When Grief Overwhelms

This past Monday marked the seven-year anniversary of what was probably the saddest day of my life.  On that day in 2011, my hometown was struck by a horrible tragedy, a mass shooting that claimed the lives of 6 innocent people and injured 14 others.  I watched the story unfold in horror, helplessly 3,000 miles away in NYC.  Horror, in part, because this was happening to my hometown, but also because it struck much closer than that.

These were my former colleagues. This was an event I used to staff.  My former boss, a public official who I idolized, was shot in the head.  She lived, but never fully recovered. Two other former coworkers were also shot and, thankfully, lived.  A third former coworker, a mentor and maybe the nicest person I’ve ever met, was shot and killed.

I learned the news in bits and pieces.  First, it was reported that my former boss had been killed.  Later, a correction revealed she was still alive.  I knew there were fatalities, but no names were released for hours.  I remember walking home from the subway after work, dumbfounded, vigorously searching the news on my Blackberry for more details.  I stumbled across Gabe’s number in my phone, and briefly thought about calling him to see if he was okay.  No, I concluded, he didn’t need to hear from a distant friend/former coworker right now.  I was sure he was busy, overwhelmed, grieving, with his family.

Back at my apartment for the evening, it came out over the TV that a staffer was among those killed.  Nauseated, I repeated to myself: “Please don’t be Gabe. Please don’t be Gabe.”  A few minutes later, they released the name.  It was Gabe.

I don’t know if I’ve ever cried harder in my life.  My husband–boyfriend at the time–hugged me tightly as I sobbed into his chest.  It hurt so bad.  When I came up for air, I started turning my apartment over, searching violently for a special pen Gabe had given me as a going away present when I left the job for law school.  I never found it.  I was devastated.

What I did find was a home made going away card where Gabe and the other office members had written nice messages for me.  I clung to it for dear life.

I tried going to work that Monday, but left halfway through the day after crying at my desk. I felt like such a drama queen. Was I allowed to be this sad? I knew this guy for a year and a half.  He wasn’t family.  I’m not even sure if he considered me his friend.  We just worked together, respected each other, and liked each other enough.

I flew home for his funeral.  It was healing to visit the memorials, to see old coworkers, to hug everyone in sight. To hear the eulogies and to learn things about Gabe that I never knew, things that made me like him even more.

Gabe’s brother got up and spoke at the funeral, and I felt like he was speaking directly to my wounded soul.  He said that maybe some of us were wondering, did we mean as much to Gabe as he meant to us?  And then his brother assured us that yes, we did mean as much to him.  “How do I know?” he asked meaningfully. “Because he told me.”  I needed to hear that more than anything.

I felt so much peace when I headed back to New York.  And I was still sad.  But the days, months, and years tumbled on.  I would be lying if I said that I thought about Gabe and the other victims of the shooting every day.  I don’t.  Not even close.

And Monday was the seven year anniversary, and though I remembered, I felt … irritated.  Irritated because I wanted to cry, to feel sad, to give the memory the respect it deserved.  But the tears just didn’t come.

Instead, I spent Monday evening talking with my father.  He was upset, confessing that he’d cried for the first time in years.  That he was inexplicably sad, suddenly grieving things that he had suppressed since childhood.  Grieving the loss of his mother for the first time, even though she died twenty years ago.

Grief is weird.  Grief is unpredictable.  Grief is frustrating.  Grief is inconvenient.  I can prepare for weeks, get myself all ready to cry on the anniversary of a tragic event, but no dice.  Instead, the tears come during a meeting at work.  Or when I finish a run on the treadmill at the gym.  Or when I see a can of Diet Dr. Pepper.

So maybe my grief isn’t the beautiful, reverent, tragic thing that I want it to be.  But it’s there.  I do care.  And I do remember.

I remember how Gabe used to drink Diet Dr. Pepper by the case.

I remember how he was the office problem solver.  How we directed difficult cases his way.  How he called back a constituent once after he overheard the constituent being rude to me on the phone.

I remember how I lied to him to get out of staffing an event.  How I told him I was going apple picking with my family.  And how he asked me about it the next day, and I continued to lie (badly) about all the apple picking we did.  He knew.  I could see it on his face.  But he let it slide.

I remember making fun of him for being super old, even though he was only five years older than me.

I remember running in to him at a fundraising event.  He was there with his dad, and he introduced him as his best friend.

He was a really special guy.  He deserves to be remembered.  And maybe I don’t always cry on the anniversary of his death, but I do remember.

 

Until next time,

Vee

I’m Just Going to Leave This Here . . .

