Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Summer From Hell (A bit of a rant) - or - "What I Did With My Summer Vacation"

I last posted her over a month ago on August 10th, and at that time I was sort of putting out “feelers” to see if perhaps there would be other moms out there who would like to join me in my adventures. Some of you contacted me, and I either replied saying I’d get back with you later or I did not reply at all. For that I apologize. Even though I’d had the idea for a while of reaching out to other moms, the middle of this last August was not, I now realize in retrospect, the right time to do it. Little did I know at the time – although I probably should have – that I was about to step right into the center of a “perfect storm” of crises that would just about crush me (and would take some time for recovery before I could embark on any new endeavors).

This summer had already been a rough one at best. My ex-husband had stopped paying child support, my hours at work had been cut in half, finances were tight to the point of snapping, and I needed to come up with the money to send my daughter to her college internship. She’d worked hard to get accepted, and it was a great opportunity that I could not let her miss. The pressure was intense, and I would do whatever it might take to get her there.

Ah, but luck was not on my side, and the summer of 2010 (“a summer that will live in infamy” for our family – lol) was not going to ease up on me for even a moment. If I believed in karma, I might have pondered whether I’d spent a previous life kicking puppies or pinching small children and old ladies.

I held an online rummage sale to raise the funds needed by my daughter for her internship. It tanked. Meanwhile, one by one, all the vehicles in our household broke down. I’d get one repaired and then another would go. We were rotating cars like musical chairs. Our roof succumbed in a rather ugly way to the summer monsoon storms. I was dragged into a family drama regarding the care of my maternal grandmother, who has Alzheimer’s. My son was injured playing football, the dryer broke, the washing machine sprang a leak and flooded the house, then the kitchen sink sprang a leak and flooded it again. The cat got sick and died. I kid you not. It seemed to me as though cries of, “Mom… Mom… MOM!” were coming at me fast and furious, from every direction, until they haunted even the few precious hours of fitful sleep that I could eek out for myself.

All the while, as it seemed I was putting out fires left and right, the continuous thread running through the tapestry of my crisis-ridden world was Vashti, a young lady I’d taken under my wing who – at this time of all times fate could choose – required my constant attention.

I had helped Vashti, who at 20 years old was already homeless with two small children, find a place to live in a transitional living program (as much as I would have liked to, there were reasons why I could not take her and her children into my own home). In retrospect I am still not sure I’m happy with having placed her there, but there were – and still are, as far as I can find – no other available options.

The program and its staff proved very difficult to work with, and their demands of her were nearly impossible. The threat of being kicked out and once again homeless loomed almost daily. No sooner would I help her meet one of their requirements than there would be another issue with which they were not satisfied. When I would try to speak with them and make sense of it all, I would get conflicting answers (yes, they want her to get a job but won’t help with childcare, then no, they want her to enroll full-time in school, then no, they don’t want her in school full time because she should be working full time, then she should enroll in school because this is what they want her to do, then no…) until my head would spin. When I would attempt to come to her defense as to why certain things were so difficult, the reply I would get was, “Well, other people in the program are able to do it.” Further probing revealed, however, that others were “able to do it” because they’d come into the program with certain resources that my girl did not have. They could pay their program fees, for instance, because they were receiving child support and/or had jobs (she had neither). They could work and/or job search because they had child care through the state (she is not eligible, and although I’d been led to believe this program would be helping with childcare, that “changed”). To make matters even more difficult, the program’s rules prohibited her from receiving any gifts at all. So, for example, when she needed items for her baby, she was told that that was “her own responsibility” even thought she had not income yet, and I was not allowed to give her anything. Items donated to the program for her baby (the only way that I or anyone else was allowed to give her anything) were, in fact, never passed on to her. Rather, they were found being sold at a fundraiser rummage sale for the program. Ultimately I went to that rummage sale myself, bought back what items I could that had been donated for her, and I “loaned” them to her. It was the best work-around I could come up with to the no-gift rule.

My relationship with the people who run this program became tense early on, which at first I found baffling. I had tried to be as helpful as I could, but I was getting the cold shoulder and being squeezed out of “the loop”. Normally, when I take in a young person and refer them to different social service organizations, I am not only treated with respect but with open arms and a welcoming attitude. They are usually very glad that the young person they’re being presented with has someone else in their life to help. I am used to becoming very friendly with the various social workers, who have always in the past been very open to discussion, suggestions, and exchanging ideas. They appreciate me. Not so with this new place – and they were literally new, having just opened. My girl was, in fact, their very first client (although more did come into the program with the same month). I had years of experience working with troubled young people, and I was watching them do everything wrong while refusing to hear any outside input. It was very frustrating, and I did not understand it. I did eventually hear, though (and from a very reliable source), that the program’s director simply “did not like [me]”. As it turned out, what he did not like was accountability. The program flipped and flopped, changed rules and policies, made mistakes and kept trying to fix them without listening to anyone, all while people on the outside (including me, but not only me) watched and could see the problems coming but could do nothing.

