family issues


"It's YOUR time to SHINE in 2009!"

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And at the risk of sounding shrill as I repeat myself, “unless someone is dead or nearly so, don’t call me!” Really. I mean it.

The latest non-life threatening emergency that presented itself for my immediate attention is the ongoing drama surrounding my older nephew’s premature entry into the adult world.

I am standing in the check out at Safeway yesterday and the phone ringles. It’s the oddest ring tone but the least annoying of the generic options available to me as I don’t (yet) possess a smart phone with all its sci-fi tone upgrading capabilities.

Snatching it up as quickly as the confounding zip locks on my purse will allow, I am expecting a request from Rob. I’d spoken to him a bit earlier, so he knew I was shopping and I thought perhaps he remembered something he wanted me to pick up while I was still in town.

It was Mom.

Since day one of cell phone ownership, Mom’s treated my cell as a homing device. I knew she would. In fact my chief objection to getting a phone was Mom.

“She will see this as permission to track me like an endangered animal on the plains of the Serengeti,” I told my late husband, Will.

He wanted me to have one so that I would “be safe”, but the truth was that he just liked having the same type of instant access to me that I didn’t want to hand over to Mom.

“You can screen her calls with the caller ID,” he said.

“Because having her call me over and over until I picked up would be better than just picking up,” I replied.

I still lost on the issue of carrying a cell phone and Mom went from her habit of leaving me multiple messages on the answering machine to simply stalking me by cell phone if I didn’t answer the home line. The cell phone thing has worked out nicely for everyone but me no matter how one looks at it.

Because it’s the middle of the day on a Tuesday, I know right away that Mom isn’t calling to ask me how my day is going. Like DNOS, weekday calls mean that something is wrong.

“I need to talk to you,” she began.

“I’m standing in the check out at the grocery. Can I call you when I get out to the truck?”

“Okay,” and she hangs up on me before I can even say “good-bye”.

Naturally, I am in the lane of the cashier who least loves her job. She is a dour woman, who moves at the speed of drying paint, so by the time I get to the truck, I have run through a dozen desperate scenarios – which all involve dead or near so relations.

“I’m so worried about N1,” she tells me. “He was up here yesterday for a visit. I made him his favorite lasagna and he couldn’t even eat.”

Mentally, I note that the drama queen gene is overly represented in my nephew, but say,

“Why is he upset this time?”

I’m expecting that he’s made another pitch for a car or asked her to co-sign a lease on an apartment for him because he and his dad are continually at odds, but she tells me that she thinks it’s about his wanting to go to community college and study mechanics.

It’s about no such thing, of course. N1 launched a campaign over the summer to be allowed to move back to D-port, where he went to high school. His dad moved them there a couple of years ago. N1 fell in with a group of older kids – drop-outs to varying degrees – lost interest in school and then quit himself when his dad moved them back to DBQ last winter. He’s moped about ever since, plotting to move back and get a place with some of them and work at a fast food place that someone’s grandmother owns.

It’s a seventeen year old plan and that about sums up the long, short and every which way of it. There is no merit to it. It won’t further his life in any meaningful way because at the end of the experiment (which is where he loses the job, can’t pay his share of the rent or make up the difference his friends won’t be paying either and Mom is stuck with the bill), nothing is gained by way of N1 being even marginally closer to the “contributing adult” status that is fervently wished for by all.

“I think he might be severely depressed,” Mom went on. “Who knows what he might do?”

And I’m thinking now? What the fuck? And why couldn’t she have burdened DNOS with this nonsense after she got off work?

But my wiser younger sis, DNOS, refuses to have anything to do with the half-assed attempts to first aid our nephew’s life. As far as she is concerned, when N1 gets tired of lying in the lumpy mess of a bed he’s made for himself, he will do something related to “constructive” and until he makes a move in a positive direction without help or coercion, he is best left to flounder.

Good point on the “he needs to do this himself” front but it overlooks the fact that N1 is a kid who has mostly been raising himself, and badly, since he was 13. Even before that, parenting isn’t something he’s had too much of.