In case any of you were wondering what was inside the wrapped presents my mother-in-law left behind for Christmas, well, I’m just going to leave this here:

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Yes, it seems to be some kind of purse creature.

No, it is no longer breathing.

Yes, it has both black and brown carpeting.

No, I will not be wearing it.

Yes, I did throw it directly in the trash immediately after taking this picture.

No, I did not think it was an appropriate item to inflict upon the Good Will or the Salvation Army.

Maybe she knew I would die of laughter when I opened it? Maybe the laughter was the gift? Because the laughter was amazing.  I almost needed a cigarette after.

Until next time,

Vee

 

 

Resolved

New Year, New me!  Or that’s what I would be saying if I was a basic bitch, anyway.  Which I’m totally not.

But seriously, I always go over the top with New Year’s resolutions.  This year, as always, I have a ton.  Lose 15 pounds.  Eat less chocolate.  Eat less cheese.  Drink less alcohol.  Spend less time on my phone around the kids.  Plan more activities for the kids.  Get K-Man to eat at least one bite of one vegetable.  Clean the kitty litter every day.  Call my grandpa more.  Shower more.  Figure out what I’m doing with my life.

But if I achieve nothing else this year, what I really, truly want, is to be nicer to my kids.  You see, before I had kids, I never in a million years thought I would be a “mean mommy.”  Because though I can be a huge, passive-aggressive “B” behind someone’s back, I’ve never been confrontational.  If anything, I thought I would be too meek with my children, let them walk all over me, let them get away with things left and right.

But here I am, almost three years in, mean as fuck.  Let me be clear up front: I love my children hard.  And they know how I feel.  They get snuggled, loved on, praised, adored.  I’ve never been one to hold back affection.  But, boy, do I lose my patience.  I am not a patient person, and my poor kids are the unsuspecting victims of my inability to keep it together in moments of stress.  I yell, growl, glare, and flail my arms around like a stupid idiot.  It’s a disgusting, embarrassing display.

Even worse, sometimes I lose my temper.  Because when K-Man gets violent with his little sister, I run hot instantly.  I’m ashamed to admit I’m not above picking him up, or holding him sternly by the shoulders, and yelling in his face.  Ugh, I don’t even like to anonymously admit that to the blogosphere.  I just get so frustrated, and I really need him to understand that his behavior is not ok, and in that moment, I can’t think of a better way to accomplish that.

When the moment passes, I feel sick, and I hate myself.  I don’t think I’m crossing any hard lines about how to treat children, but I know I’m crossing my own lines about what I am comfortable with in the abstract.  And I know that violence breeds violence.  I know that I am the way I am, in part, because when I was a kid my dad picked me up and held me against the wall to yell in my face about what I’d done wrong. And I know that if I’m not careful, my kids will be doing the same things to their kids.

So this year, I want to be better.  To practice patience.  To practice calm.  To remember to breathe when I recognize the anger rising.  Wish me luck (and give me pointers!).

Until next time,

Vee

 

 

The Kindness of Strangers: A Christmas Story

‘Tis the season of sugar highs, long lines, and–miraculously–somehow also the kindness of strangers.

Allow me to set the scene.  It was Christmas Eve Eve Eve (yes, that’s a thing).  The second of four days in a row that Hubby would be working leading up to Christmas Day.  And I had dragged the kids out in a nasty wintry mix so we could do some last minute shopping for Hubby at Barnes and Noble.

If you don’t know, Barnes and Noble is a fairly kid-friendly bookstore, with lots of toys for sale, and usually some kind of train table in the kid section for open play.  So I let the munchkins play with the train table for a while before picking up my gift for Hubby.

At one point, K-Man started to do the potty dance, and said he needed to pee.  So I picked up Ell-Bell, the diaper bag, all of our jackets, and marched him over to the bathroom on the other side of the store.  And when we got there, that little stinker refused to pee, said he didn’t need to go.  Ugh! So, we walked over to the toy section — again, with me juggling all the things — and played around for a bit.  K-Man could not move two feet without knocking a cascade of things off of the shelves.

I was starting to get kind of flustered, so I picked up Hubby’s present and started to wrangle the kids and our things so we could go check out.  Before we got very far, though, K-Man again announced that he had to pee.  Well duh!  Back to the bathroom we went.  After much coaxing, little man did his business and we went up front to pay for our things.

As it was Christmas Eve Eve Eve, there was a long-assed line.  And the line was littered with towers of things for sale, teetering precariously at every turn.  So stressful.  K-Man insisted on playing with a pile of Beanie Babies, dragging them all over the dirty floor despite my tired pleas.  Ell-Bell started losing her mind and didn’t want to be held anymore.  As I was trying to adjust her and the diaper bag and the jackets and the things I was buying, I managed to knock a few items off a display table.  Ugh.  “Gee, thanks for all your help,” I thought grumpily to myself, feeling the stares from other people in line as I picked up my mess.

