelong damage from mud overdose.  They will remember the way the ooze felt between their toes and the look on your face when you found them…and joined in.

SO step away from the dishes.  Leave that pile of laundry on the couch, forget about homework once in a while.  Unclench your jaw and relax.  That’s what I’m going to try to do.

Because when I am old and I am gray, and I cannot do the things that I can do today…my children will not remember that my dishes were foul.  My children will remember that I could run…I could whoop…and I could howl.

It’s The Little Things…

It’s the little things that get to you.

It’s the, “Not Me” that always gets blamed.  The Birds and the Bees that needs explained.

It’s the cookies hidden beneath the bed.  The fifteen millionth book to be read.

The science fair project that’s due tomorrow.  The hand held out, wanting to borrow.

It’s the crusty, inside out, balled up socks.  It’s the collection of bugs, and the one of rocks.

 

It’s the little things that get to you.

 

It’s the piddle on the toilet seat.  The “mom, you know I don’t eat meat.”

The toothpaste smeared inside the sink. The “momma, can I have a drink?”

It’s the washcloth on the bathroom floor.  The slamming of the gosh-darn door.

It’s the peanut butter knife embossed to the plate.  The “But you never said I couldn’t date.”

 

It’s the little things that get to you.

 

It’s the had-to-have-pup that’s never fed.  The rapid-fire vomit on the edge of the bed.

It’s the missing shoe that’s gone forever.  The ‘ma, what happens if I pull this lever?”

It’s the soaking coat left in the rain.  The Easter dress with the ketchup stain.

It’s ‘yes, the cats have water,’ when they clearly don’t.  It’s litter box scoopers and the “no, I won’t.”

 

It’s the little things that get to you.

 

It’s the grad night party.  It’s the letting go. It’swaiting by the window for headlights to show.

It’s that tiny fist, striking out on its own.  It’s the thought of them leaving.  Of being alone.

It’s the months before college, those last few days. When those little things, is all you crave.

It’s those moments called ‘life’…and you hadn’t a clue.  It was the little things that would get to you.

Sixteen And Pregnant – Part Two

 

Part One Here

I lay on top of the pale green sheets on the eighth floor of John C. Lincoln Memorial Hospital and stared out at the night.  It was August of 1988 and the thunder raging outside the fourth floor window seemed a warning of things to come.  Bolts of fire lit up the black sky with great crackling power, like the fiery pain shooting through my insides as the child trapped within fought to get out.

It was three weeks since my due date had come and gone.  Three weeks of carrying my heavy load, both figuratively and literally, longer than I’d planned.  I’d tried everything for those twenty-one days from hot, spicy food to hot, spicy sex and nothing had worked.  All the doctor recommended walking; the high impact speed bumps in the parking lot of my apartment building; even the six hours spent exploring an antique mall had done nothing.  Finally, in the wee hours of Saturday morning on August 27th, the pressure began to pulse in to tight pains spaced every three minutes.  And it had begun.

I turned on my side and stared out at the window, counting the seconds from lightning to thunder and wondered if God would get me back this way. Perhaps he’d strike me down for all my wrongs and if he was going to do it, I wished he’d hurry because the pain was excruciating.  A woman in the next room screamed every few minutes and I wondered if she too was wishing she’d swung into the 7-11 for a condom, one fateful night nine months back.

Every three minutes…every one hundred eighty seconds, give or take…every cell of my body wrenched in pain as my lower back and stomach clenched together, trying to expel the invader inside.  I’d started out laboring at three minutes apart and now, about twelve hours later, my body had barely begun to progress.  It was Saturday night. And things were still happening three minutes apart.

We’d come into the hospital that evening after a competative game of Monopoly during which I paused between rolls of the dice to breathe through the pain. We broke all the rules and stopped for take-out Chinese food on the way because I knew that upon arrival, it would be nothing but ice chips for me.  A greasy eggroll seemed like a smart move at the time…maybe not so much a few hours later.  My mother had advised against it from the back seat, but clearly, I had not recently listened to my mother.

It was daylight again when the doctor pushed a hook inside me and broke my water.  Tepid fluid ran from my body and the doctor, in all his professional wisdom, said, “Uh oh.”

My water was green, he said.  And because I was sixteen I thought that sounded about right.  What other color would it be? But I was wrong. The baby was under stress, he told me.  Stress…? I wondered.  What did he think I was under?

Thirty hours in and my labor pains had continued…every three minutes.  About six hundred contractions.  But who’s counting.

Thirty-two hours.  Thirty-three.  Thirty-four hours from the first sign of labor, I felt the urge to push. And I did.

