5 Years

5 Years

260 Weeks

1,825 Days

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5 Years of milestones

5 years of holidays

5 years of not hearing your voice

5 years of needing advice, but not being able to ask

5 years of missing your hugs

5 years of grieving

5 years of wondering why death is so permanent

5 years of looking for signs that you are still around

 

Most people are talking about the Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump today. Many people are tired from staying up late watching the election coverage. But today, I am tired from spending my night replaying your life and death in my mind. Trying to put on the mask because, after all, it has been 5 years, and people have moved on with their lives.

I feel small today. I am just a woman who is missing her dad. I am not thinking about national security, immigration, or the economy. I am thinking about planning a dinner of spaghetti and meatballs or homemade chicken soup with kluskis in memory of my dad. I hope that what’s left of my family will join me in celebrating his life.

Today, I say good morning to my colleagues, check my e-mails, handle student issues, attend meetings, as if it’s business as usual. I don’t expect anyone at my work to know it has been 5 years since my dad passed away and how hard it has been and continues to be. I wish that I could just scream out to the world, “Today is really hard for me. Please have patience with me. Please be kind to me. Please listen to me tell a story about my dad. Please let me honor him today.”

This got me thinking about people in general.  I see the SAME people every day, yet we don’t know anything about each other; anything meaningful anyway.  And honestly, I get the feeling that people don’t really ‘want’ to know more.  At first I thought it was just the culture of my place of employment, but I see it everywhere. I see this superficial relationship with neighbors, so-called friends, and acquaintances I’m around routinely.  It seems that a lot of people are projecting an image themselves and giving little investment to having meaningful relationships with others. Our world has really lost sight or simply minimized the importance of being genuine. We say the standard good morning. We ask the standard questions about the weekend. We gossip about the latest drama at the workplace. We like a picture on Instagram.

Has it always been like this? Are these shallow relationships enough? If I post something on social media and get validation, do I feel that people care about me?  The answer is NO, NO and NO. Since I’ve made this realization, I can’t help but wonder if I too have fallen into this behavioral trend as well… Is that why I find myself feeling isolated?  Who do we turn to when we really need to have an emotional conversation?

I am reading Daring Greatly right now, and I can’t stop thinking about how Brown emphasizes the importance of the people “in the arena with you” through it all. Of course my dad is irreplaceable, and he is missing from my arena. I feel the emptiness all of the time.

Although the people in my arena seem fewer and farther between, there are also amazing people who are in my arena. They are the people who I have had honest conversation with, the people who have seen me cry, the people who just know when I am struggling or seem off. I need to show gratitude to those people. So, thank you to the people in my arena who have listened to me ramble about my life and genuinely cared.  Thank you for taking the time to really hear me. I would like to foster more deep relationships so that arena can grow, and the only way I know to do that is to genuinely care deeply about the people in my life.

I challenge everyone to have a genuine conversation today. Ask someone how they have been and really HEAR the response. Ask someone to show you a picture of their children or their dog .Appreciate the things that  they are choosing to share with you. Make it a point to compliment someone on something that may otherwise go unnoticed. Let someone talk for the majority of the conversation instead of just waiting for your turn to talk. Practice really getting to know the people who you see every day. They might just end up in your arena one day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Boy without a Grandpa

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When I found out that I was having a baby boy, to be honest, I was a little disappointed. We have always had girls in our family, and we were used to baby dolls and barbies around the house, not footballs and action figures or (what my mom likes to call them) scary guys. We were all a little nervous about what it would be like to have a little boy running around our family. And then he arrived, and he has been making our lives better since day one. I could not imagine my life without a son.

But, there are many moments that sadden me because my dad is not around to help shape him into a man and teach him the traditions of the men in our family’s history. My dad was only fifty-three when he died, and my son will never know the man I knew. My son was only 5 when he lost his grandpa, and I am grateful for the moments that I do have of them together, although my heart aches everyday because I know that they would have inspired each other.