Finally, finally, it was my turn to check out, so I dragged my brood of people and things up to the counter and started to exchange pleasantries with the clerk.  The lady behind me in line huffily rushed up next to me and waved one of the Beanie Babies in the air.  “Seriously?” I mumbled, thinking she was going to complain about how K-Man was playing with it.

And then the lady said, “Excuse me, I would like to buy this toy for her.”  And she gestured towards me.

Oops. I’m a terrible person.  I profusely thanked her, and she commented that she had five kids (wow), that she knows that some days are better than others, that it is the season of giving, etc.  And then she explained to the clerk that she was covering my whole purchase.  I tried to protest, because you guys, it was a $50 bill! A complete and total stranger wanted to buy me $50 worth of things because it’s Christmas and I was having a hard day!

I eventually let her go through with it, but I felt a little awkward and couldn’t thank her enough.  I was even moved to a few tears, which was super embarrassing.  (To be fair, I was pretty close to tears before the nice gesture…)

I was so overwhelmed with emotion, in fact, that I failed to realize that the clerk had rung up one of my items twice, thereby charging this kind lady an extra $15.  Oof, I really wish I had noticed that at the time!

As I drove home, I reflected on the kindness of a stranger, and how it had turned around my day.  This season is so beautiful to me.  I know I talk a lot about shopping and presents, but I really do love the less tangible facets of Christmas.  Kindness.  Giving.  Love.  Cheer.  I love how Christmas brings these emotions forward.

Christmas is picking up someone’s bill to brighten their day.

Christmas is humming carols out loud at the grocery store, smiling as you pass someone doing the same.

Christmas is my heart exploding as I watch my kids bathe together before bedtime, both silently sucking on their toothbrushes in unison.  Dorks.

Christmas is Hubby’s attending sending him home 4 hours early today so he could spend Christmas Eve with his children.

I know this time of year isn’t easy for everyone.  For some, Christmas is about longing for what they don’t yet have, or missing what they don’t have anymore.  For me, sometimes the holiday just highlights the loss I still feel so keenly for my own nuclear family, the one that crumbled when my parents divorced 7 years ago.

So if you’re not feeling all warm and cuddly and spirity this Christmas Eve, please accept my virtual hug.  And know that if I was behind you in line at Barnes and Noble, I would totally pick up your bill.

Merry Christmas to all.  Until next time,

Vee

Happy Thoughts

While writing Monday’s vent sesh about the in-law visit was totally therapeutic, it also left me feeling like a negative nelly.  (Or the in-law’s visit made me feel that way, and I was just re-living it when I wrote about it, but whatever).  So this post is dedicated to the happy thoughts that have kept me going this week.

Thoughts like . . . how much I freaking love the Christmas season.  Beautiful twinkling lights.  Gentle (and sometimes violent) snowfall.  Family.  Cheer.  Presents.  Giving.  Shopping.  As I’ve blogged about before, I lurv shopping, so I absolutely welcome any excuse to spend money semi-guiltlessly.  And shopping for the kids brings this to a whole other level. I wish I could spend endlessly on them, but I’m trying to keep myself in check! My favorite gift for the kiddos, you ask? Well, it could be the illustrated Harry Potter book that my son is definitely still way too young for but we just couldn’t wait any longer to buy.  Or it could be this trampoline that I’m hoping my son can use to jump his crazies out during these winter days inside.  Or it could be these adorable rain boots we ordered for Ell-Bell.  Are you dying like I’m dying? They are so omg adorable.

Thoughts like . . . how stinking cute K-Man is with some of the things he says.  Like how he starts sentences with the phrase “Shall we…”

  • Shall we go play in the fam-wy woom?
  • Shall we eat eggs and panpakes?
  • Shall we go to the wi-bwar-ee?
  • Shall we watch Baby Bums?

Or how he calls all meals of the day “wunch.”  Or how he kept shouting “fourteen days until Chriiiist-masss!” in the grocery store yesterday (even though I kept correcting him and telling him it was actually only four days).  Or how he spends all morning asking me to “wun” and “chaaaaase” him.

Thoughts like … halle-freaking-lujah and a-freaking-men for the fact that the green slime goo crap that we never should have bought turned out to be water soluble. Because otherwise my 1-year-old daughter would be waking up with a buzz cut this morning.  (For the record, I only turned away for a few seconds.  And for the other record, my son put the goo in her hair.  I didn’t knowingly let my 1-year-old play with goo. Of course, I knowingly let my almost-three-year-old play with goo, so I’m still plenty dumb).

