Wednesday, April 10, 2013

A Spontaneous Rant...

I'm posting this on the spur of the moment, as they say.  I just needed a place to vent and rant, so here I came...

My son just called a little while ago.  He called to tell me that he had just finished his last test as a high school student.  He's graduating now, and with a 4.0 GPA.  I should be happy.  I was happy.  For a few minutes.  And then something hit me out of the blue that I hadn't expected to feel, at least not on this level.

See, my son attends one of those out-of-the-ordinary high schools, one of those where the students work on computers and progress at their own pace.  That's why his graduation comes at such an odd time, just mid-day on a Wednesday, without much advance notice.  At his school, when you're done - you're done.  It's just like that.  Snap, you're finished.

He didn't always attend a school like this (not that there's anything wrong with the kind of school it is - there have been many benefits).  He used to attend a regular high school - one with football games and "spirit weeks", school dances and social scenes and all that jazz.  And the superintendent of the district for that high school was a woman who had been my best friend for 31 years.

My son is mentally ill.  I haven't talked about that much here; I may have alluded to it, but honestly I don't remember.  He only recently gave me permission to talk about it publicly, and I haven't done a blog post specifically about that issue yet.  Some of you know about some of the other things he's been through in recent years, but I haven't touched much on that being an added weight on his shoulders.

I just had to throw that bit of info in, because it's relevant to this story and why I'm feeling the way I do today.

I feel angry.  Bitter and resentful and betrayed.  It will pass, but I feel it right now and that's why I needed to vent.

Originally, my son attended the same high school that my daughter had attended, as had several of my "strays".  It was a place I trusted, and it was run by a friend I trusted.  She'd known Jeff (my son) since he was born - obviously, since we'd been friends for 31 years.  She knew he had issues.  She learned of them, basically, just as I learned of them.  It all developed over time, as discovering mental illness will, and she'd been there every step of the way.  She knew my son well, and by the time he reached high school, she knew of his worsening fragility.  She encouraged me to entrust him to her school; they'd take care of him there, she said.  They'd look out for him.  She'd look out for him.  He'd be safe there.

That was all well and good until she promoted a certain man to the position of principal.  I was on the school board at the time, had been for about five years, and this certain man was someone with whom I took issue.  His ethics were problematic for me.  We'd sparred in board meetings, and when he became principal of the high school, he saw an opportunity to get back at me via my son.  His harassment was subtle and slick, but my friend - the superintendent, his boss - she saw it.  She knew.  But here was the problem:  This guy was getting a job done that she wanted to see done - he was weeding out the problematic students (technically illegally, but getting it done) and he was making the school fit the image she'd wanted, an image of a superior school filled with excellent students.  This was accomplished by hassling parents and students who were in any way difficult or needed special attention, but this man was not going to let a pesky little thing like ethics get in his way.  If he (or my friend, the super) wanted you out, you were out (I was actually asked NOT to attend an expulsion hearing once, being told, "I want this kid gone and I don't want you here to talk anyone out of it.")  This left the school with just the students that were "wanted", and it gave the appearance of success.

I digress, sort of.  The thing is, once this shift in attitude took place, my son became a target.  And in December of 2010, my life and the life of my entire family changed forever when my son came home from school and put a gun to his own head.  I had a SWAT team at my house that night.  I don't want to tell the whole story right now, I just want to say that from that moment everything changed.  

And here is why I feel anger today:  My son never got to go to a high school prom, never took a date to a homecoming dance, didn't get to engage in any high school socializing, and won't even have a yearbook.  He lost most of a year to hospitalizations, and after that he had to be enrolled in an alternative style of school so that he could catch up.  Today, although I am so proud of him (he actually graduated early after everything), the finality of it hit me.  He will never get these years back.  He started out high school as a football player and a national-award-winning cheerleader.  He loved his school, and he especially loved cheer.  He lost all that.  No, it was stolen from him.  To this day he refuses to even go to a store in the neighborhood of his old school, because the feeling of loss is too painful.  He cannot look at the building.  He rarely logs on to his own Facebook account because he can't bear to see all his old friends.

I realize this blog post has probably rambled and been all over the place.  There's so much more to this story than I can get into now.  I just needed to rant for a moment, and I appreciate anyone who's "listening".

I'm proud of my son.  Have I said that more than once?  I am so proud of my son.  He is an Eagle Scout, a pianist, a volunteer firefighter, a certified life guard who works at a Boy Scout summer camp and will be promoted this summer to working at the camp's medical facility.  As I said, he's a 4.0 student.  He is amazing.  Amazing!

But I'm just hurt today at the unfairness of all he's been through.  Life isn't fair.  I know.  Stuff happens.  Everyone goes through bad things.  But he's had more than his share, and the fact that so much of it could have been prevented, should have been prevented...  I'm just going through this right now, that's all.  I will be okay.  He will be okay.  We will all be fine.  It's just this moment, this feeling I didn't expect.

Thanks for letting me get it off my chest.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Year of the Oxygen Mask

I don't typically "do" New Year's resolutions, but this year I did.  Why bring up my New Year's Resolution in April, you may wonder?  Well, because my resolution has a lot to do with why I haven't posted anything here since last December.  No, not the resolution itself - I didn't resolve to abandon my blog - but rather the fact that my resolution was something I thought I should talk about here, and at the same time I didn't know quite how to approach it.

