Categories
Reflection writing

Reflections Upon a Gift of 42 Years

I turned 43 last week, so today’s blog is devoted to reflecting on 42.

According to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, 42 is the meaning of Life, the Universe, and Everything. It is The Answer. Nobody bothered to ask Deep Thought what The Answer was supposed to mean. It’s left to the reader to laugh at the absurdity, assign a personal meaning to The Answer, or something in between.

While I never assigned a personal meaning to The Answer in the series when I initially read it, I did hope that I would have things figured out by the time I turned 42.

Do I have things figured out?

No, not entirely.

I have, however, learned a lot this past year.

  1. I have lived my life by the seat of my pants. I went through elementary school, middle school, and high school with the plan in mind that I would go to college, get married, have kids, and live happily ever after. After I did everything but the successfully have children and live happily ever after, things went wrong.

    I ended up married too young to someone who was even more young and unready than I was, experienced miscarriage, and went into freefall after things fell apart. The only constant in my life was my job, and even that didn’t last. I ended up on a train to Chicago to meet my oldest daughter’s father and experience life in the suburb of a very huge city.
  2. I discovered that I was living my life in survivor mode after a guy I followed on Twitter offered me the opportunity to beta test an online academy he was building to help people duplicate the success he had. He’s eccentric, and I respect him for being able to go from being a homeless veteran to being the wealthy owner of several businesses.

    The first week was super-hard, but it helped me realize that I was trapped in the scarcity thinking that had allowed me and my oldest child to survive by luck alone until I met and married my second husband. I was still reacting instead of being proactive, and I was completely unaware that I was doing that.

    I’m in therapy, so I may have eventually realized my flawed thinking in session with my therapist, but the opportunity, being in the right place at the right time to be a part of this, it helped me realize this sooner and start taking steps to change my thinking and my life.
  3. I’ve discovered the previously unknown stories of some members of my family. I developed an interest in researching my family story after a cousin I hadn’t previously known contacted me on 23andMe, and I started digging so I could find out how we were related so we could build our respective family trees correctly.

    Learning about the horrors and hardships my relatives endured made it easier to understand why they made the choices they made, and I was able to forgive them. I am not excusing the choices they made, because quite a few of those choices were terrible, but I can understand why they made them.

    I was even able to cry on behalf of my maternal grandmother, who is probably one of the people I’ve hated the most in my life. She died in 1999, but I still have to live with the impact of the choices she made in my relationships with my mother and her siblings. Her cruelty, lies, and neglect were instrumental in making my mother and her siblings the people they are.

    And like a rock thrown in a still lake, the ripples of what was done to my mother and her siblings affected me and my siblings and our children.
  4. Other than our family’s current income and my own health issues, I really love the life I have. I’m legally blind, in constant pain, and am constantly exhausted, and I love being the person who makes the food we eat, takes care of the children, and keeps the house running. My love of writing and making art doesn’t have a set schedule, so I can do it when I’m not busy with my children or household duties. I have great friends who want me to succeed at whatever makes me happy.

In discovering these things about myself, I have made a lot of progress. I have also started seeing new opportunities presented to me, and I am using those opportunities to help me meet my goals for myself and the goals I share with my husband and/or my children.

Additionally, I have set a goal to update this blog once a week. Once I have been able to do that for a while, I may choose to update it more often. In the meantime, I am also working on the manuscript for a piece of historical fiction based loosely on the short life of a relative. It may never be published, but I think it’s key to helping me heal and provide closure to a lot of things I’ve discovered. I love finding information, and I hope to give people a greater understanding of what life was like for a woman born into poverty in the first half of the twentieth century.

Categories
writing

The Bittersweet Diaries

Thanks to NaNoWriMo, I got inspired to take what I learned while trying to find how a cousin and I were related to tell a story. As the world seems to be inching closer to yet another world war, I saw what my children were thinking and feeling and what my neighbors were doing in their day-to-day lives. We are all doing our best to survive, just as they did before the other world wars.

My maternal grandmother, Cora, was three years old when she was orphaned. Her father died after a fall at the brick factory where he was working, and her mother died of cancer a few months later. She and her siblings ended up being taken in by their aunt and her husband. She was six years old when the war started in Europe, and she was eight when the United States joined the war.

Unfortunately, I can’t ask her about her life during that turbulent time, because she died in 1999. She was only 66. She had led a very hard life and had made both good and bad choices throughout her life, as one does.