Wishing everyone a wonderful weekend.  Until next time,

Vee

The Visit is Over

Early yesterday afternoon, the in-laws concluded their visit.  As they closed the front door to our house and headed out to their car, Hubby and I both literally keeled over in moaning, ugly exhaustion.  They. are. exhausting.

You see, both my mother-in-law (“MIL”) and my father-in-law (“FIL”) are recently-retired teachers. They love to talk.  They love to have a captive audience.  And I don’t mean captive, like, captivated.  I mean captive like, unable to escape.

Though they love to talk, neither of them can stand to listen to the other.  They save all this pent-up frustration at not being listened to for months at a time, and then they verbally explode all over the place whenever they visit other people.  So I spent four days being verbally exploded upon.  As an introvert who can barely stand to hear her own husband talk for more than 2 minutes at a time (love you Hubby), this was excruciating.

Now, it may be true that I am a horrible hag who thinks people shouldn’t be allowed to talk for more than two minutes at a time.  But to be fair to me, the in-laws’ talking is a particular brand of awful.

First, they insist on having a conversation at the worst times.  Like, at the same time that someone else is talking.  Or, when I am trying to soothe a baby that is fucking losing it.  Or, when I am literally in the middle of running out of the room to go tend to something burning on the stove.  Zero self awareness.

Second, they talk about the most inane things.  The. most. inane. things.  FIL walked me through his weekly schedule, one hour at a time.  (He’s retired.  He plays a lot of pickle ball.  He does half of his grocery shopping at Harris Teeter.  The other half at Whole Foods.  Sometimes he goes to Walmart for the sales.  A few weeks ago they over-charged him for potatoes and he had to talk to the manager to get his 50 cents back).  MIL turned a 30-second anecdote about how she has to buy different shoe sizes for each foot into a 10-minute story.   She gave us a lecture on the Roman calendar.  She told the life stories of multiple people who I have never met, have no relation or connection to, and couldn’t give any shits about.

It was more than just the talking that irritated me, though.  MIL spent probably about 60% of the what-should-be-waking-hours of their visit in our guest room, sleeping.  And like, it’s kind of nice to have a break from her, but good god woman, you sleep more than my 1-year-old does.  Like, a lot more.  Get your life together.

As for meals, well, per usual, they took zero responsibility for their own sustenance.  In every instance, they just waited to be fed.  Now, I get that when someone visits you, you should generally expect to do most of the food provision.  But it is a little exhausting to be 100% responsible, especially when you have two young needy kids.  The in-laws treated us like short-order cooks.  They didn’t lift a finger to help with the preparation of a single meal or snack.  They didn’t offer to pick up groceries when we needed something.  They never said Thank You.  And, when my split pea soup turned out to be an unfortunate dud and Hubby rushed out for some emergency Panera Bread one night, the in-laws did not offer to pay for their share of the meal.  Can I take one moment to vent about the fact that any time Hubby or I have ever had to order-in when these people are visiting us, they have not ONCE — not one single time — asked how much they owe for their share? Not once, in the entire eleven years I’ve known them.  They must think that because they are our guests, if we’re not preparing a meal for them, we are on the hook for paying for delivery.  What the fuck is that?

And then, of course, the Christmas gifts.  Let me just say, at the outset, that we sent all four of the kids’ grandparents an Amazon wish list with ideas for presents that the kids might like or need.  I think it was a well thought-out list, with a variety of possible presents (clothes, toys, academic stuff) at a variety of price points ($5-$100).  We prefaced the list with a nice note saying that the best gift for our kids was love, but that we hoped this list would be helpful if any of the grandparents felt compelled to give something.  I didn’t think it was horribly offensive, and both of my parents shopped from the list and sent nice useful gifts to my kids.  But, when the in-laws got here for their visit, they smugly told me they never even looked at the list.  And mocked me for sending it.  Like, I truly don’t understand the animosity that they displayed.  What could possibly be so repulsive about the concept of giving gifts that the recipient actually wants?

As for the actual gifts that the in-laws gave, well, it started out kind of okay.  When they first got here, FIL handed Hubby a check for a respectable amount of money, and insinuated that this was Hubby’s and my Christmas present.  We really couldn’t complain.  I’m not one to turn my nose up at monetary holiday gifts if the dynamic is appropriate, so I thought maybe Hubby and I had survived the gauntlet.