See, I resolved to spend this year taking care of me.  Me, myself and I.  But I don't want to give the impression that I am "quitting" this whatever-it-is-I-do, this sort of vague and unidentified job I have undertaken for the last couple of decades, where I fill in for the role of "mom" whenever a stand-in is required. No, it isn't that I am quitting that job, just that I'm taking... A reprieve?  A respite?  An opportunity that happens to present itself just now, this year, at a time when it just so happens that I need it.  I need it for me, of course, but I also need it so that I can go back to taking care of them, and be better at it.

My daughter, now 23 years old (the eldest of my biological kids), moved out on her own a few months ago.  My foster son - who won't speak to me right now (of course I still love him), but that's a whole 'nother story - is out of the house and working through his senior year of college.  My original "strays" have all gotten their own apartments or houses, started careers or families or both.  There is a new generation of "semi-strays" who do spend most of their days at my house and turn to me for mom-related services, but none of them live here full-time and none are in a position where I'm responsible for them.  And my son, my youngest, will both graduate from high school AND turn 18 within this month.

Thus, the opportunity for some "me time" presents itself, and it is an opportunity I must take.  Years of taking kids to doctors but never taking myself to one culminated in my finding myself (predictably) a physical mess.  The discovery of some of my own medical issues actually started a few years back, once I went to the doctor myself for the first time since the day my son was born over 15 years prior (yeah, I didn't even go to the follow-up appointment after his birth), and more problematic discoveries have been made since.  It's time to take care of all that.  Decades of making sure the kids had good breakfasts and lunches that were packed from home with care, but paying no attention to my own diet, left me unhealthy.  Years of making sure every kid who came into my home had everything he or she needed, but not receiving any payment (no child support for my own kids and no money from other kids' parents, or from the state for my foster son - money which I refused, but again, that's another story) left me financially devastated.  And all the drama - the drug problems and pregnancies, legal problems and emotional baggage, issues with schools, medical and mental illnesses - those things that came to me strapped to the proverbial backs of all these kids - they left me emotionally and psychologically drained.  For about ten years I lived by a rule that I would not wear anything that cost more than a dollar, and of course after enough time, that left me looking like a homeless escapee from some institution.  And my house...  I won't even get started about my house.  Suffice it to say that if something broke, it just didn't get fixed.  It started to feel like the old Little House on the Prairie days around here, with me hanging laundry on the line and... Oh, I said I wasn't gonna get started about the house.  Ha ha.  Anyway, it's time to take care of all this, time to take care of me, because I can't possibly take care of any more of them until I do.

One of the things that I am working through as a part of this "taking care of 'me' time" process is the issue of what that even means.  It's a very basic question, but more complex than I once would have thought.  Some pieces of the puzzle are obvious:  I have to address my medical problems, I have to get physically healthier, I have to repair things around the house, etc.  Those are easy matters to identify.  But beyond that it gets a bit hazy for me.

Plenty of times in my life someone-or-other has said to me, "You need to do something for yourself once in a while!"  Or they've said, "You should take some time for you!"  In the face of these well-intentioned suggestions I would usually smile and nod and sort-of-agree, but in my head there was always this thought:  I don't know what that means for me; I don't even know what that would look like.  Does it mean buying myself stuff?  But I don't really want stuff.  Doing more things that I enjoy?  But being a mom is what I enjoy.  I could think of little that I would actually want to do that didn't involve cooking someone's dinner or helping with homework, cheering one of the kids on at a game or watching them skate at the skate park, helping them plan for college or sitting up late at night discussing what they had learned that day.  I love that stuff, and I could never think of things I would want to do that were "just for me".  Even if I saw an amazing piece of art or read a great book, I would only find myself dying to share it with them.  What would I like to do or have if there were no "them" around?  I had no answer to that.  But I was always able to push the question off to be re-considered at some non-specific point in the future, because there was always some more pressing matter at hand.  Well, that non-specific future point has come.  It's now.  It's time to do some considering.

In any case, whatever direction this takes me, I'm thinking of 2013 as "The Year of the Oxygen Mask".  All of you who have traveled with children, you know the rule on airplanes:  If the cabin loses pressure, you're to put on your own oxygen mask first and then your child's.  And that's because you won't be able to help your child if you're passed out from a lack of oxygen yourself.  It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that this concept applies to parenting in all sorts of ways.  I can't live up to my best "mom potential" if I'm not healthy.  I can't help them get their lives in order if my own is in chaos.  I can't give them advice on living a happy life if I haven't found my own happiness.  And more importantly, I can offer them no reason why they should listen to anything I say unless they are first convinced that I'm someone worth listening to.  Who wants to turn for answers to someone who hasn't found their own?

So, I'm going to be taking this blog in a different direction for a while.  Two different directions, really:  A bit backward and a bit forward.  For my own theraputic purposes in writing about it, and also for the purpose of opening my life up to some external and objective examination (from you all), I will go back and share some stories of how I got to where and whom I am.  And I'll also take you all along on my journey as I move forward.  Maybe it'll be helpful to some other moms of grown kids out there.

Oh, and I'm sure I will throw in some current daily anecdotes from time to time with regard to the kids.  I'm certain some things will come up in that arena.  After all, I'm still "Mom".  None of this means I'll stop being "Mom" to all my kids, even if they're older now, nor does it mean I'll simply ignore any kids I encounter who need a little help.  It just means I will try not to move them into my house like a crazy cat lady who doesn't know her limits (no offense to the cat ladies, but you know what I mean).

I've been working on this for a while, since New Year's, obviously.  But from this point I'll start sharing more about what's happening with me.  I hope you will all continue to stick around and share your thoughts and input.  I'm looking forward to it.  :)