I watched the ceiling tiles disappear behind me as my bed was wheeled down the hall, into an elevator, and down another long hall into the delivery room.  My mother and my husband of two months came along and I wondered, as we went, who looked more pathetic.  The sixteen year old child about to give birth…the scared little boy trying to play man next to her…or the disapproving young woman watching from the side as she transformed into a grandmother overnight.

And then…I stopped caring.

For two hours, I pushed, my strength wilting with each un-progressive contraction as I struggled to expel what I would find out was a fifteen inch head from my narrow body.  No pain medications were allowed, they said.  It might hurt the baby.  Screw the baby, I thought aloud.  But nobody listened.

Ice chips melted lazily against my tongue, barely penetrating the thirst from which I suffered.  With each contraction I rolled forward and pushed with everything I had.  My body, not yet that of a woman, rebelled against the expulsion.  It stretched.  It contorted.  It cried out.  Until finally, thirty six hours into the ordeal, a child was born into the world.  A child…born to a child.

Thick black hair covered her head. Wide green eyes looked up at me from her wrinkled face.  Her head, smashed and distorted from so long in the birth canal, made her lopsided. They held her to me, still warm and covered in my body.

She was beautiful. She was mine. I held her close. And I said all the right things. But inside…I was screaming. Inside my child’s mind I wanted nothing more than for it to all just go away.

The nurses pressed her to my breast and I turned.  I rolled onto my side.

And I told them to leave me alone.

Sixteen And Pregnant- Part One

 

On July 7, 1988, I found myself traveling across Phoenix, Arizona in an un-air-conditioned 67 Gallaxy with red leather seats sticking to the backs of my thighs.  Windows rolled down, pony tail flying in the wind, I looked out at the city rolling by…so far from Alaska, so far from home…and wondered how I’d come to be there.

I laid one hand across my swollen middle, tugged at the sweaty white satin of my wedding dress as it clung to every curve in the 120 degree sun and tried to imagine a different dream.  One where I wasn’t about to marry in a courthouse, far from home, eight months pregnant and completely in denial. It was hard to focus on the dream with the baby kicking inside my womb and Metallica screaming on the radio station as the would-be father sung along as he drove.  I was sixteen years old.

He swung the car into the parking lot of the Maricopa County Courthouse and switched off the 390 big block.  It was a hot car, in every sense, and probably the only thing we had going for us that day.  I opened the car door, put my flip flops on the steaming black pavement and waddled out the door, slamming it behind me.  He gallantly held out his hand and we walked towards the building where we would be determined husband and wife.  He was eighteen years old.

When we arrived inside, he went to the little window to fill out paperwork while I made my way to a grouping of chairs in the waiting area.  I tugged the white satin away from my round figure and looked down to realize that in 120 degrees, white satin coated with sweat becomes almost completely transparent.  Nice.  So I plopped my practically naked, eight month pregnant form onto a hard plastic chair next to an elderly man.

The man looked me over, smiled politely and said, “Are you getting married today?”

“Yes,” I smiled shyly.

“You look lovely.”

God bless him…I almost believed his smiling sincerity until I went to tug my pony tail back into place and found it had slid halfway out down my head and hung, limp and wet, down my back.  Yes…I was a beauty, for sure.  I was eight months pregnant, sweaty, basically naked, too young to see an R-rated movie and about to be married.  I was, no doubt, quite a site.

They called our name and we went into a chamber where the judge looked over his glasses at me, then at him.  Do you have any witnesses, he wanted to know.  We did not.

A few minutes later two small round Hispanic women from the front office entered and stood on either side of us.  Our groomsman…and maid of honor.

Approximately fifty-eight seconds later, I was hitched.  The two sweet women hugged me, said somethin I couldn’t understand, signed and stamped our certificate and yelled out, “NEXT” as we were ushered out the door.

We retraced our steps, through the lobby past the sweet old man who again smiled as I past, no doubt wondering if we’d even make it out the door before we divorced, and back through the thick wall of heat just outside the tall glass doors.

As we pulled from the parking lot, onto the busy street a truck pulled in front of us, the back full of tan, young girls in bikini tops and shorts.  As I tugged my maternity underwear from my skin and felt my baby move with force, he honked his horn, smiled and waved at the girls in the truck.

And so began the spiral of my first marriage…

Part Two

I Cry In The Bathroom

I write these sad stories about my kids…about their survival and their trials. About their successes.  And my readers cry out, “Good job, mom!”…or… “Where would they be without you?”

And I’ll accept the compliments with one raised eyebrow as I think, “They did it despite my failures half the time…”  But I acknowledge my part… I’ll take that pat on the back.  I work hard.  I like the recognition…I’m not gonna lie. Who wouldn’t?

But at the end of the day…and sometime smack dab in the middle of the day… I feel like curling up in the corner and sucking my thumb until it all goes away.

I stomp my foot when I get frustrated.

I lose my temper and say things I shouldn’t.