After fifteen minutes and much reassurance, I talked Mom back off the ledge she tearfully teetered on and promised to talk to N1.

Who wouldn’t give me his damn phone number when I messaged him on Facebook for it.

I’d had it, couldn’t find it and asked him to send it to me. Little monster would only talk to me via “chat”.

Grrrrr.

And no, I didn’t tell him how much like his mother he was behaving though I was sorely tempted. Baby won’t talk to me in real time either.

Back and forth over the course of the afternoon and evening led me to the conclusion that N1 was playing the drama card for a bit of sympathy from Grandma. In fairness, she is as close to a mother figure as he’s got. It didn’t have to be that way, but I failed time and time again to get custody of N1 while he was growing up. My last attempt came just before he entered middle school and I warned my parents then that it was unlikely that I would be able to take him once he hit his teens for real and they would rue the day they turned me down.*

As per her request, I called Mom back that evening to let her know how N1 was. We discussed again my brother CB’s offer to have N1 come out and live with him in Cali.

DNOS is adamant that N1 not go, but she is hopelessly biased. Baby really hasn’t said how she feels about it except to reiterate her inability to foot his room/board in any way. I don’t know how his dad feels. At the moment, his father seems to be wallowing in regret over his own wasted life**, so he isn’t much use.

For all his faults, CB has been a pretty good father and N1 needs a father. CB was also once a 17-year-old high school drop-out with nothing but more ideas than capital and a GED. He certainly has the right credentials for understanding just what N1 is up against in the real world that the kid hasn’t clue one about navigating.

N1 admitted to “thinking about calling Uncle”. We went back and forth and then he stopped responding.

What he will do now, I haven’t the slightest idea. He’s a lot like his mother. He hates the unknown and invents all sorts of worst case scenarios to justify avoiding change, and while he makes friends easily in new situations, he loses them just as quickly. Partly because he trusts where he shouldn’t and distrusts where he should be more open. It’s a gift he inherited from Baby, who has only rarely lucked into good friends and never into a good relationship.

The last meddling I did was at Mom’s behest. I contacted CB and asked him to talk to N1.

And now, let’s all remember – dead or nearly so – anything else really needs to be referred to someone who actually lives south of the Canadian border.

*And I get no pleasure out of this particular “I told you so” because N1 needed a parent. I can only guess where he’d be today if Baby would have given in and let me raise him the first time I asked when he was two, and there is no sense crying over the spilled milk, but few things make me as angry as adults who waste the little lives that life puts in their care. A wasted child is one of the saddest sights. I encountered so many children as a teacher who were ruined by crappy and/or indifferent parenting.

**He was a 19 year old high school drop-out when Baby got pregnant. She was 25 or 26. N1’s dad was a foil. She used him to try and make the real objective of her attention – a mutual friend of theirs – jealous. This guy, though a royal sleeze, was wise enough to realize that Baby was looking for a baby-daddy. She missed being on welfare.


Rob took his work along when we visited the States this summer. Three weeks of checking email and troubleshooting from afar. He even attended a virtual meeting during week two when we were in Iowa. He very seldom leaves work at work. His reporting supervisors have even nominated him for awards because of his long distance dedication to “a job well done”

And around his workplace, Rob is known for staycations that are anything but due to the ongoing renovation. His latest bit of time off in fact is all about plumbing, electrical and hardwood flooring.

Our recent trip to the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia was more about helping his mother pack and purge (the latter being rather subjective) than relaxing on the beaches of southern Skaha Lake.

We are at an age where holidays are anything but relaxing. If elderly parents do not need attention, children do.

The eight days at my mom’s in July was all about her renovation project. Instead of the hiking and fishing we’d tentatively planned, it was filled with trips to Lowe’s and supervising the contractor. The B.C. trip consisted of packing, hauling and errands.

Part of the problem is that Rob is dependable, knowledgeable beyond the average person and just too damned handy for his personal good. And he is a number one son. Everyone’s go-to. Got a problem? Rob can probably fix it and if you are family, he’ll feel obligated to try even if he can’t.

