Sometimes Family Sucks

1422356_665641110122635_595403514_nMy birth family sucks.  There are five siblings in my family.  Three of them live within a 30-minute drive from me and the other one visits the area frequently, but I haven’t seen any of them in over two years.  For my birthday this year, three of the four sent me a two-word greeting via text message.  I hear nothing from them at Christmas, not even a tweet much less a phone call.

I have un-friended them all on facebook because their posts were making me sick.  Last Christmas, one sister posted about all the holiday greetings she was sending, including several care boxes to service people overseas (which, by the way, I do support and admire).  All her “friends” liked and commented on her posts, raving about what a loving, warm person she is.  Loving to everyone except her sister apparently.  She posts all the time and has this posse of friends who tell her constantly what a beautiful person she is.  Yet, when she comes to town, I don’t get a phone call much less a visit.  Not exactly warm and fuzzy to the person who probably knows her best.

I have never received a thank you note from my nephew for a wedding gift I could not afford.  That part of the family has done better than well when it comes to money and they seem to thumb their noses at those less fortunate.  Throughout their lives, I’d send birthday cards to these children and include a little ($5 or so) gift with it.  I know they didn’t need it, but thought the kids would enjoy opening a card with a little treat inside.  This thought was never reciprocated for my children, nor was I ever thanked.

I used to work hard at trying to be a family.  I’d remember their birthdays.  I’d send little gifts when I found something I thought they’d like.  Sometimes I would call and invite them to lunch on their birthdays.  Yet, my birthdays came and went without acknowledgement other than the occasional text message.  I broke my ankle a year ago January and spent three days in the hospital after surgery, and six weeks non-weight-bearing, pretty much in bed.  Not even a single phone call.

Okay…this situation used to depress the hell out of me.  I thought I wanted a close family, one that was always there when I needed them.  I was repeatedly disappointed and hurt.  I’d dream about Christmases with my adult sibling-friends by the fireside.  You know… those people who love you unconditionally even though they know you inside and out.  The people with whom you could just be yourself. Additionally, I felt that as I got older, these siblings should and would be a comforting part of the aging process.  After all, we were getting old together.  We’d raised our children.  It was time to get back to the basics.  We had a common denominator.

Then I changed my mindset and it changed my life.  I can’t control people.  I cannot make this group of people loosely chained together by a soft chain of DNA into the idea of a perfectly tight-knit family.  Once I realized this, I could feel the tension seep from my body concerning them.  I wanted them to be something they didn’t want to be, not to me or to each other. I am the oldest surviving person in my family on my dad’s side now.  When mom passed away four years ago, I suspected we’d drift apart, but I wasn’t prepared for the rays of bumpy wake that would separate us as we all moved on without each other.

I have stopped wanting them in my life.  I’ve realized that their priorities are not my priorities.  When I objectively sit back and look at them, we are too different to be friends.  We don’t really know much about each other any more.  We are simply a small group of people with the same parentage who shared the same last name for a few years.  Other than that, we are complete strangers.

There may not be a perfect Norman Rockwell-esque family.  This idealization is perpetuated by images we see on TV, in magazines, and in other people’s lives, but it is not my reality and I suspect it may be the exception rather than the rule.  These images only foster and perpetuate sadness and depression in those inclined to experience it.

What’s important is that I’ve now given them permission to not live up to my expectations and I’ve stopped being angry.  With the holidays approaching, I am concentrating on my own children and the perfectly imperfect family we have created that loves and respects each other and joyfully comes together in warmth and love.

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Published in: on October 30, 2014 at 10:28 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Have You Started Your Holiday Shopping Yet?

In two days, Halloween 2014 will be a memory and CHRISTMAS SEASON WILL BE IN FULL SWING!  Forget Thanksgiving, that’s a holiday without gifts or decorations to speak of (yet).  Well, not to give anyone any ideas, but I haven’t seen a blow-up turkey on anyone’s lawn yet.

Time to get going on that holiday SHOPPING!  Buy, buy, buy and buy some more.  I’ve heard tales of people paying for their holiday purchases for months into the New Year?  Huh?