I slam doors.

I once threw a clay turtle in frustration…and ironically, broke the turtle tank.  That’ll teach me.

I mostly ‘wing it’ and hope for the best, then do it differently next time…and hope for the best again.  Sometimes, it works out.  Sometimes it doesn’t.

And sometimes…I cry in the bathroom.

Sometimes I just want to be left alone.  I hide inside my room and wonder why I’ve never put a lock on my bedroom door.  And when I hear those little footsteps clomping down the hall…sometimes I cringe in expectation of the impending tiny knock, knock, knock and the questions that will follow when I crack my door and say, “WHAT?” for eighteenth time that hour.

And inevitably, there stands a dimple faced child holding an, “I made this for you” drawing of a truck, or a dog…or dinosaur…nobody can tell for sure…and I wipe my face, suck it up, and be the mom.  Because if I don’t…who will?

I’m guessing I’m not alone.

As long as we all have our breakdowns in private…curled up in the tub if that’s what it takes…and the kids never know how close to the brink they’ve driven us…and at the end of the day they all have their heads on straight and nobody goes to bed mad…we’ve survived.

And some days…that’s all that we can ask.

Sixteen and Profitable

Someday I hope to live child-free. And in order see that fantasy happen, I have to get them out of my house…independent…living on their own.  And to achieve that goal, I must teach them how to support themselves, so they don’t come back and live in my basement with their six children and deadbeat spouse.  See, I have goals.

One thing I’ve worked really hard at, is teaching our kids about money. It’s ultra-important to me that my kids are not reliant on others for their income.  I want them to pay their own way…to work hard for a living…and to someday get the heck out of my house.

It didn’t take her long to realize that a tiny drive-thru coffee shop in Ninilchik, Alaska, is not a ‘get-rich-quick-scheme” and that working seven days a week the summer of your sixteenth year, is not an easy commitment to make.So last summer we bought a little coffee shop here in Ninilchik, called it Hooked, and put Destini to work.  But we didn’t just give our kid a business…nope.  We loaned her the down payment…put the license in her name…and put her completely in charge, at sixteen.

But she did it.  She worked, and she worked, and then…she worked some more.  Six a.m. opening, ten hour days, seven days a week.  And when she got really cranky…I’d work a day or two and give her some time to sleep.  She’d also committed to a Youth Leadership Conference in Indianapolis, so I took over for six days while she was gone.  But other than an occasional fill-in, Destini worked pretty much non-stop for three months straight.

And walked away with little more than pocket change.

It’s the American way.But she didn’t come away with nothing.  She learned invaluable lessons about running a business.  She learned about taxes, profit margins, pricing, and ethical business practices.  She learned to calculate to the penny, how much it costs to create a product.  She came up with marketing strategies, product ideas and based them on cost versus price.  And she learned the hard way that sometimes you work your butt off for seemingly no return at all.

She’ll have her whole life ahead of her for that.This year I announced that since I have even more kids in the house than last year, there is no way I can work…short of a few hours here and there.  So she made an executive decision…and hired help.  That means even less money in the pocket…but it’s a small price to pay for sanity and sometimes at seventeen, late night summer fun is even more important than making the big dollar.

(visit HOOKED ESPRESSO and ‘like’ her page…we’ll surprise her with new fans!)

A Letter To My Spouse

I was thinking about us today.  Remembering those years when you had hair and I had a waistline.  Back when we sat, feet to feet on the couch, scheming our next adventure late into the night.  It was a time when it all seemed doable and barriers were more like speed bumps than impossibilities.

When, in the naiveté of our youth, we still believed that we were different, better, smarter than all those who’d come before us.  We thought…no knew… we’d make it where others had failed.  We’d raise our kids better; spend our money more wisely; work harder; and reach higher than all those before us.  We were different.

Oh the things we planned, the sites we soared, the adventures we mapped out in those late night sessions, those long country drives, and those images we conjured in our minds of what we would do…when we could afford it.

But nobody told us that life is what happens…while you’re waiting for life to happen.  And so it did and we didn’t even know it.  We raised some kids, went to college and then we blinked our eyes and twenty years went by.  We didn’t know that time was not limitless; that twenty years was really just a moment away; or that ‘someday’ might be too late.

We didn’t know that for every step forward there would be two steps back.  We didn’t know that kids cost eight times more than the parenting books claim or that nothing turns out as planned.

It never occurred to us, as we planned those great adventures and dreamed so big of all we’d do, that at some point we’d be thankful just to be able to get out of bed in the morning.

And though we may have rerouted our trip, it wasn’t any less adventurous.  It wasn’t any less beautiful.  It wasn’t any less perfect.

And the best part is…it aint over.  No regrets, no looking back.

Let’s just pretend we’re starting out in life…instead of ending up.