Things I wish my dad could teach my son:

  1. My family is from the south side of Chicago, so Da Bears were a big part of my childhood. My parents even had an old refrigerator with “The Fridge Perry” painted on the front. I remember get togethers in our basement to watch football and my dad doing the Superbowl Shuffle. My dad loved football, and he especially loved the Chicago Bears. My son has just started enjoying watching NFL games on Sunday, and I want my dad to teach him about the game. I want my dad to tell him stories about his football days.
  2. I want my dad to be there when all of the boys in the neighborhood start up a game of flag football. I want him to see my son celebrate his first touchdown and to give him tips and pointers from his personal experiences.
  3. I want my dad to teach him how to handle disappointments and mean kids. My son has such a big heart, like my dad, but sometimes he is too naïve to see when someone is not being a good friend. He needs man to man conversations from a wiser and more experienced man. It has a much different impact coming from mom.
  4. I want my dad cheering on the sidelines of his basketball games telling him that he is proud of the young man he is becoming. I want him to be there to encourage him and teach him. I imagine my dad shooting hoops with him in the driveway on a Sunday afternoon. And when I see my son practicing his new basketball drills, I long for my dad to listen to him talk excitedly about how he wants to be in the NBA. I will never fill that void.
  5. I want him to be there when he is struggling with a new skill. My dad was always a great teacher. He was supportive, patient, and kind. I have those qualities, but I don’t know much about “guy” stuff.
  6. My dad was passionate about gardening was always looking for someone to show how good his tomatoes were looking or how many green beans were hiding in the garden. My son would have given him the reaction he was looking for. He would have been so impressed with grandpa’s peppers and cucumbers!
  7. My grandpa and my dad both had a concrete finishing businesses. My dad was very proud of his trade and had a great work ethic. He never had a son to pass his trade skills down to. I want him to teach my son the importance of taking pride in your work. I want him to show him how to use a bull float, a trowel, and how to drive a bobcat.
  8. I want him to teach my son how to drive a stick shift. I will always remember driving in his truck when I was little. He would put my hand on the shifter and wrap his weathered hand over mine so I could feel the way it worked. As I got older he let me attempt to drive his truck. I never did figure it out. It wasn’t because he gave up on me, it was because I lost interest. How I wish I could go back to that moment.
  9. I want him to spend a cold winter day with my son reminiscing about his life as a boy growing up in the 1960’s. I want them to spend time looking through the old newspaper clippings of “The Toe” and the 4th of July parades. Or showing him his yearbook with pictures of his first girlfriend or old buddies. It’s just not the same coming from me, although I am so grateful to still have some of that memorabilia.
  10. I want him to teach him about our Polish Heritage. I don’t even know if he knew that much, but he knew how to make the best chicken soup with kluskis. I make this every year to celebrate my dad’s life. I want to pass this recipe down from generation to generation.

Mostly, I just want him here. I want my son to have the opportunity to know the man who shaped me. I can try to instill these values or traditions into my son, but no one will ever be able to replace my dad. My son will never have a grandpa and my heart breaks for him, but I appreciate the men that he has in his life, and he is turning out to be a great young man, but I can only imagine the impact my dad would have had on him.

Memoir Project…A Little More

A skeleton with skin draped over his bones stands before me almost unrecognizable, except for his kind, blue eyes begging for someone to show him mercy. The tattered flannel shirt swallows his once muscular body. He has created his own personal Hell and his demons have forced everyone away. He has hurt too many people, but how do I say that to my father?

Words are not exchanged, but I open the door, and let him back into my life. He brings a peace offering, canned goods from the local food pantry, and places the plastic grocery bag on the counter.  He is unable to look me in the eye, he knows I am pissed, and there is nothing he can say, so he slowly starts to place a dented can of peas and box of macaroni noodles on the shelf. My heart sinks to a place deeper than I even knew existed. As I watch, tears fill my eyes, and I have to turn away from him. Looking down, as I try to gain my composure, I notice a hole in the toe of his tennis shoe. They aren’t shoes that I ever remember him having; he always wore construction boots, and I wonder what happened to his boots.

I start to think of the little snippets of changes in his physical appearance. My dad has always been thin, so his weight loss was unnoticeable. It wasn’t even alarming when he was wearing insulated flannel shirts and jeans in the middle of the hot summer months. He was always cold. But, the most shocking change for me was when he started having his teeth pulled because he did not have dental insurance. His sunken in face aged him by at least fifteen years, and I had a hard time looking at my dad after that.