The truth of it is, I hated her. I was sad because my mother was sad, but my mother had not kept secrets about what had been done to her and her half-siblings as she grew up. When I became a mother myself, I hated Grandma Cora even more for the choices she had made.

It was only when I began trying to figure out how I was related to my cousin Destinie that I began to really piece together the tragedy that was Cora’s life. She was born into poverty and spent her entire life trying to survive as best she could. According to my mother, Cora’s aunt treated her and her children like they were demon spawn, so I can only imagine how cruel her life with that woman must have been. I figure that Rose only took her and her siblings in out of a sense of duty to her dead brother rather any sense of love or compassion for the orphaned children.

Her husband John was different, though. According to my mother, John was a kind person who enjoyed spending time with Cora and my mom and her younger half-siblings. She also told me that Cora spent a lot of time with John, even dressing like a boy and using the nickname that John had given her, Toby. That’s probably how she got her own mechanical knowhow, and it may have been what drew her to her first husband, a mechanic named John. (That John was not a good man, but that’s a another story for another time.)

As I learned more about Grandma Cora, I began to hate her less, until I didn’t hate her at all. I still hated the bad choices she had made, choices that had hurt her children and herself, but I understood why she made those choices. She was born into poverty, orphaned as a toddler, and basically stuck in survival mode her entire life.

So, her life inspired a story. There isn’t a lot about people growing up in poverty in rural northeastern Missouri in the 20th century (or in any century, for that matter), but my research and my knowledge of the choices Cora made as she grew up and became a mother and a grandmother have inspired me to write a fictional account using elements of her own life and her own choices.

Will it be complete by the end of November? Nope. Will it ever be published? Maybe. We’ll see what kind of story emerges from my mind and if it’s worth sharing with the world. The voices of the poor have been unheard for a very long time, but that’s starting to change as access to communication media continues to grow. Stories are starting to be told, and voices are starting to be heard. It is my hope that we can all build a better, more compassionate world from the telling of the stories of those the world once chose to ignore.

We are here.

We have always been here.

Categories
Lore

There’s No Place Like What Could Have Been

I’m not sure how it happened, but a few months ago, I happened to stumble across an episode of Holmes on Homes on Destination: America. I was immediately hooked by Mike’s desire to help people whose homes were in bad shape. I also enjoyed how he educated his audience as he and his crew worked on the houses that were in disrepair. Eventually, I found Holmes Inspection, Buy it Right, Holmes and Holmes, and Holmes Family Rescue.

In addition to enjoying the punny titles, I enjoyed seeing the banter and underlying love between Mike and his adult children as they continued his mission to help people have safe, inhabitable homes. I even bought a gently used copy of his book, The Holmes Inspection, so I could continue to learn from him even when one of his or his kids’ shows weren’t available to watch. He also has a Twitter account and a website with an educational blog that is updated often. Thanks to Mike Holmes, his family, and his crew, I think I am better prepared for when we resume our hunt for our forever home.

There are a lot of shows out there that show home repairs by professionals, so why do Holmes and his family appeal to me so much in particular?

The truth is simple and sad: When I look at Mike Holmes, I remember the only time my father was happy when I was growing up.

You see, my father was born into poverty and worked a number of blue-collar jobs ranging from butchering animals to working on a factory line. Eventually, Dad went to work for Art Bross, a general contractor who went to the same church we did. My father had no formal construction training before he went to work for Art, but he had a keen mind and had been building things since he was very young. Dad’s strongest skill was carpentry, but he also knew how to safely run water, gas, sewer, and electric lines. Our “house” was a one-bedroom, partially gutted trailer. By the time we moved away, my father had built on a “front porch” that was actually a mudroom, two bedrooms, and a laundry room with a back door that led out to the clotheslines in the back yard. It wasn’t pretty, but it was watertight, warm in the winter, and somewhat tolerable in the summer, considering we didn’t have an air conditioner until Art gave us one.

My dad and his dad didn’t have a super-wonderful relationship. My grandpa had grown up in an abusive household and left home when he was very young, then served in the Marine Corps during World War II after he married my grandmother. I imagine he did the best he could, all things considered, and my dad gave his parents a place to live next door to us on the five acres my dad owned, but it doesn’t excuse the choices he made or how he and my grandma hurt my dad, aunts, and uncle growing up. To my dad, Art was the father he wished he’d had, and Art was happy to take Dad under his wing and teach him professionally as they worked together. Art was a man of integrity and heart, and his kindness helped my dad flourish.

It didn’t last.