As I think back about all the Christmases I’ve experienced (a lot), what stands out in my mind are the experiences.  I grew up in a family of five kids and we got stuff but I don’t remember anything specifically unless it’s in a photograph somewhere.  I had four kids of my own and now have five grandkids.  I remember them having fabulous holidays with lots and lots of decorations and lots and lots of presents for everyone.  I don’t recall much of what I got for them and I know they don’t much remember what was in any of those brightly papered boxes either.

What we all remember are the experiences we had together.  Every year, we’d give them tickets to an event post-holiday.  For example, the ice shows came to Chicago in January and we’d give them tickets for Christmas.  It made the holidays last so much longer as they anticipated the event.  We’d still be celebrating long after the tree came down.  IMG_0108We started doing that for birthdays, too.  One year, we rented a fishing charter and all went salmon fishing on Lake Michigan to celebrate the summer birthdays.

Now, when we sit around reminiscing at the Thanksgiving table, the stories that always appear are, “Remember the time we had that whipped cream fight – when was that, two years ago?”  “Remember when we all went to Stomp and stomped our feet til they were numb?”  “Remember the salmon we had smoked and ate for an entire year?”

I’m already thinking about what’s coming to town after the holidays so my grandkids and I can have a memory to re-live on future Thanksgivings, even when I’m not there to reminisce with them anymore.

Published in: on October 29, 2014 at 8:40 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Trick or TREAT!

When I was a kid, it took forever to finish trick-or-treating. The grandma two doors down had homemade donuts and hot cider and you had to go in and visit awhile. Some families passed out apples. You sure couldn’t do that today because, you know, it’s just too darned easy to get a razor blade into one (huh?); also, they are so expensive now the cost of giving them out would be prohibitive – more than a candy bar, for sure. Sometimes we got a few pennies and could buy our own candy at the Penny Candy store, where it actually cost a cent or two. Remember those wax bottles with the colored sugar liquid in them? We would be gone for hours. Mom was probably glad we were out of the house. We walked all the way to the “better neighborhoods” to get full-sized candy bars. It was all about the candy.

It still is. I will be giving out Snickers bars this Halloween. Maybe some fruit snacks for the nut-challenged. But it will be a TREAT, not some lame pencil or sticker. If this does not fit in with your beliefs, please just skip my house and don’t force your food politics on me. Thank you.

Published in: on October 29, 2014 at 8:16 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Happy Halloween!

Girl in Halloween costume, 1955 (credit:  Mashable)Halloween Mask

Halloween is next week already.  More and more neighbors are running to the store for decorations.  Our neighborhood is decked out to the nines with orange and purple lights and gigantic spiders made of black garbage bags and enormous, house-sized rope spiderwebs.  Yards have been turned into Styrofoam cemeteries and there are coffins on every corner.  Costumes have become elaborate, so much more than when I was a kid.  Our costumes were certainly not store-bought; we’d pull out our rattiest clothes and oldest shoes (think Dad’s old work pants cut down to child length) with a flannel shirt and suspenders.  Sometimes we’d stuff leaves in them so we’d look “lumpy.”  We’d burn cork and rub the ash on our faces to look like unshaven bums, and into our hair so it would look dirty.  We all went as “a hobo.”  Do kids today even know what a hobo is?  Remember the vagrants who used to ride the rails and hang out in the yards?  They weren’t homeless or beggars.  They were just transient.  Long before spray-painted graffiti on the train cars.  A hobo would never deface his chosen method of transportation.  Those were the last days of the Iron Horse (the black steam engine) and boxcars chugging along with open doors, inviting the hobos to hop in and take a ride.

Other than the candy, I hate Halloween.  I do not like to be scared.  There is a definite difference between being afraid and being scared.  There’s nothing of which I’m afraid, but I scare easily.  I despise haunted houses and horror movies.  My children and grandchildren love these things and love to scare me.

I do enjoy the little Trick-or-Treaters, but three barking dogs for four straight hours frays my nerves. It took years of coaxing by my family to let my four children go trick-or-treating back in the day.  I felt that I’d spent all year drilling the “don’t talk to strangers” thing into them; I certainly didn’t want to send them out begging candy from strangers one night a year.  I could afford to buy them all the candy they needed and they didn’t need to beg for it.  I was finally overruled and after hours of walking them up and down streets in my town, they’d empty pillowcases of crap, the cheapest of which we’d still find hidden alongside their beds in April.  The teachers at our school would make math games for the kids during the first week of November.  Graph your chocolate, non-chocolate, fruit, gum, non-food items.  Ugh.