Then MIL insisted on giving the kids “Advent gifts” that they could open during the visit.  She reiterated over and over again that these were just Advent gifts, and not their Christmas presents.  Of course the Advent gifts were not good–because they never are–but they were not absolutely terrible either.  K-Man got some puzzles that MIL made by hand.  Terrible, glued-together, toxic, cardboard messes that we will be throwing away in a month or so, but K-Man had fun with them for a few minutes.  Ell-Bell got this doll that is not-so-slightly creepy looking.

MIL explained that she received the doll years ago from a friend who had hand-made it, well before MIL knew she would have a granddaughter.  (In other words, Ell-Bell got an old toy that MIL found lying around her house).

After the Advent gifts, Hubby and I were generally confused about whether that was all the kids were going to get.  But on the last day of the visit, MIL announced that she had left a box of Christmas presents for all of us in my room by the bed.  (WTF, don’t go in my room, weirdo).  I felt a little relieved, because even though the monetary gift for Hubby and I was quite welcome, I was kind of underwhelmed with the in-laws’ efforts at gifts for my kids.

So after they left, and after Hubby and I spent a few hours recovering in front of the TV, curiosity got the best of me.  I grabbed the box of presents from upstairs and started to pick through it on the couch.  A present for me, which, upon gentle manual inspection, was clearly another homemade puzzle.  Another present for me, which, as MIL wrote on the gift tag, I “may end up selling on eBay.”  Huh?  Something for Hubby, a floppy-book-feeling thing. Probably an old work book of his from grade school days, as his mother loves to wrap those up and pass them off as gifts.  I sorted through a few more presents, and a sickening realization began to wash over me.  There were no presents in there for the kids.  Was there a gift for the cats? You bet!  But nope, not a single other gift for our beautiful, sweet, innocent children.

And so, in 2017, the MIL Christmas Troll struck again.  I can’t even really articulate why I am so disappointed.  I guess I’m irritated that she went to so much effort to clarify that the Advent gifts were not Christmas presents, as if she was hyping some actual Christmas presents? As if she was trying to say, “don’t worry, this isn’t all we’re giving them!” Except it was all they were giving them? I guess I’m embarrassed that my son saw this juicy box of Christmas presents from grandma and grandpa, and not a single one is for him? I guess I’m feeling kind of protective over my children and their future disappointment when they realize that grandma and grandpa suck all the fun and joy out of Christmas because they can’t be bothered to swallow their pride and buy a fucking $5 sticker pad from an Amazon wish list?

Will this be the year that I finally learn to expect only the absolute most disappointing outcome from these people when it comes to gifts? I bet you one homemade puzzle that I’m writing this same shit all over again next Christmas.

Until next time,

Vee

Thursday Thoughts (on a Wednesday)

It’s Wednesday, and I’m having some thoughts.

Like, why does Hubby refuse to rinse out whatever bowl or cup he uses to scramble eggs in? Is it because he enjoys my gagging sounds when I’m loading the dishwasher?  Is there anything grosser than raw egg yolk dripping all over everything? *Vomit*

Also, why are the people waiting to use the family restroom I’m already using so impatient?  Do they not know what kinds of things go on in the family restroom?  Do their kids not need to take all manner of shoes and clothes off to go potty? Have they never changed a 20-wipe blowout? Do they think that trying the handle every 30 seconds is going to make my potty-training son poop any faster?

I’ve noticed that my kids have turned me into a human garbage disposal. They never finish any of their food and I ultimately end up playing clean up with my mouth.  Hey, it’s closer than the trash can.  (Floor noodles, anyone? No? Too far?)

Yesterday we had an epic snow here in Upstate New York and I felt like freaking Wonder Woman as I shoveled the driveway with two kids in tow.  I also felt like my neighbors were staring at me out their windows, thinking to themselves that I have no fucking clue what I am doing.  Maybe YouTube can teach me how to shovel snow?

Tomorrow, my in-laws are descending upon us for a few days.  You guys know how I feel about that.  I can’t wait to see what my Mother-in-Law got us all for Christmas this year.  We sent an Amazon Wish List for the kids that went completely unacknowledged, so I’m sure we totally won’t be disappointed or offended at all.  Blurgh.

The Star Wars release date is upon us, and the in-laws have volunteered to watch the munchkins so Hubby and I can have a day date and go see it.  I’m kind of a Star Wars poser, but I get excited because it is fun to see Hubby excited.  I will totally fall asleep halfway through the movie, for about 10 minutes, like I always do.  I will wake up to Hubby glaring at me over his popcorn, like I always do. Hopefully somewhere deep down, he thinks it is a little bit adorable?

Until next time,

Vee