Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Days After Christmas

I've been so busy trying to keep up with our Project 365 blog that I've started to neglect this one - which isn't the intent.  Yikes!  I still have catching up to do in for the days following Christmas!  So again, with a lot of photos and a few words...

Deonne had a meeting in Myrtle Beach on December 27.  What better reason to head down to the beach for a night?  We found an insanely good deal on an oceanfront condo with an indoor pool... and I'd wager a guess that our one night at the hotel was the highlight of our children's Christmas break.

They swam a lot...

 ... floated in the lazy river a lot...

... got to see a drive-thru light display (that was nowhere near as cool as Saluda Shoals, for the record)...

... got to witness a winter storm over the beach ...

 ... that cleared up in time to ride the giant Myrtle Beach ferris wheel, the SkyWheel ...

(like the sweater Ashley?  it's been stuck to james like glue since he received it...)

... take a winter walk on the beach to see the surf...
... twirl and dance in the wind...

... look at and poke at strange things on the beach (that was later discovered to be bird poop)...

... chase seagulls...

... and take a walk on the recently refurbished Myrtle Beach Boardwalk.
Deonne had a hand in this - designing the structure of the boardwalk - so it was pretty neat for him to show and explain the boardwalk to the kids.

(Anna thought it was neat - James could have cared less...)

All in all - a fun 24 hours at the beach.  A nice break from routine, a refreshing place to gather our thoughts, feel the ocean breezes, and prepare for the new year to come.

Friday, January 13, 2012

The Story

I've not spoken or written much about what happened to our family nearly five years ago.  I'm not sure if it is because I wasn't ready to disclose the events, feelings, and drama of this life altering event, if it would somehow make it truly 'real' to have it out here for all the world to see, or if in some way I was protecting someone by not actually writing it.

And truth be told, I'm not entirely sure I'm ready to write about it now.  And I wonder if I'll be brave enough to hit 'publish' when I'm finished - or if I'll hide it away with the other 'draft' posts I've started throughout the years but never finished.

So why now?  I'm not really sure.  While I want this blog to be a chronicle of the fun, silly, and asinine things my children do, I also want it to be a snippet of our life.  Our real life.  The one that isn't always daffodils and lollipops.  The one where I often turn into psycho-mommy as I try to grapple with thoughts and emotions that are, at times, just too much to handle.

Perhaps, if I'm brave enough to share this story, my children will one day read it and have some sort of understanding why their mother was as crazy as am, and why the crazy always seems to surface during holidays or special days, like birthdays or Mother's Day, or in this case, Christmas Eve.

With that being said, if you don't want to know the gory details, if you don't want to read the un-fun things about my family, stop reading now.  Come back another day when there are fun pictures and stories documenting life in the Long house with three young children.

Don't say I didn't warn you ... a lot of this just ain't pretty...


Let's begin.

To understand the magnitude of the impact of these events, you first need to understand the relationship my mother and I have - or, as the case seems to be, had.  We were close.  Abnormally close.  Lorelai and Rory Gilmore close.  I suspect that has a lot to do with the two of us being on our own after she left my dad (when I was 13 years old.)  We were so much  more than mother and daughter - she was my best friend, my confidant, my mentor, and (not to be cheesy) my "everything" rolled into a 5'2 1/2" package.  We did everything together.  Everything.  I told her everything.  Everything.  There were no secrets between us.  She had the ability to tell me when I needed to pull my head out of my ass and when I needed comfort.  She was right by my side for all of the 'important' events, like school graduations, my wedding day, the birth of my daughter, and held me in her arms after the death of my father, allowing me to weep like a child.  But more importantly, she was there for all of the 'unimportant' events, like the inevitable ups and downs of girl friendships, what color paint would be best for the kitchen, and what menu to plan for Christmas dinner.  We were the kind of mother and daughter that talked daily, multiple times a day even, just to hear each other's voices.  We were truly the best of friends.

When Anna was born, the first thing that came to my mind was how happy I was she was healthy, followed closely by some strange relief that I had a girl, and we would one day grow to be thick as thieves, just like my mother and I.  In those few moments after her birth, I had a flash-forward of her entire life, a near duplicate of mine in my relationship with my mother.