What I do miss is “Injun Summer.”  This was published every year by the Chicago Tribune until everyone got up in arms about the “Injun” implication and they discontinued it.  I’d wait for it every year.  When my dad would pull out the wire garbage can and burn leaves in our driveway, I was sure I could see those indians dancing around the fire in their buckskin and silent moccasins.  They were real to me and I respected them and admired them as indigenous Americans.  I loved the ritual of the burning leaves: the dry leaves crackling in the blue-orange fire and the wonderful smell.  I miss roasting marshmallows on the fire and throwing foil-wrapped potatoes into it, only to be rewarded with the most delicious baked potatoes as the fire died.  Most of all, I miss my dad.

InjunSummer

Ya’know how all the non-Christians get up in arms over nativity sets at Christmastime?  I’m thinking about making a fuss about Halloween.

Who’s with me?

Published in: on October 24, 2014 at 12:20 am  Leave a Comment  
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Stamping

Everyone with whom we come in contact makes an impression on us. Imagine this as an invisible rubber stamp. These stamps form layers on us, not unlike an onion, but some cover others and go deeper and deeper into us. Others remain superficial, but they’re still there. The stamps remain with us whether we wish them to or not.

Stamps are made from birth. Our parents stamp us first with love, experiences, and didactics. These stamps are deep and lasting. We’re stamped by teachers, friends, bosses, and coworkers. Stamps also come from those we meet only briefly and sometimes not even in person. We are stamped by books and letters, email and blogs like this. We don’t feel the stamps, but they are there.

I’ve been stamped by travel and those with whom I’ve come in contact while traveling. Many of them, of course, don’t even speak English but have stamped me with a look or a gesture. Something as simple as eye contact can produce a stamp.

I had a fun job not too long ago at a concert venue in a western state. I remember one evening when I was alone in a hallway with a huge country star backstage and, although we didn’t speak, I watched him walk, we made eye contact, and I instantly formed a lasting opinion of this person that remains with me to this day. I was stamped. Had he smiled a simple smile, my entire stamp would have changed. In that single second, I decided that his music (which I previously loved) wasn’t so great and that he wasn’t nearly the star I thought he was. He didn’t do anything to me or make me feel anything at all. It wasn’t a situation where he should have spoken with me and didn’t, nor was it the other way around. It was just a moment. Sometimes I wonder what kind of stamp I exchanged with him. He doesn’t remember me, I’m sure… I’m not anybody he should know or remember, but it’s true that somehow I stamped him too.

When work is available, I work as a background extra for television here in Chicago. Being an extra means a lot of standing around being human wallpaper. It also gives me the opportunity to observe a lot of people go about their work. Some days I get a barrage of stamps and the experience is exhausting. I wonder what stamps I return to them as I quietly watch. It is impossible to be invisible in any situation. Although we feel invisible, we’re still stamping others. My opinion of a number of people, without even speaking with them, has changed for the better or the worse depending on how they stamp me.

I’m stamped by stories, movies, television, magazines, facebook, twitter, causal encounters, and lasting friendships. I’d like to believe that most of these stamps are in italic with pretty floral borders. I know many of them are not and I try to keep them hidden away in a separate layer from the rest. Sometimes they surface and temporarily obliterate the pretty ones. I’d like to think that we are like that onion that grows another layer.

I want to send you a pretty floral stamp. Please enjoy.

Published in: on October 5, 2014 at 2:49 pm  Leave a Comment  

WINNER, WINNER, CHICKEN DINNER!

Well, not a chicken dinner but I’ve won lots of things playing sweepstakes in September!  It’s time consuming, but now that I’m home all the time, I have “extra time” to enter them.  In September alone, I won a Thermador sapphire dishwasher, a family entertainment pack consisting of a home popcorn machine and a Cuisinart soft-serve ice cream maker – with all the trimmings including popcorn, oil, little bags for the popcorn, Junket for the ice cream, bowls and spoons – an air purifier, a beautiful beach cruiser bike from Snapple, a case of Bay’s English Muffins, and so many little things (a book about cats, a money clip, an eyeliner pencil from Mary Kay, etc.) that there’s been something new in the mail nearly every day! The dogs have always looked forward to the arrival of the mailman but now I do too!   I can’t imagine that my “luck” will hold out, but it’s been great because I won lots of toys to give the grandkids at holiday time, especially welcome in a home with a very tight budget.