In the month of August alone, he’s had no fewer than 3 family members approach him with issues that they could have dealt with on their own, but as Rob never just says “no” outright, he is usually a safe bet.

I remember this well, but living on the opposite side of an international border has really cut down on the number requests I receive anymore.

Vacation deprived last year because of the whole “heart attack” thing, we worked as much holiday into our schedule as we could once the weather warmed. A week in Fairmont Hot Springs at the timeshare was laziness itself, but three weeks gadding about in the holiday trailer sometimes felt like work and the “family time” squeezed in between Yellowstone and camping in the less traveled areas after was all about getting Dee fortified with grandma, auntie and cousin time with a side-order of looking out for an elderly mom. In more than a word – exhausting.

The trip west was motivated by Rob’s mother moving to Arizona. Her husband is already there, getting the place ship-shape and hounding his congressman, who is hounding U.S. Immigration about my mother-in-law’s residency application. Even though it’s just paperwork, the U.S. is quite tight-assed about granting legal entrance to the foreign spouse’s of American citizens. There’s nothing they can do to force Americans to just marry each other but they are snitty about it when one doesn’t. Holding up routine requests like this is just one of the ways America lets its miffed feelings be known.

So without her husband to help, Gee has been packing to be out of her condo at the end of the month, and she needed help. Naturally, none of Rob’s other siblings can help. At least I have DNOS when Mom is in need. Rob has …me. And I am better than nothing but not by much because with me comes Dee.

At nine now, she is less mothering intensive, and she is a far superior road warrior than she was when we first moved to a country where nearly every trip of consequence exceeds an hour or more one way. But she is nine. She needs periodic interaction, regular feeding and watering and sleep at the minimum, so my attention is divided.

But I am fully aware that no one factors Rob’s needs into any request for assistance like I do. His heart attack looms over my thought processes whenever stress rears its evil green dripping with fetid slime self. I can tell by the sheen of his eyes and the hallow of his cheeks when he’s running on fumes and the depth of his sighs speak eloquently. If I am not on the scene monitoring, no one else will.

Some of this is Rob’s fault. Competency and a history of saving the day are never rewarded. Good deeds are always punished with being taken for granted and more work. He never says, “I’m tired or busy or have a literal mountain of my own crap to do”. He says “Sure, I might be able to assist” even when he’s really going to stretch himself beyond his limits. My husband is a victim of his own history of awesome successes and even really competent patch-work. The curse of the number one son.


In Simon Ushakov's icon of the The Last Supper...

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I haven’t commented on the wedding. It was a wedding. They are all the same on the surface, varying only slightly depending on the personalities involved and the tales told in the aftermath.

Dee loved being a flower girl but she has no use for Catholic ceremonies that involve/revolve around the mass. The last time she was in church was for my dad’s funeral in ’08. At that time, she and N2 entertained each other a bit and the ritual still fascinated her with its exotic qualities and mystery.

No more.

Cannibals At the Altar

At nearly nine, she listens. And her reactions ranged from frustrated – because she couldn’t participate in the rote recitation and response that is so drummed into me that I could follow a mass while in a coma – to horrified when she finally comprehended what the priest was saying at communion.

“Body of Christ,” he intoned as he placed a wafer on each tongue

Horror. That was her expression.

“He doesn’t mean that literally, ” I whispered.

Incredulous horror.

“Do you remember the Last Dinner painting?” I asked her.

She nodded. Da Vinci’s Last Supper is a favorite of hers. The Canadian public school system recognizes no separation between faiths and state though Christianity in its Catholic form gets the most play. Dee loves to talk about the “last dinner” and what happened.

“Do you remember that Jesus shared bread with his followers?”

Eyes begin to widen in growing comprehension.

“The priest is just doing what Jesus did,” I assure her. “It’s not really anyone’s body.”

“That would be gross,” she said.

Indeed. And yes, I know perfectly well that Catholics believe (or should at any rate – it’s so hard to know what Catholics actually understand about their own faith) about the host, but transubstantiation would sail over the heads of adults and I didn’t have time to get into that with Dee then.