In February 2007, mom flew to be with us for my scheduled induction date when we would welcome James into our family.  She was there to care for Anna in those few hospital-bound days, and to help tend to me as I learned how to be a mother of two.  I don't remember the exact date she left, but James was about two weeks old the last time I saw her - with all of her vices.

Four weeks later she suffered a major brain injury.  The specifics of how it happened aren't important.  What is important is that we figured out just how serious the problem was the Saturday night before Easter of that year.  Sunday afternoon found Deonne and I, kids in tow, driving to Atlanta to catch an early morning flight to Seattle on Monday morning.  (And for the record, the drama on TV where people go to the ticket counter and get on planes that very day is a load of garbage.  The earliest flight we could take from anywhere near home to Seattle was 4 hours away, the next day.)

Anyway, after a long and complicated journey, we arrived in Seattle late Monday afternoon.  We immediately went to the hospital where mom was in ICU, hooked up to a gazillion machines, and clearly doped up by the medications they were giving her to relieve the immense pain she was in.  We barely had time to see her before I was pulled out of the room to go nurse James.  And after that, we had just a few minutes more before we had to leave to go to my stepsister's house to get the children settled.

First 'if I had only known' moment ... if I'd have only known it was the last night I'd have with my mother as I knew her, a thousand armed soldiers couldn't have pulled me out of her room. 

But we didn't know.

The next morning we went to the hospital before her 6 am surgery was scheduled to begin.  We walked with her from her ICU room to the surgical floor.  We hugged her and kissed her goodbye, and I remember telling her 'I'll be right here when you wake up.'

15 hours later, her surgery was complete.

When her surgeon came out, he looked fatigued.  Beaten.  Weary.

He gave us the best news he could - that it looked like it all went well.  Informed us that she was in recovery and that we couldn't see her.  So we left.  We went home to my stepsister's house, trusting her in the care of the hospital staff.

The next morning, we headed back to the hospital.  I dropped Deonne and the kids off in the ICU waiting room, and went back to my mother's room.  Nothing could prepare me for what I saw.

(Here comes the horrible gory part.)

She had been given about 26 Liters of fluid during her surgery.  That equals about 26 pounds of fluid.  She was swollen beyond recognition.  I remember thinking - where did her neck go?  She was laying with her head to the side - with the side of her head where they had completed surgery exposed.  Her jet black hair had been shaved off that complete side of her head.  There were no bandages - just a thick red scar with thick black sutures, that circumnavigated her skull from temple to base of her neck.  (I later found out that portions of her skull were missing - kept in a 'bone bank' - because her brain had swollen beyond the cranial cavity.) 

She looked nothing like my mother.

I gasped.  I remember feeling the tears immediately well up - thinking 'there is no way she can survive this.'  Her nurse that shift was an angel.  She came over and gave me a quick hug, then very matter-of-factly went about explaining all that was going on - what all of the beeps and alarms, machines and tubes were for.

She was intubated, of course, and I remember focusing on the breathing machine in an effort not to throw up.  I watched that little accordion thing go up and down, up and down, over and over, and counted constantly to calm my nerves.

It was all surreal - like a bad dream. Like a nightmare really.  My mother, my best friend, my light was lying on a bed, swollen beyond recognition, looking like a creature out of a bad horror film.

I didn't know what to say, what to feel, what to think.  The days that followed were a complete blur - living out of the ICU waiting room, nursing James when I was called back to see him, allowing different people to care for my children - family I hadn't seen in years as well as complete strangers who were somehow companions as they also waited in that room to see if their loved ones lived or died.

Days stretched into weeks - and eventually Deonne said we needed to go home.  He had a job.  I had a job.  Our life, our home, our commitments and mortgage were all in Columbia.  It mattered that my mother was comatose - but we couldn't put our lives on hold - especially not knowing what the outcome would be.

I still don't know how I left.  How I was able to walk out of that hospital room.  I remember holding her hand up to my cheek, feeling the dead weight, telling her how much I loved her, and that I would be there as soon as she woke up.

I think it was some sort of auto-pilot moment.