If you are interested in entering sweepstakes “for fun and profit,” I recommend the following websites to get started:  sweetiessweeps.com, sweepstakesadvantage.com, and giveawaysandsweepsakes.com.  Meredith Company publishes many magazines such as Good Housekeeping, Better Homes & Gardens, Redbook, etc., and that’s a good source of sweeps.  Of course, you can google “sweepstakes” and “giveaways” and “contests” and “promotions” to find others in which you may be interested. Local sweepstakes can be found by googling local radio station websites.  I recently won tickets to the air show in Osh Kosh, Wisconsin and although I couldn’t use them, I was able to sell them for cash on craigslist.  I found that sweepstakes on a local station’s website.

I’d advise you set up a separate email to enter contests.  You will get lots of junk email and it’s very time-intensive to delete it.  Also, some hosts will require that you be “subscribed” to them in order to win, so you’ll want to be careful about who you delete and when.  I also have a separate facebook page just for sweepstakes and have hundreds of sweepstakes “friends,” people who I really don’t know at all but who have the same interest I do.  As I’m just finding out, there are networks of these people and even “conventions” where some of them meet each other!

Beware…if your prize is over a certain price point (I think it’s $500), you will be responsible to file an I9 and pay income tax on the value of the prize.  It could be substantial if you win something as valuable as a car!

Good luck to you!  Maybe next month I’ll win that chicken dinner!

 

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Published in: on October 3, 2014 at 8:19 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Strange Dreams: Spanx

I frequently dream about bathrooms; more specifically, having to go to the bathroom. This dream seems to come with REM sleep a couple of times every night and when I finally wake up, guess what? That’s right…I have to go to the bathroom! Last night I had a real doozy which you might enjoy.
The setting is a very old hospital, but well kept, where I was either working or visiting; my purpose was not exactly clear. The building was in nice condition, with original dark wooden doors and beautiful woodwork and the interior had been renovated to look like something out of the 1920s. It was beautiful. But, as with most reconfigurations, there were doors where they wouldn’t necessarily be expected and the design was not columnar, bathrooms on one floor were not necessarily above or below any others.
I really had to go and couldn’t find a restroom. I’d turn right and head into a ward (a real ward, like in the old days) where everyone was dressed in white – both the staff and the patients – and all the bedding was white, including the painted iron beds. Then I’d turn again and I’d be in a research lab. Many times, I stumbled into beautiful mahogany paneled offices of obviously important doctors and administrators.
Here’s the thing. I had my post-menopausal body and was wearing Spanx. Not just Spanx, but way-too-small Spanx. I thought you were supposed to purchase them based on the size you wanted to be, not the size you really are. So, my extra large body was in a pair of smalls. I really had to go.
My first stop was a very small room in what was obviously a closet in a prior life. It had a white painted wooden door with a frosted glass window. It took many minutes to get the Spanx off. If you’ve ever worn them, you know that it is a challenge to relieve yourself, even if you’ve planned in advance. I started to push them down with my thumbs but it was taking too long. Then I rolled them down as far as I could and pushed them down full-handed. They were down about mid-thigh but I couldn’t wait any longer. I sat down to realize that this toilet was out of order. I left them as is and pulled down my dress. I opened the door and started walking, completely stuck at the thighs and shuffling from the knees down only.
My next stop was an unmarked door that opened into a beautiful empty office with a private loo. I quickly went in but it didn’t lock. Predictably, the office occupant surfaced and opened the door while I was trying to pee with my knees still locked. I was asked to “get the hell out.” Again, pulled the skirt down and shuffled out.
Having exhausted my options on the current floor, I tried to find an elevator but with the building’s reconfiguration seemed to be stumbling through a maze. After many dead-end attempts I found myself awake and able to get up and pee in my own bathroom having removed my gym shorts. Bliss.

Published in: on October 1, 2014 at 9:03 pm  Leave a Comment  
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