Witnessing

Rob and I ended up being matron of honor and best man. It’s a better gig than reader though I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to explain the role reassignment and by the time I had to reassure Fr. Pat that all was well and truly figured out, I was thoroughly reminded of why patriarchal systems irritate me so completely.

Domestic Air Travel in Canada

The weather was wonderful. It warmed our spirits up considerably to be somewhere that snow wasn’t, and the air travel, aside from a few minutes of disaster movie like turbulence on the return trip, went smoothly.

Did you know that Canadians don’t remove footwear as they move through security for domestic flights? Nothing even slightly Gestapo-like in the screening area at all. Just quick, suspicionless inspection of bags and jackets.

However, I did find the security wonks at the Kelowna airport a bit lax in their reaction to an abandoned backpack. I noted it and, being an American I suppose, pointed it out to Security agent. When he radioed it in, he was told to simply “take it to the break room and I’ll look at it later.” As I haven’t seen any news reports about the Kelowna airport blowing up, I will assume that someone – who is clearly not an American nor has ever traveled by air in the U.S. – just forgot the whole “unattended bag thing”. Understandable because in the domestic travel areas of Canadian airports one doesn’t hear that automated voice droning on about responsibility and how “only you can prevent a terrorist incident”.

On A Break

This week, I officially asked for some time off at my paid blogging gig. Between reno, teaching and recurrent health issues, I need a real vacation.

For example, I didn’t take my netbook along last weekend. I didn’t check mail or blog or Facebook.

It was nice.

More than nice and has jumped-started my quest to balance virtual and actual reality toward the latter. Rob’s opinion is that until the Internet completes its inevitable split which will leave those without means trolling a UHF-inspired tier like bottom feeding fish, one should enjoy what is left of the web. It is a shadow of what it was even just a few years ago as the “entrepreneurs” continue to destroy its actual quality for the fastest bucks possible. But my eyes and interest are open to opportunities to free myself though probably not from my personal blog. I still enjoy my little corner of the blogosphere enough to resist attempts to make it bigger or shinier.

Family Matters

Rob picked out a movie for us at the bookmobile last evening. It’s never a good idea to watch a film on a weeknight and now with Dee’s bus driver on a mission to get us up as early as possible, it’s even less of a good idea, but we haven’t snuggled and viewed in a while (unless you count the “Hoarders” thing this last weekend and I don’t).

A 2010 flick called Mother and Child, which takes all the worst aspects of adoption from every possible angle and mushes them into one film. I am used to the misrepresentation of adoption – good and bad – but there was one thing in the film that made me incredibly sad. Sad enough that I cried when the movie was over.

There is the notion that it’s difficult for adopted children or birth parents to find each other. If the agency is known, most allow adoptee’s and birth parents to place contact info/letters in the file that both parties can easily access. Agencies will sometimes contact one party on the other’s behalf.

Both the mother and the daughter in the film write letters for their file, but due to miscommunication the mother doesn’t learn about her daughter until after the young woman dies.

Which was sad, but not what upset me.

The upsetting thing was being reminded that neither of my birth parents have ever contacted me. My information has been on file with the agency for 25 years. I haven’t thought about that for sometime now. Not looking for sympathy, mind you. Just an observation.

Last But Most

Both Rob and I are tired. In the last 6 weeks obligations have been plentiful and while we took care of them, the reno sat by idly a lot and we have gotten run down, over-tired and illness/injury prone. That’s being the grown-ups, I know. Suck it up, Buttercup.

But we now have a bit over a month to move a few mountains around before the obligatory family holiday to see folk down south and it’s just him doing all the work and just me trying to make the trains run around it.

This last weekend was a two nighter of bad mattress that has stove up both of us for much of this week, and a week or better at my mom’s (not to mention hotels there and back) promise more back and shoulder issues on top of exhaustion. Tripping to the States is about family. Not fun. Not relaxation. However, Christmas was exhausting and I don’t foresee resting up in advance of the trip. A dilemma that I am rolling around with now and for which I have no solution. Having pulled the holiday rug out from under Dee in November, I can’t see doing that again, but a hotel is a pricey option given the expensive Christmas followed by an unplanned for in the budget wedding and other miscellaneous.