Four days before Christmas in 1988, Art suffered a heart attack and died at age 66. Not only was my father suddenly unemployed before Christmas, he was suddenly without the person who had become a second father to him. It was sudden and traumatic. My father was also displaced because Art’s two “real” sons had their grief validated, as it should be, but as “just an employee,” my dad’s grief wasn’t recognized, much less validated.

Had things been different, my dad could have been the US version of Mike Holmes. He might not have been a TV star, but every home he touched would have had whatever work they needed carried out with integrity. Those projects would have built the right way, sturdy as an oak.

Unfortunately, things are what they are, and no amount of wishing will change the past. Fortunately, successful guys like Mike Holmes are around to teach what to look for in homes and contractors, and for that, I am grateful.

Categories
Lore

The Stories in the Stones

It all started with an email from a fourth cousin on 23andMe.com.

Destinie wanted my help tracking down where we were related along the Smith branch of the family tree. We both enjoy genealogy and are curious about where and how we are connected.

Little did I know that my fall down the rabbit hole would uncover one of the most heartbreaking tragedies in my maternal family’s murky history.

Growing up, my Grandma Cora would spin all sorts of wild stories about her past and her history. She was supposedly related to Jesse James. Then she had a pure Blackfoot ancestress named Little Bear Boat. She also spun tales about my mother’s biological father. By turns he was Mexican, Native American or all manner of exotic combinations.

The truth was that he was an ordinary married white guy who fathered two children on Grandma Cora and deserted her when she refused to give her second child (my mother) up for adoption. Up until then, she apparently believed that he was going to leave his wife and their many children to be with her. After she gave up on him, she married a mechanic who abused her, my mother, and the children they had together. He died at age 45, to the relief of pretty much everyone who knew him. My grandmother then married a man 14 years her junior 24 days later while her 16-year-old daughter was alone in a St. Louis hospital, giving birth to my half-sister.

Two years later, my mother married her stepfather’s younger brother, who was only two years older than her. Even though he was so young, he had been married previously. They had four children, and I, their youngest, was born seven years after they married.

But I digress.

As I tried to find out where my cousin Destinie (great name, by the way) and I were connected, I started to learn more and more about my own family. Some of the information I uncovered unlocked some of my living relatives’ memories, and the people who were just names on stones became more fleshed-out and real to me.

As I searched FindAGrave to find more information about the relatives who were no longer with us, I ran across so many people who shared my relatives’ names but had stories of their own.

And some of those names were children whose lives were cut off far too short.

And some of those names were aunts, uncles, and cousins I never got to know about because the pain of their loss was buried in time and locked away so that their parents could continue surviving and providing for their living children as best they could.

I will do my best to learn and carry their stories, and I hope that my own children and/or niblings will be interested in carrying those stories when I can no longer do so myself.

So it seems that I have taken my late Aunt Ruth’s position as family Loremaster. Remembering those who have gone on before us didn’t actually carry the title “Loremaster,” but it does now, and I will do my best to keep our family’s stories and memories alive until the day I become a memory myself.

Categories
Reflection

Tears of Joy?

It was really difficult for me to think of a time when I had cried tears of joy. Most of the time that I cry when I’m happy, my tears are tears of relief rather than joy.

I did think of a time that I did cry tears of joy. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it is my story.

My Cherry Blossom (not her real name, of course) and I are both autistic. I didn’t get a formal diagnosis until I was put through testing just as CB had been two years previously. It explained a lot about me, and it highlighted how every flavor of autism is different.

I didn’t know that CB was neurodivergent until she lost her words. She started saying simple words at around nine months, but by the time she was two years old, all of that was gone. She was mute, and she communicated by gesticulation and grunting, and by hitting or kicking me whenever she got frustrated.

After CB was diagnosed, a local organization helped us get copies of Signing Time and Baby Signing Time for free. It turned out that verbal speech and ASL use different neural pathways, so while CB was in speech therapy to relearn how to talk with her voice, we were able to learn some signs in ASL together so that she could be heard even without spoken words.

Things progressed, and as CB was able to use more spoken words, we used ASL less and less (which is sad, because it is a great language that should have more fluent speakers).

I remember the first time she called me Mama. It was unexpected, and it was beautiful.

I cried.

It may have been vain.

It might have been selfish.

I own it.

CB was my only child then, and I thought I would never have any other children back then.

I had wanted to be a mother all of my life, and to hear the word I didn’t know if I would ever hear again was miraculous, and I felt joy that she called me by my name again.