So we returned home, and the next few weeks and months were a blur.  Every time the phone rang my heart skipped a beat - was it someone calling to tell me she had opened her eyes?  If so, how could I not be there for that defining moment?  Was it someone calling to tell me she had died?  If so, how could I have missed that moment?

There were several trips out that summer - ones I took by myself, one I took with just Anna, one with the whole family.  Eventually mom started coming out of her coma.  It began with staring at the ceiling, blank stares with little to no recognition.  Slowly she started to recognize, months later, with simple blinking of her eyes to communicate.

It was amazing.

And, over time, she recovered to the point she could go home.  She had oodles of therapy, occupational, speech, physical - you name it - to get to the point that she is today.  It truly is an amazing thing.  In all honesty, she is still a shadow of who she once was.  She is confined to a wheelchair, and has difficulty speaking.  I want to believe she remembers me, my children, and our life together, but in all honesty, I'm not entirely sure.

So that's the first part of the story - the tragic events that brought us to the second part.  And I'm not sure how to even tell the second part.

Over the last five years, she has been cared for 100% by my stepfather.  He has been amazing with her, and I honestly feel that if it weren't for him, she wouldn't have come as far as she has.  She might very well still be bedridden, in that horrible convalescence home where people wait to die.  His love for her is beyond words.  He is her biggest advocate.  The love of her life.

I appreciate that.  I appreciate him.  And I love him for all that he has done, all that he continues to do for my mother.

But here's the ugly truth.  Somehow, in all of this mess, I've become the target for the anger and frustrations surrounding what happened.  And I truly believe that.  (For the record, it took a lot of therapy to understand this.)  I'm not there.  It looks like I'm the absent daughter.  In his words, I don't visit enough, I don't do enough, I don't call enough.  And as time has gone on - that has turned into complete hatred for me, for my spouse, and my children.

Somehow, my inability to visit on a regular basis, my inability to call on a regular basis, my inability to do anything on a regular basis has turned into his conclusion that I just don't love my mother.  And if you listen to him long enough, he'll convince you that I never did.

Which is completely insane.

He doesn't understand what life is like for me - working full time, raising three very young children, trying to support my spouse, trying to keep my head above water.  Yes, he had three children of his own - but with different mothers, and to my knowledge, never had all three children under one roof at one time.  And, he was the 'dad,' which any mother will tell you is extremely different in the parenting world than the 'mom.' 

It has turned into a choice - he has turned this horrible and tragic situation into a choice between my mother and my children.  How in the world can I make such a choice?

I know one thing for certain, if my mother had all her vices, if she was truly the mother I remember, she would tell me to focus on my children.  That nothing is more important than them, except my marriage.  I know that - because it is what she taught me.  And I know that because it is what I would tell my own children.  I find comfort in knowing that I am doing what my mother instructed me to do.

But it doesn't lessen the hurt of being isolated and excluded from my family.  His children and my aunts and uncles gather routinely for weekend get-togethers, holidays, birthdays.  I'm not a part of that.  It's unbearably hard to see pictures of your mother celebrating with her family on facebook, and know you are not only not a part of it - but didn't even know it was happening.

In his ire, my stepfather has turned over power of attorney for his and my mother's affairs to his children, completely ignoring my brother and I - which gives me pause.  Should something happen to him, his children will make decisions for my mother.  Sure, I'm not physically there, but I am still her daughter. It seems either my elder brother or I should have some say in her care.  But we've been left out of it - and have been since day one - since the day I set foot on the airplane that took me back home and away from my mother's bedside, if you want to know the truth.

And let's not forget the glaring fact that is out there that no one seems to want to address.  This happened to me as well.  So far, I've tried to take the proverbial 'high' road.  I've clamped my mouth and bit my tongue when I probably shouldn't have.  I've tried hard to sympathize and empathize with family members who have been hurt and distraught over this tragic event, being criticized for not providing enough support to them, all the while facing days when it took everything I had just to go about the daily motions and breathe.

So somehow, in all of this, the fact that this happened to me has been forgotten.  Outside of her spouse, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I was my mother's closest friend.  So this didn't happen to just my step dad, it didn't happen to just her brother or sister, or step-children or step-grandchildren.  It happened to meI've been hurt by all of this.  And it is amazing to me that no-one in my family has paused long enough to say, I wonder how Kristen is doing with all of this?  No, it has become much easier to point fingers, to whisper, to ignore, to suppose and assume than it is to say 'hmmm, I wonder why it is that Kristen hasn't called lately.'  And so it seems, that in addition to losing my mother that dreadful Tuesday morning, I also lost my family.