“I am content never to leave home,” Rob pointed out as we discussed this today. I’d called him from the truck with the latest dental update (I’m not ready to discuss that).

“I suppose we could just start telling everyone that if they want to see us, they will have to come here.”

“No one would come then.”

A sad but true point. He and I are the wheel hubs in our families. If we don’t make it so, it just won’t be.

Just a good night’s sleep. That’s all I need. Oh, and to avoid further illness. At Christmas the new father-in-law left Rob and I the cold from hell as a parting gift. Today Rob got an email from his mother describing some virulent stomach/intestinal flu that they came down with last evening.  Nice.


I’ve mentioned before that there was a possibility we’d be heading overseas to live for a while. Rob was pursuing a position on a project that would have taken us to the UK and then Saudi Arabia. It would have been a 4 or 5 year gig that would have allowed us to move on to the retirement/second career thing in the mountains a bit sooner than later.

But the job is off. I am not at liberty to go into details, but it had nothing to do with Rob’s suitability. He is, despite his ambivalence, a sought after commodity in his line of work. This was an employment case of “it’s not you, it’s us”. Literally.

So now that we know for sure we are staying put, things that have been on hold or plans that we discussed in only the vaguest of terms are suddenly wide open dreamscapes.

One of the most pressing issues is our home. Rob has been steadily renovating the house we live in for … ever. Or least as long as he’s lived here and that’s a decade plus of years.

And the house is not done. Not even close.

One might wonder that this has been a non-issue for me since moving here going on three years ago now. And it’s not that I am oblivious to my surroundings, though I come quite close to that sort of space blindness, it’s just that I am not a Better Homes and Gardens type. I have a serviceable kitchen, a comfy bed and a place to write. What else does a person need?

Rob thinks we need an addition. One that will attach a garage to the house, add a new master bedroom with en suite and provide us with a large kitchen area. This is not a small project that upends the house a room or so at a time. This is gutting the back yard, tearing out half of the back-end of the house and ripping up a deck that consumed the summer of 2008 and the cement sidewalks that consumed last summer.

On the plus side, an attached garage. I never had one until the last house I bought with Will. I’d lived in Des Moines for 15 years, parking vehicles on the street or driveway and dealing with the weather. The whole first year of Dee’s life was coping with baby carriers and rain or snow or bitter cold or blistering heat or whatever other plagues of Egypt came our way in terms of weather. I loved the attached garage. Somedays, especially after Will was nearly blind and precariously balanced, not having to load the two of them up after somehow getting them outside was the only thing I had to be thankful for all day.

A new master bedroom would give us three bedrooms upstairs and mean that Dee could have our old room, which is twice the size of her current room. We could ditch the playroom downstairs and contain all things child in her larger bedroom space. And she would have a walk-in closet. She would be in heaven although she would have serious en suite envy. She totally believes that she should have a bathroom of her own – attached to her room. Where does she get such ideas?

Aside from hearth and home, there is also employment to consider. Staying means looking for part-time work. I put working on hold for a variety of reasons, but one of them was not being sure we’d be around long enough for me to find and settle into a place before we’d pack up and be gone. Since I didn’t need a paycheck for our survival, it seemed unfair for me to take a job knowing I wasn’t going to be in it long.

My mother’s first words upon hearing we were staying was “Well, now you’ll be able to get a job.”

I start my yoga teacher training this weekend. My current instructor indicated that she would be agreeable to my teaching at her studio, once I am trained and that would be this summer, so yoga is a real possibility as part-time work. It is not a living by any means, but it’s somewhere to start. I want to someday have a studio, somewhere. Be a business owner. I think that is my upbringing. I love to write and blog, but they don’t feed my need for tangible employment. Probably seems silly to some, but I like the idea of going into work. Actually leaving the house kind of work.

We’ve talked about trading in the tent trailer for a holiday trailer, and using it for vacations. Rob wanted to travel the SouthWest U.S., but with the border as it is, I am less keen. And though Americans don’t seem to have any sense of impending doom, the news we get looks more and more dicey. In fact, this coming summer it seems it has never been a better time to stay out of the States.