As the movie in my mind flickers back and forth between memories of my strong father and the broken figure in front of me, all I want is my dad to wrap his arms around me, and assure me that everything is going to be ok. I want to be that little girl again who knew that her daddy would always protect her.

You are So Lucky to Have Summer Off

 

Am I? I would love to work over the summer. The transition of working full-time to being a full-time stay at home mom is an emotional battle. If you think I’m lucky, let me describe a typical summer vacation day.

First, 7:30 AM, my toddler rolls on top of me to tell me to wake up and make her some hot chocolate milk and soup for breakfast. If I don’t comply immediately, I will be tortured with repetitive face grabbing and jumping on my head. So, I finally get up after 10 minutes of trying to fight off the 3-foot chocolate milk monster.

As I walk to the kitchen, the ten-year-old is already at the counter making breakfast. Score…one less kid to worry about. Until I see that there were no clean bowls, so he just filled my largest mixing bowl with an entire box of cereal. Oh well, at least he is actually working on his independence, right?

I think I can outsmart my toddler when it comes to getting her to eat a healthy breakfast, so I just make some scrambled eggs (which she loved last month) and tell her breakfast is ready, but the tyrant is no fool. She starts gagging at the sight of them. I guess she can just have the milk and a couple of vitamins. That’s healthy enough. And bonus, I tell the 15-year-old that I made her breakfast, and give her the eggs that were intended for the toddler.

Now, I have to get the 15-year-old to soccer at 9 and the 10-year-old to basketball camp at 9. Hmmm…maybe the teenager can score a ride considering that the whole soccer team lives in the neighborhood. Nope. No one can take her. Really?  Anyway, we are all set to go, and everyone is loaded in the car (which is a battle in itself) when my son realizes he has no shoes. We look for another pair, but apparently, he has lost all of his shoes.

Deep breaths…life could be worse. Fortunately, my son only hangs out at a couple of places, so we track down the shoes.

On the way to soccer practice, my daughter feels the need to continuously remind me that she is going to be late, while the toddler is making blood curdling shrieks from the back seat. I pull into the school parking lot and do a rolling stop as the teenager jumps out of the car reminding me several times that soccer ends at 11; don’t be late!

Onto the other side of town. Ten minutes in the car and the toddler is on her 20th problem. Right now it is a level 10 glass shattering scream that her back hurts. Now I’m on the verge of tears wondering how I will get her to shut up. We finally pull up to the basketball camp and the ten-year-old sprints out of the car! I’m guessing he is relieved to get away from us. At least I remembered to give him his lunch.

Down to one kid, unfortunately she is the most challenging kid that I have at the moment. She is still crying, so I toss her my phone because it is the only way to get home without losing my mind. I drive home for the remainder of the ten minutes in peace, which is the best part of my day. I walk in the door thinking that I’ll have time to clean up the breakfast mess, but then I realize it is almost 11:00, and I can’t be late, and we are back in the car.

I love my kids with everything, but I am counting down the days until summer is over.

Suffering Teaches Persistence

Part 1

“Get through your fear to see through the beauty on the other side.”- The Good Dinosaur

I went to my women’s group last night, and the woman speaking said, “suffering teaches persistence.” One of the lessons I learned through my dad’s addiction was persistence. I have always been an overachiever and felt like I had something to prove. When I got into my teenage years, I hung out with the wrong crowd and headed toward a path that would make all of my dreams and goals much harder to accomplish. As a naïve teenager, I was skipping school to party, spending way too much time with a boyfriend who was bad news, and making choices that would forever change my life. I just didn’t know or care at the time. No surprise that I ended up seventeen and pregnant. I was a disappointment to my family and myself. My parents were ashamed of me, and once the reality set in, I was ashamed too. I would not be going to college to be a news anchor; I was not moving to a big city to have a career in broadcasting. I was only trying to prove to everyone that I was not a failure.