CB now talks a lot. She still has a lot of challenges, but she’s smart, and I believe in her. I believe that she will achieve anything she wants to achieve, even it takes her longer than other children.

CB relearned how to speak because she wanted to be able to speak, and I am proud of her for her hard work.

And I am selfishly joyful she calls me “Mom.”

I can live with that.

Categories
Uncategorized

Don’t just do something; stand there

There is very little quite as frustrating as working all day, feeling completely wiped out by bedtime, but still feeling like you didn’t accomplish much.

Most of the work I do is the invisible labor that nobody really values because it doesn’t translate into income for my family. While it saves my family thousands of dollars, it’s considered worthless because it doesn’t bring my family that much closer to being debt-free or buying a house.

During the week, I get up at 5:45 am to get breakfast started. Before COVID, I would also prepare my husband’s lunch and have it ready to go for him. If I’m lucky, our 14-month-old baby doesn’t wake up until breakfast is ready. If I’m not lucky, I check her diaper and put her in her playpen so I can finish making breakfast.

Breakfast is at 6:15 am, more or less. My husband requests oatmeal during the week because it is filling and helps him get through the morning without snacking. Our 12-year-old daughter (Sam) usually wakes up around that time, too. She’s not a fan of oatmeal, but we always have her favorite cereal on hand (plain Cheerios) or sometimes muffins. Our 14-month-old (Nem) is ambivalent about solids, but she sometimes eats oatmeal or cheerios for breakfast.

After breakfast is when good intentions go to die. My husband goes to his office, and I do my best to manage the household in the interim. Sam is autistic and electronics-obsessed, so it’s sometimes hard to find a balance among letting her have non-educational screentime, teaching her essential life skills, and helping her get better at subjects she doesn’t like (and because God has a sense of humor, those subjects are reading and writing). Nem is a very people-oriented child who demands a lot of attention. (I’ve had to stop writing this paragraph four times now to attend to her needs.)

If I’m lucky, I can distract the girls with some Sesame Street and start a load of laundry and put a few dishes in the dishwasher. (I am NEVER buying pans that can’t go in the dishwasher again.) If I’m super-lucky, I can grab a shower.

Nem normally takes a nap after breakfast, and if I didn’t sleep well the night before, I sometimes join her. Other times, I take the opportunity to shower. (It’s hard to get it done when she’s awake and fussing.) Sam is very creative and mostly good at keeping herself out of mischief. Nem is very people-oriented and likes to be near me at all times. She is very charismatic and friendly, and like her sister, she seems utterly fearless. Needless to say, I have my hands full keeping Nem out of mischief.

When lunchtime comes around, I have to find a way to keep Nem amused so I can cook. Sesame Street has done the trick so far. Nem is obsessed with Cookie Monster, and she will happily watch him sing or chase cookies. Her favorite song so far is “Google Bugle.” (She and her sister both really love Fall Out Boy, too.)

After lunch, I try in earnest to get done what I hope to accomplish before my husband’s workday ends. Sometimes Nem takes a second nap, which makes getting those things done easier. Sam helps out, too, as she can.

Once Michael’s workday is done, I do my best to have supper ready. Once again, Sesame Street saves the day if Nem is awake. Sometimes, if nothing on hand seems appealing, we’ll order food. It’s tricky on a tight budget, but we have to make it work, especially when the people who fulfill our grocery order can’t find the things I’ve ordered for our meal plans. Ever since COVID hit, our food expense has more than doubled. It’s frustrating.

After supper, Michael usually plays his favorite video game to unwind. We also watch various shows together before putting Sam to bed. We’re still trying to figure out how to get Nem to go to bed at the same time every night. Given that she was a surprise baby, we had long since filed away the whole “how to get the baby to sleep at a consistent time” thing. Sam thrives on routine and is pretty cooperative as bedtime comes. Frankly, I feel a little spoiled by how well she does with routine. With Nem, it’s trial and error (mostly error, but we’re figuring it out).

Once Nem is down for bed, I finish up what I must do before I go to bed, such as running the dishwasher or handwashing dishes if I don’t have enough for a full load (I am never buying pans that aren’t dishwasher safe again). On a good night, I can get maybe six hours of sleep before the whole cycle starts again.

Weekends are a bit better, and I can get a bit more sleep, but my duties are largely the same. On the plus side, I don’t have to worry about the kids disrupting Michael’s workday by being too noisy.

Anyway, it took me a week to be able to complete this blog. I hope that future blogs are easier to write. I’m slowly finding balance.