I am only a tiny bit disappointed about not moving overseas. It could have been fun and interesting in a way that most people’s lives never get to be. But it would have been work and Dee would not have been as happy about it as we would have been. Our mothers were distraught, and the older girls, though they’ve put on brave faces, would have felt abandoned to varying degrees. It is not great for Rob. He gets to continue on as a workhorse and he deserves more. Everyone takes for granted that he will be there to fix things, give advice, loan money and generally make sure the trains run. I doubt that anyone but me really worries about his needs, or wants for him, when it comes to that. Having been in that thankless position, I know how long it can make a day seem.

Although Rob doesn’t think much of the place, there are far worse little towns than The Fort to call home. It will not be home forever, I don’t think, but it is good enough for now.

Funny, I just read a blog piece about “good enough” and how that kind of settling is a bad thing. I didn’t really agree.


My youngest siblings cannot be counted on for anything except their knack for injecting melodrama into my mother’s life whenever her attention is focused on something happy and it includes me. For some reason, my having Mom’s almost undivided attention forces one or the other of them to a full code blue.

Last June, as some of you may remember, it was my younger brother CB’s emotional implosion and suicide attempt coinciding with Rob, Dee and I coming back to Iowa for a visit and family reunion. This year, Mom is preparing to come for a visit here with my Auntie and the culprit is Sis (aka BabySis).

Mom and Dad uncharacteristically got a hold of their spines simultaneously last spring and ejected both Sis and her son, Nephew1. Nephew went to live with his father and paternal grandmother in a river town to the south of Dubuque where, not surprisingly, the boy is thriving. Sis moved up to Wisconsin to move in with her boyfriend of more years than I care to remember, LawnMower Man.

I have written a bit about LawnMower Man before and if you care for backstory, you can find it here and here. But the short version is that when he was 21 and she was 16, he knocked her up and then ran off. The baby was put up for adoption thus mercifully escaping knowing either of them and is hopefully a better person today for that one act of selflessness on Sis’s part. Sixteen years later, he showed up again. Divorced and a full-blown alcoholic, he professed his deep and forever feelings for her and she swallowed the whole revolting package – literally – but I try not to go there.

It was the perfect set-up for him. She lived with my folks and visited for booty during the week and stayed on the weekends. She neglected her son for him. She gave him half her paycheck – because she was eating and using utilities while she was with him – and she picked up the check whenever they went out. A sweet deal.

Lawnmower Man never came to the house. My dad’s hatred would have melted him to a puddle such was the heat it gave off. Lawnmower Man stayed away even after Dad was semi-disabled that’s how afraid he was. He is not afraid of Mom. Ever since Dad died, he has been after Mom to let Sis move back in. He calls the house and harasses her. 

Sis came home tonight. Bruised and professing in her childishly prattling way,

“You don’t just stop loving a man after seven years.”

Even if he is belting you upside the head and had left welts on your legs that the old southern plantation masters would have been proud to call their own.

DNOS is dealing, but this is not her territory. She took wonderful care of Dad and has dealt with Mom beautifully, but the crazy younger siblings have always been my cross to bear. I can’t do much from this distance and told her so.

“Sis cannot be allowed to stay at Mom’s while she is visiting up here,” I said. “Mom will never get rid of her and you know within a week she’ll be sleeping with that turd again and he will be coming around the house.”

I went on to point out that he is a drunk and wouldn’t think twice about abusing our mother right along with Sis.

There is a shelter in town. Sis could go there tonight, but no one will make her. DNOS’s brother-in-law is the police chief across the river in Illinois and urged DNOS to have Sis file charges. Instead, DNOS called our cousin and his wife and went up to LawnMower Man’s to retrieve whatever might be left of Sis’s stuff. I will get the lowdown on that before the night is over. DNOS was shaky and in tears when she called me. I don’t blame her. Mom fell apart. She’s had a rough last few weeks with the six month anniversary of Dad’s death, her birthday and then Father’s Day.