Immediately I told myself that I was not going to be the typical teen mom who dumps my kid with my parents so I could still have my youth.  The emotional suffering of being a teen mom taught me to be persistent. I was not going to let this decision to have a baby at a young age define me. But, I had to make a lot of sacrifices. I was smart enough to know that I needed an education, so I spent the next four years after my daughter was born busting my ass to get a degree. I decided to go to school to be an English teacher because I always loved reading and writing and a teacher seemed like a stable and honorable career for a mother. I had never dreamed of being a teacher, but here I am still teaching middle school over a decade later.

Looking back, I realize that I missed out on the ‘typical’ college experience. I never went to a party, never lived on campus, never went to breakfast club or tailgated at the football games. My life consisted of 21 credit hours per semester, and I made money by cleaning houses on my days off from class. The rest of the time, I was focused on being the best mom that I knew how  to be to my daughter. While my peers were finding themselves, I was going to ‘baby and me’ swim classes and pushing a stroller around the park. I missed out on a lot of my young adult life, which prevented most opportunities for self-discovery.

This isn’t intended to be a pity party, but a lesson in persistence. Although, I suffered in a lot of ways as a young adult, I persevered.  I was the first person in my family to graduate college, and it was the best decision I’ve ever made. There were times where it was incredibly challenging to see people my age living the life that I had imagined for myself, but I found some pride in creating a life for myself and my daughter. My daughter is now almost sixteen years old, and I am so proud of the mom I became and the young woman she is becoming. My hope is that she will learn from my mistakes so that she can live the life she has imagined.

Part 2-Suffering Teaches Persistence

Flash forward five years, and I am a teacher with a home, a car, and feel like I have proven my self worth. Then my dad got sick, and everything changed. He became addicted to prescription drugs and our family began to fall apart. His career quickly declined with the economy, his credibility was tanking, and my parent’s marriage was falling apart. Someone in the family is always the strong one, and I somehow took on that role. Although there was much suffering over the seven years of my dad’s addiction, and all of my efforts to save him failed, I never gave up.

As a young mom trying to figure life out, I once again found myself having to focus on someone else. I spent hours researching rehab facilities, talking and pleading with my dad, discussing solutions with nurses, doctors, and mental health professionals. I was trying to figure out how to get my dad the help he needed on a zero-dollar budget. I went to Al-Anon meetings, which left me utterly frustrated. I took him to Narcotics meetings. I moved him into my home. I took him to various rehab facilities. I was fighting for my dad until he took his last breath.

This tragic experience has shaped a major part of who I am. I may not have fixed my dad, but I know how important it is to be the person who does not give up. He needed me, and I was there.

I don’t give up when it comes to my students. I want them to be successful. I don’t give up on my kids when they test my patience. They need to know that my love is unconditional and that I will always be there.  I don’t give up on my marriage when we hit rough patches. My husband needs to know how much he means to me. I just don’t give up. And although I’ve faced more challenges in my life than I would ever wish for anyone, my life is one that I can be proud of because I am persistent. So whatever your are struggling with, know that your struggles will lead you to greater things.

“We may encounter many defeats but we must not be defeated.”– Maya Angelou

Quick Guide for a Hoosier in San Francisco

Culture Shock

Saturday-Tuesday

Early June

So my husband and I (we are in our mid-thirties) took 4 days to explore the city with no kids. We weren’t really sure what to expect and neither one of us initially had a huge desire to go to San Fran, but it was a new place to explore, so why not? Being from the Hoosier state, we usually like to go to bars and watch sports and were wondering if we would fit in, in Cali.  Or would we stick out like a sore thumb in our cargo shorts and flip flops? The good news is no one fits in, or doesn’t fit in because it’s a melting pot of people.

Here is what we learned.