As of this date, by the way, Vashti is still living at this facility. However, her life has become a train wreck with their help, they are now denying that they ever directed her to do certain things (things for which they now don’t want to take responsibility since they turned out to be the wrong steps), and I am currently in the process of helping her try to develop a “plan B” for when this whole thing finally caves in.

So… That was what I was dealing with this summer, all while the house was falling apart and my daughter was trying to get to her internship and all the other crises were circling me like sharks. We did get her to that internship, by the way. Here she is in the registration line for her new apartment at the Disney College Program:

When we got home from taking her there, I had no car (we’d resorted to having someone else drive us). So, the first thing I did was walk to the store. One mile – not a big deal normally, but in 108 degrees it can really put a damper on your mood. I realized then that, although we had succeeded in getting my little “Pookie” off to California, the summer of 2010 was not done with me yet.

Kristen, aka “Pookie”, was my eldest, my firstborn, my foodie friend, my baking buddy, my TV pal, my movie companion, my second in command around the house, my “BFF”. As you other moms out there can surely imagine, I had some emotional adjusting to do once I returned home and her absence in the house became a reality. But there was no time for that. I was faced immediately with a promise I’d made weeks before: I’d promised I would babysit for Vashti so she could go to school. The folks at the transitional living program had insisted that she go to school, with the threat of homelessness once again hanging in the air if she didn’t follow their “plan” for her, even though she still had no resources for childcare.

There I was: My daughter gone and me having had no time to wrap my brain around that, the cat gone as well, stuck all day with no car and a crying baby (something I had not dealt with in fifteen years) who was used to being breast-fed and refused to take a bottle, my house now filled with only boys and quickly becoming a “man cave”… and then the cable modem went out. I had no internet access and no way to communicate with my online customers, which made me a nervous wreck. Well, more of a nervous wreck (lol). It felt as though my entire life had been turned upside down in a matter of weeks, and my world looked nothing like it had just a month before.

I lasted about two weeks before I had a complete meltdown. I quit babysitting, feeling terrible and guilty because I’d made a promise, but having to acknowledge when I could do no more. The day I gave it up, I had reached the point where I was literally shaking all over. I’d dropped off the baby in a borrowed car and come home, and there – bless her heart – was my favorite aunt waiting for me. My state of mind was written all over my face, with the bags under my eyes and my heart – I was sure – visibly pounding through my shirt. She was sitting at my table when I came into the house, and she said, “What is it? Are you okay?” I simply looked at her and said, “Please get me out of here.”

My aunt took me to lunch, even though I could not eat. She talked to me, calmed me down, encouraged me. Oh, just talking to another adult! I had not done so in weeks. Just to have someone listen, just listen, and not need me for anything! That alone, it seemed, was a huge part of what I needed.

My aunt took care of the cable, got me back online so I could contact my customers and answer e-mails, and I felt relieved. After that, I spend two days in bed. It took most of the first day just for me to let go of the stress sufficiently to relax and be able to sleep. The second day, I slept. I thought that was awesome, that I’d been able to crash out for a while, but it turned out I was coming down with the flu. Seriously. I wonder if, in a previous life, I was an axe murderer or something. Or maybe an IRS agent.

The flu, as it turned out, was a good thing. A miserable good thing, but a good thing nonetheless. It forced me into “down time” that I desperately needed, forced me to take care of myself instead of everyone else, forced me to stop over-extending myself, and forced everyone around me to accept it. I am better now, and oh so thankful for that flu.

And that, ladies and gents, is how I spent my summer. So if you e-mailed me and I did not answer, or if I mailed your package out a little late, or if I didn’t return your phone call or forgot to do something I said I’d get done… Now you know why. I apologize if any of that happened, but at least now you know what the heck was going on.

I’m still working on catching up some things, still working on adjusting to my daughter’s being gone, still trying to get my life back in order. But I’m back, and I feel like “me” again for the most part. I’m ready to start making plans for fall (my favorite time of year), ready to embark on some projects, ready to take care of business. I think the final therapeutic thing I needed to do was to write this all out and “vent” it, get it off my chest, tell someone about my rough summer. Now that’s done, and I feel good.

Thank you, dear reader, for bearing with me. It’s good of you to listen. And now we can all, as they say, return to our regularly scheduled programming. :)

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