“I talked to your Dad tonight and told him I just can’t do this,” she told me on the phone.

If I were a 5 hour car trip as opposed to plane ride away, I would simply pull Dee out of school a few days early and go down and take care of things and bring Mom back with me. And trust me, things would be settled before I left. I am a force to be reckoned with. LawnMower Man would have no doubt which daughter was the chip of the Simmering Block. But I am here. I can offer advice – which no one will listen to let alone take.

“This is why I am estranged from my siblings,” Rob said.

And he wasn’t being unsympathetic. Just pointing out a fact that at some point the siblings have to be neutralized and left to fend for themselves. His own mother is now far enough away and finally able to turn down cries for assistance that his sisters and brother are no longer an issue for him. Ultimately this is for my mother to deal with, but she and I need to have a talk, I think.


I waited until Thursday to call Mom this week because I wanted to see how her first session with hospice grief group went. She was a little leery but felt she had to go because a) it was recommended to her by the hospice as a good thing for survivors to do at the five or six month point and b) she thought perhaps she wasn’t grieving right because,

“I just don’t feel sad all the time.”

Which is the Catch-22 of grief, the fact that you don’t feel sad every single second of every single day for months, years or decades after losing a loved one. It’s just not physically or emotionally possible, and no one ever really tells a person that. It’s just something you figure out as time goes by.

But when I called her, she’d had another encounter with CB and a voice message from the X-SIL which upset her.

“Your brother called and he needed money again, ” she said.

I always feel like she throws the term “your brother” out there as a way of reminding me that she would be rid of him if I hadn’t stuck up for him last fall and convinced her to bring him back to see Dad before he died and to be there for the funeral.

“What’s wrong now? His van again?”

“No, he wants the money to move back to the Bay Area,” she said.

“How many times can your Mom fund his moving back and forth from Tahoe?” Rob asked me later.

Indeed.

CB needed $350 to rent a U-Haul for his stuff. He has a place to stay. Yet another friend will be putting him up. I marvel at his ability to always have a friend in reserve for those prolonged periods in his life when he is in breakdown mode, but he is a charming bastard when he needs to be. He never seems to need to be as charming where his family is concerned.

Long story short, Mom sent the money, but what really pissed her off was the phone message from X-SIL which can be summed up thusly,

“You made a commitment to CB when you adopted him (almost 43 years ago now) and you need to honor it by helping him out now. Besides, you are old and alone and he could come live with you and help you out (which would get him the hell away from me).

X-SIL’s predicament should be a lesson to all who foolishly have children with men they don’t want to marry all that much. I mean, if you don’t like or trust a guy enough to marry him – ever – why sleep with him in the first place? And the no-breeding thing should go without saying.

On Thursday, I tried to be rational and matter of fact and it was not what Mom wanted to hear. She wanted me to share her outrage and do the verbal equivalent of a head nod as she ranted. Trouble is, I have been in the widow window she is in, and I know better than to feed that kind of pointless emotion. It’s draining and in the long run, not really what serves a person best. So I pointed out the facts in a non-judgmental way:

1) CB is mentally ill. Being angry with him is pointless. Send him money or don’t, but stop expecting my agreement that he is somehow responsible for his looniness. 

2) X-SIL is nearly as nuts and she isn’t a part of our lives – hasn’t been for a decade easily. Consider the source and erase the message. 

Afterwards I wondered just how annoying I was when I was 6 months out with my perpetual focus on myself and how the world was impacting me. My poor family, friends and co-workers is all I can say though truthfully, most people dealt with me by pretending nothing had happened and I seldom brought it up in real time. I know now that there is a very good reason for the “pep” talks the grieving are given starting from around that time period. These are “make or break” months. Whether a person pulls themselves together and begins moving forward depends on those around us being supportive without enabling.

Friday, of course, I felt bad. Six months out is a rough time, and I didn’t want Mom to feel as though all I do is give her advice when she wants validation. I called her again. I told her I was sorry if I added to her trouble or made her feel bad. She assured me that I didn’t. And then she rehashed the whole thing again, this time throwing in the fact that Nephew1’s grandmother (he lives with her and his dad now) called and asked for a loan of $200 to pay the electric bill.