  1. Flying Southwest…Spend $35 extra bucks to upgrade your seat to “A” boarding if you actually want to sit with the person you are traveling with on the flight. It’s no fun to be forced to sit in the empty seat between a German husband and wife who won’t give up their window and aisle seat for the Four-hour flight! This was especially bad because I wanted to sit by my sexy husband  and BS with him to make the flight a fun experience. We don’t get to do that much with three kids!
  2. San Fran is broken up into “Districts”. Don’t stay in the business district. There is literally nothing happening. The Embarcadero (the earliest opening breakfast venue – 8:30 am) was ok but is not worth mentioning the name of the place. I honestly can’t remember the name.
  3. Expect to walk a lot.
  4. There is some cool architecture around if you’re into that…
  5. Have exact change for the bus or you lose money (That may be the same everywhere, but we never really ride public transportation). Also, KEEP YOUR BUS TICKET after you pay… tickets are good for the whole day. We figured that out after paying 3 times the first day…
  6. We stayed at the Herbert Hotel in the Union District. We liked this area a lot better than the business district. This hotel is small and quiet. Very plain and simple, but great staff. I would not stay here with kids. We got a huge discount for booking a room with a “shared bathroom”.  We couldn’t wrap our minds around what this actually meant until we got there… We had envisioned a jack and jill style bathroom between two hotel rooms… Not the case… There is a single toilet room and single shower room down the hall.  It was totally worth it because our room was 1/3 of the cost, we never saw anyone else, and they were really clean.  Also, Walgreens right next door to the Herbert if you need anything.
  7. The Geary Line 38 and 38R Bus is your best friend. This will almost get you to the Golden Gate Bridge, the Golden Gate National Park, and close to Haight/Ashbury.
  8. Places open late and close early. California is 3 time zones away so expect to wake up at 5am – 6 am out of habit but don’t expect much of anything to be open!!  Even 90% of the damn coffee shops that are supposed to be open for early risers or café that server breakfast were not open!!
  9. Homeless—Drug/Mentally ill – They are all around but we found that they seemed to be harmless. That was a good thing because we also noticed an extreme lack of police presence.
  10. LGBT Community – yeah… I now understand the passion for pushing laws. It is a much larger community than I had ever imagined.

 

What we Did:

Alcatraz

Probably my favorite part of the trip. I love history though. It was worth the money. Also, definitely get your ticket(s) early; I recommend 4 days in advance.image

Pier 39

Nothing to see. I’m not really sure why it would be a tourist destination. There were some local vendors with stands selling crafts, but nothing worth flying across the country for. There were a couple of deli shops. 

China Town

Interesting to see for about five minutes. All of the guides say to get something to eat in China Town. We didn’t take the risk.  It didn’t seem like the restaurants would pass any kind of a health code, but maybe I missed out on some amazing “dim sum”.

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(I still don’t know what that is, but I guess it is something I should have tried while I was there.) 

Golden Gate Bridge

Obviously if you are going to San Fran, you have to see the bridge. It is something that you have to see in person. Although, you really have to go after 9 and before 3 or the fog will cover half of the bridge. There are beautiful views.

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Golden Gate National Park

I really enjoyed the National Park. Be prepared to spend money there. We went to the Japanese Tea Garden. Again, it was really calming and a great experience for ten minutes and 8.00 a piece. But, if you go before 10:00 AM, you can get in free.

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Then we wanted to go into a botanical garden, which again, would be 8.00 a piece. We didn’t go to any of the museums in the park, so I can’t speak to that. We wanted to cover more ground, so we rented bikes. This was my husband’s idea, and it was a fantastic idea! We rode our bikes to the Haight/Ashbury area. 

Haight/Ashbury

This ties for my favorite.  This was the original hippy district with the likes of Janis Joplin and Jimmy Hendrix and hundreds of other musicians that came up short.  Awesome vintage shops and even home to a physician at the west end of the strip that will evaluate people for potential medical marijuana recommendation.  We poked our head in and asked if you had to be a resident of California to obtain a recommendation and the gentleman at the door with tattoos all over his body and face said, “I think you might, but I think there is a way to get around that, you’ll have to ask the doctor”… Gotta love Cali…

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Painted Ladies

Not worth it. We would have passed right by the houses if other people weren’t taking pictures. The park across the street is under construction, so it was closed off with a fence and there were mounds of dirt.

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Overall, any chance that I can go on an adventure and get away with my husband, I’ll take it! We had a lot of laughs and created many new memories. But, I don’t think I need to experience San Fran again. Once was enough. I was happy to be back in the Hoosier State!