I want more than anything to talk to my mom - but simply can't.  Her physical state restricts me from doing that.  Her inability to speak well prevents it.  So when we do try to call, we need help - translating, for lack of a better word - what she's saying.  It's much easier to understand her when you can be there face to face and read lips.  It's impossible to understand her over the phone.  Once upon a time my stepfather helped - he would repeat what she said so that we could respond and converse through him.  Not anymore.  Now he sits there, muttering to himself in the background, and not helping in any way.  Nor does he respond to Deonne or I or the kids. 

And that is what really hurts - his treatment of our children.  The last time we tried to talk - Anna tried diligently to talk to her 'Papa.'  He completely ignored her.  Ignored a 6 year old child who just wanted to share about her school day.  After we finished the call, she looked up to me with tears in her eyes, not understanding why her 'Papa,' the only grandfather she knows on my side of the family, wouldn't speak with her.

How do I answer that?

After that call, I vowed never to let my stepfather hurt my child again.  So the calls lessened and lessened and eventually stopped.  And although I was repeatedly berated by family who told me over and over how much of a disappointment I was because I didn't call my mother - I never explained why.  I tried my best to be the bigger person, to not point the fingers back at my stepfather, to just take it, and hope and pray it would eventually get better.  Clearly that was a mistake.

Time went on.  Pictures showed up on facebook - that are a double edged sword - good to see my mother enjoying herself, painful to see her enjoying holidays in the absence of her daughter and biological grandchildren.

And then.  Christmas Eve of this year.

I'll admit it - I was in 'psycho-mommy' mode.  So sad and hurt and angry at the situation, wanting desperately to talk to my mother, knowing that I couldn't.  So Deonne, bless his heart, called my stepfather - to tell him that the kids and I wanted to call and talk to them later that night.

The conversation started off bad, when he answered "Deonne?  I don't know any Deonne." And then went downhill as he proceeded to berate my husband, telling him how awful he and I are, that we treat my mother terribly, and then the best part, that as far as he is concerned, he doesn't exist as a 'Papa' to my children.

Tears still come to my eyes just typing that.

I don't understand - I can't get my mind around the notion that anyone can be so cruel to children as to tell them that they no longer have a grandfather.  I don't understand his ire with Deonne or I either, but at least I can handle that.  I can pull my 'big girl' panties up, suck it up, and deal with it.  But my children?  No.  Game over.

I finally had to explain to Anna why I was so sad - because it all came out en route to Deonne's brother's house on Christmas Eve for dinner - and I was so distraught, so hysterically crying, that I couldn't go into their house and put on a fake face and make merry.  So while my husband and children enjoyed a family dinner, I drove around in circles for two hours - and I wonder how in the world I didn't die in a fiery car crash with my incessant sobbing.

But Anna is now old enough to see when mommy is clearly upset - so that night, after we tucked them into bed, after they had put out their cookies for Santa and we had read our Christmas stories - I sat on her bed and tried my best to explain the situation.

She was tearful herself, wanting to know why Papa was so angry with her that he wouldn't speak to her.  Wanting to know if Nonna even remembered her.  Wanting to know if either of them loved her anymore.

Those are some pretty heavy questions to answer for a 7-year old, especially on Christmas Eve.  But Deonne and I did our best, assured her that Nonna loved her very much, and that deep down Papa does as well - even though he may not act like it.  I think it helped put her mind at ease - I hope it did - and that she had sugarplum filled dreams that night, unlike her mother who was still wracked with sorrow.

I still haven't spoken to my mother.

This is the first Christmas since my birth that there wasn't even an attempt to communicate on the most holy night of the year.  And it was horrible.  Horrible beyond words.

I'm not sure where to go with this now - what to do with this now - or how to fix the problem.  One thing is for certain, it can't happen over the phone.  As such, Deonne and I are trying to figure out how and when we can take a trip to Seattle - to knock on the door - and hopefully be granted entrance to see my mother.