“What I should have told her was to stop eating out every night and buy food that needs to be cooked rather than microwaved and maybe she wouldn’t be short at the end of the month,” Mom was indignant, but she gave her the money.

I feel bad about having counseled  Mom to use money as a way to keep the problem people in her life at bay, but at the time, it was the quickest and easiest solution. That time, having past, means that the heavy-lifting of redefining her role and willingness to be supportive beyond good thoughts, a shoulder and prayers has arrived, and I am not sure she can do it.

“I am all alone now,” she said.

And while she is not technically alone, she is spiritually/emotionally alone with Dad gone because no one has her back at a moment’s notice anytime and anywhere anymore. I get that.

As I was listening to her on Friday, DNOS showed up to hear the offending voice message. When I talked with her privately today, she confirmed my suspicions that X-SIL was simply being manipulative and trying to rid herself of the burden of CB by convincing Mom into bringing him home.

At the time of the conversation however, DNOS was in,

“Uh-huh. I see. Really?” mode, which is code for “Just shut up and let me handle things because I am here and you are not.”

Later at dinner – BabyD was off at a birthday party – Rob and I discussed, yet again, extended family and our siblings in particular. Rob’s younger siblings are just as off track as CB and my youngest sister, but they rarely ever contact him the way CB does me. Rob doesn’t like the way CB’s issues and my Mom’s difficulties dealing with CB affects me. I don’t either. I wish I could figure out a way to disengage from CB completely. I can’t help him. The system hasn’t any mechanism to allow for his being helped without his permission, which he isn’t capable of giving anymore, and the whole thing is now boiling down to damage control.

In the end though it is up to Mom to simply putting an end to the mooching and being the go-to for our less responsible family and shirt-tail relations.


I am working on my workshop powerpoint yesterday morning, and it’s really coming together by the way, when I receive an email. Now, I know you are not supposed to stop what you are doing and check your email every time one comes in. Efficient people check their mail at set times, deal with them and ignore them until the next designated mail check rolls around.

I check my email all the time. It is a habit from my teaching days when I would receive emails all day long from other teachers and parents that about half the time had to be dealt with quickly. If this is not efficient, it has never severely impeded me from getting work done either.

The email was from my brother, CB, and, of course, he was in trouble. I don’t hear from him unless he is in trouble and he is afraid to ask Mom for help. I am his go-between. His enabler if you will. He knows that if all else fails, I will at least send him a care package and ten or twenty dollars. Mostly, I don’t fail. I have always been able to convince our parents to pity him and help out.

He is 42 now. Hardly a “baby brother” anymore and while I would like to be on an equal adult footing with him, it’s so hard to achieve that balance when I get SOS emails and directions to phone him at this or that friend’s pad.

Today’s sad story involved my XSIL and an alleged broken nose (his) and a van with its engine scattered around the garage of an old girlfriend’s. There was the usual blame shifting – his car insurance company withdrew more than it was supposed to for the monthly payment – and he expressed his usual bewilderment at how he could still be living out of his car and on the generousity of friends at such an advanced age. The latter is the only thing that surprises me. My mother, sisters, myself and his daughters are really the only people compelled to love him; the rest have options.

CB has never been in step with the world. He drank from a young age and never outgrew the need to use alcohol to alter his reality like most people do. He mated up early with someone who was not good for him but, for reasons I certainly can’t understand, can’t see that. He thought he was too smart to need an education and was too lazy to go back for it when he realized he’d made a mistake. He was drawn to wild schemes and dreams that were too off the grid to ever truly work or required more work than he was willing to put into it.

I saw CB in so many of my students which made working with those kinds of kids easy for me, but I don’t think I had any more impact on them than I have ever had on my brother. Some people will never believe that it is they who are wrong and the world – with all its rules and customs – that is right.

I called Mom for CB. She called him. He was a bit of a jerk to her, but she figures a few hundred dollars is a small price to pay to keep him half-way across the country for a while longer.