Lesson 2-Loyalty

 Somewhere along the line a ‘little’ thing called loyalty became very important to me.  Because of my hypersensitivity to it, I’ve realized that our society honoring this idea less and less.  Some of the people that I come in contact with on a daily basis are lacking this character trait altogether. It has become so easy to just send a text or ignore a call to get out of our commitments, and sometimes I even catch myself wanting to follow suit.  People hastily dismiss the feelings of the person on the other side of that commitment or simply justify their disloyal actions and move on with life.

This observation has caused me to really consider how it became such a defining attribute to my character,  and I feel like it is related to the struggles  I experienced with my father’s addiction to alcohol and prescription drugs.

How does one show loyalty when dealing with an addict? A girl looks to her dad as her hero, at least I did.  There was (is) always a place in a my heart for my dad even when he was at his ugliest.  And generally speaking, I think this is true for daughter’s everywhere.  I realized that my conflict with this started when I was torn with staying loyal to my dad, my hero, even when he turned into the villain. Once doctors realized my dad had a problem, they were done. Business was closed, and they shut the door on my dad and the downfall of his existence.  No loyalty, no love lost.

If I could just give you a glimpse into how I knew my dad, you would understand the devastation that our family went through as we watched him kill himself, his family, and his dreams.  

 I learned that addicts are only loyal to their addiction, and they will do whatever it takes to stay faithful to their drug use. This means breaking commitments to people, even the ones who are loved the most. It starts with the small lies or excuses, but before I knew it my dad was calling me every name in the book if I couldn’t commit to helping him continue his high. No matter how much his words hurt, I knew that deep down my dad was still lost somewhere inside of this nightmare, so I stayed loyal.

I listened to him when he talked about the screwed up medical system. I stayed by his side in the ER, even if I knew it was just for the pain pills, I had heated discussions with doctors on his behalf, I gave him money, shelter, and transportation because that is what people do for the ones that they love. I know that meant something to him, and  I believe that I had a positive impact on his life. Some might say what I did was enabling him, but anyone who has ever dealt with an addict understands the mind-fuck the entire family goes through. I was not supportive of his addiction, but I wasn’t supportive of leaving him on the streets to die either. I wanted to save his life.

Whether it is being loyal about the seemingly little things, such as, a lunch date with a friend or telling your children that you will be there to support them at the soccer game, or the big commitments, such as, weddings and funerals, it is imperative to healthy relationships to keep commitments.  This is how the people build trust, and grow in a relationship. 

Memoir Project…Just a Glimpse

A skeleton with skin draped over his bones stands before me almost unrecognizable, except for his kind, blue eyes begging for someone to show him mercy. The tattered flannel shirt swallows his once muscular body. He has created his own personal Hell and his demons have forced almost everyone away. He has damaged too much, but how do I say that to my father?

Pinterest Success?

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I had a plan when I set out to Hobby Lobby. I was feeling creative and had a vision for the blank wall space in my kitchen. I just needed to get a few materials to start being an amazing DIY woman. I had pinned all of my favorite “Command Center” boards on Pinterest and knew exactly what I wanted! I threw my toddler in the car and headed to the store with ideas swirling in my head about how great this new ‘piece’ would look in my kitchen.

After about five seconds in the store, my toddler decided that this trip was not part of her plan. There was no way in Hell that she was going to sit in the cart, hold my hand, or act like an even remotely civilized human, but I was determined to start my project, so I headed to the chalkboards to get my supplies. I got to scan the boards for about 10 seconds before realizing that my daughter was pulling things off of the shelves. This back and forth went on for about 2 more minutes before I said screw it, grabbed the first board that seemed like it would work and checked out. My motivated mood turned sour fast, so I headed home, but I wasn’t completely disappointed. I had the board.

My husband hung it on the wall to see if it would fit, and it was perfect. It has stayed there exactly like that since the day of the purchase over a year ago. It has turned into an open forum for everyone who walks in the house. The latest purpose is a menu that my 10 year old son thinks we should have each night of the week. We have yet to have the right meal on the right day, but it is a wonderful conversation piece.