It's been a hell of a ride - nearly five years of pure hell, that is.   Missing my mommy, needing her, wanting her.  Wanting to hear her voice, to take in her counsel, to hold her hand.  Needing to be a part of a family that seems to want little to nothing to do with me anymore.

I have to believe, to have faith, that one day it will get better.  That there will be some Divine Intervention that can help my step dad see past his anger (anger that I still don't understand.)  I firmly believe I've done nothing wrong.  While I wish I could be closer to help care for my mom, to help around the house, heck to just visit, I've not done terrible things.  And you know, if I could ask what exactly it is that I've done that is so wretched, I wonder if there will be a specific reply. 

I suppose I am guilty - guilty of loving my children, of loving my spouse, of putting them before all others, and doing the best I can to raise them in the way I was raised.  And if that makes me a horrible and wretched person - I guess I am. 

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Project 365

Kathy, one of my favorite people and fellow bloggers, started a new blog last year - titled 'A Little Bit of Life' that is based on the Project 365 idea.  Basically, she took one photo a day, for each day, added a short note, and chronicled her family's day-to-day life.

I love that idea.  I grappled with starting something similar last year - but by the time I got around to it - it was the end of January - and going back and starting the project was daunting and overwhelming.

I'm a bit more on the ball this year. 

Sort of.

I've started our own Project 365. 

So far, so good.  Unless you count the first few days of January when I forgot to take photos.  (oops.)  Great start, right?

But I'm doing better now - and loving it.

So far.

I invite you to follow along as we go about our daily life - you can click on the sidebar of this blog to take you to our Long Party of Five Photo A Day blog.

Christmas Re-cap

A friend of mine posted on her blog recently that it is a challenge/struggle to keep up with blogging over Christmas.  Ditto that.  I tried diligently to keep up with the goings-ons of the Party kids - but as the actual holiday approached, time became scarce, activities and obligations grew, and the blog was neglected.  So here is our Christmas - in pictures and a few words...

Anna covered in chocolate - her babysitter/friends who kept her the week before Christmas had loads of fun making chocolate dipped pretzels!

Christmas Eve - just home from church service and dinner at Uncle Darron and Aunt Carla's

Time to open one gift - Christmas PJs!

Preparing for Santa - Jack loved the musical milk mug

Selecting which cookies Santa might like. 
Not pictured - mommy filling up Santa's mug with wine.  So we were out of egg-nog - and we convinced the kids that Santa might be tired of milk - so a glass of Merlot might be a good idea.
What, what's wrong with that?!?

Saying goodbye to Happy - he's perched on the tree right above their heads.

One of our new snow globes this year - Santa praying over Baby Jesus.

Reading the Night Before Christmas - from the pop-up edition of my childhood -
the book my mom used to read to my brother and I every Christmas Eve.

One last photo before heading up to bed!

And then Santa came!  Anna loved her Barbie Princess Charm School items.

While James relished his 'po-po' stick.  I'm still not sure about this gift - Santa didn't send
an extra insurance policy along with it...

And Jack adored his new stick horse!

Part of the aftermath from Santa's generous haul.

Jack was very serious opening his gifts.

A Christmas morning breakfast of snowman donuts, sausage and egg casserole, fresh strawberries, and of course, Christmas cookies!

Our Advent wreath is finally fully lit.

James tries out his new po-go stick.

Jack gets in on the fun as well.

And Anna tries out her new Barbie scooter.

Chocolate cake, chocolate ganache filling, swiss buttercream icing, white chocolate snowflakes.

Aunt Mary - who helped me make her mother's recipe for crown roast of pork.

It was as delicious as it was beautiful.

Tanner - breaking into his Christmas cracker.

Grandpa Jimmy - looking a bit like Ray Charles in James' new spy glasses that Santa brought him in his stocking.

Uncle Harry and Aunt Mary's gift to Anna - a hand painted 'Clara' ornament from Germany.

It was a lovely Christmas.  Some of it was really really good.  Some of it was really really bad (topic of another post.)  But all in all, we celebrated this most holy of holidays with family, friends who have become like family, and our own little Party of Five.

Merry Christmas to All, and to All a Good Night.