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Monday, February 23, 2015

All That Distance

It's such a simple little note. But it tore me to shreds when I found it.

The little boy who wrote this - the amazing, smart, funny, clumsy, aggravating, loving, sarcastic, lovable little boy with the huge blue eyes - hasn't seen or heard from his father in a year.

His father told me a year ago today - as we were in the process of moving to our new house in a better school district with less crime and more room where our son could finally have his very own bedroom for the first time in his life - he told me that I couldn't expect him to drive "all that distance" to see his boy.

All that distance. Those words rang in my ears as I told him flat-out "if you can't make seeing your son a priority in your life, that's YOUR problem, not mine".

All that distance. He can't drive it to see his son, but he can drive it to play in a softball tournament. I know he did, because I saw him that day, right here in the same town where we live now.

All that distance. He can't drive it to see his son, but his wife can bring their other two kids to town to go swimming in the pool that's less than a mile from our house. I know about that because a mutual friend saw them there and mentioned it to me later.

All that distance. He can't drive it to see his son, but he can drive triple that distance to have a birthday party for his daughter and not even bother to invite his son. I found out about that one when another friend shared some pictures with me.

All that distance. In this day and age, distance doesn't really matter, does it? There are cell phones and computers and Skype and FaceTime and emails and texts just to say hi or to send a funny picture or to find out why his insurance company is suddenly getting bills for emergency room visits and plastic surgeons and allergist appointments.

All that distance, in reality, is 15 miles. FIFTEEN MILES. That's how far it is from my house to the town where he (supposedly) lives. I say "supposedly" because I have no idea, honestly. I know he moved, but the last I had heard he had only moved a few blocks away from where he had been living - but I was never given an address. Thanks to my phone getting run over by a car one day, I no longer have his phone number so I can't just call him - but even if I did, why should I? He's made it clear that all that distance is too much for him. He's pulled this crap before (although not for this long) and always comes crawling back with a bunch of excuses about how he was oh-so-busy and just didn't have time to make contact. I've tried to force the relationship, and it just didn't work.

And that sucks.

But you know who it sucks for the most?

Him. He's the one who is missing out. He's the one who missed the baseball games and the soccer games and the basketball games. He missed the parent/teacher conferences and the open houses and Christmas and birthday and Thanksgiving and everything else. He's the one who may be a willing participant in fatherhood with his other kids, but who has made the choice to walk out on this one.

For this amazing little boy though? He's going to be just fine. He has a mother who loves him no matter how much trouble he gets himself into, he has siblings that can't wait to hang out with him and goof around with him, he has The Dude to show him all of the necessary manly stuff, he has teachers who can't get over how smart (and mischievous) he can be, and he has friends knocking at the door almost every single day wanting him to go out and play with them.

All that distance that he's put between himself and his son is only going to hurt him in the long run - because we are just fine.

Monday, February 9, 2015

It's hard.

A couple of weeks ago, I did a post about January and how it can be kind of an emotional month for me.

There are a lot of things going on in my life right now. Physically, mentally, emotionally - just a lot of stuff. Some minor, some major, some right in the middle.

I generally try to keep a pretty positive outlook on life. I'm the type of person to "act as if" and just push my way through when I feel like crap because most of the time, I have no choice in the matter so I might as well make the most of it. What I don't always admit is that it's hard.

Being a parent is hard.

Being a friend and girlfriend is hard.

Being a homeowner is hard.

Sometimes, just being is hard.

The past few weeks have been a struggle for me. I've been in a funk, and although it happens occasionally - this one was worse than usual. I still got up every morning and took care of the kids and did what I had to do, but that was pretty much it. I didn't do a whole lot around the house, I didn't go out and do anything fun and exciting, and I certainly didn't do anything that didn't absolutely have to be done. I made lists of things to do around the house, but at the end of the day I'd just throw them out because looking at lists that didn't have a single thing crossed off just made me feel worse.

Part of it has been the weather. Although the past few days have been nice, the cold weather just makes me feel blah. It makes me hurt and I don't want to do anything. Part of it is hormones, because you know, I'm a woman and I'm in my mid-40s and everything just has to get all sorts of out of whack right about now. Part of it is just normal everyday stress that is made worse by crappy weather and wacky hormones and my usual lack of sleep from trying to get everything done.

I lost it last night. I was exhausted after 2 full days of cutting down bushes and digging up stumps in front of the house, and I needed help. The kids were not cooperative and didn't do what I asked them to do, and I flipped. I locked myself in my bedroom and told them that getting everything done was up to them. At that point, I didn't care what happened, and I let them know it. I even took out some of my frustration on The Dude via a long text conversation.

Not knowing what to expect, I came out of my room several hours later. The boys had all gotten baths and were in bed, supper was cleaned up with the leftovers in the fridge, a load of towels had been dried and folded, stuff was ready for school, and more laundry was being done. They didn't do it without complaint though, and I heard quite a bit of grumbling about it (including a "you didn't do anything tonight, Mom" to which I snarked back "welcome to my world") - but they did it. We talked about it a little this morning, and they all agreed that had they been a bit more cooperative to start with, it wouldn't have resulted in my freak out.

Once I got everyone to school this morning, I came home and got busy. While I scrubbed bathrooms, I thought about everything. I contemplated how I really try to only talk about the good stuff here or on facebook. I always try to portray this image that everything is good and life is easy - but in reality, it's not. There are days or weeks where things really just plain suck - and while they're not pretty, they're nothing to be ashamed of. They're all a part of life, and trying to pretend that they don't exist doesn't really accomplish anything worthwhile and all I end up doing is bottling it all up until I finally flip out and go on a Mom Strike like I did last night. I need to get it through my thick head that it's ok to talk about the bad days.

It's ok to not be ok.

But the good news is that now that I had my freak out and took a break from everything, I feel a little more rejuvenated. I'm not ready to go out and take over the world (yet) but at least I'm actually crossing some things off of my list today. The Dude is planning on coming over and spending some much-needed time over the next few days, and hopefully we can use some of that time to get some things done around here and to relax together - both of which we haven't been able to do much of lately.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Electronic observations

I had to take Daniel to an ENT today because we found out last week that one of the tubes that was put in his ears in 2009 or 2010 is still in there. He hasn't been having any issues with it (obviously, or we would have known that it was there) but his pediatrician wanted to have it checked.

Because of the distance and timing of the appointment, I pulled both him and Alex out of school for the afternoon. The Dude went with us and we headed out for the appointment. When we got there, The Dude and Alex hung out in the main waiting room while Daniel and I went to various locations throughout the clinic - one place for the check in, one place for the hearing test, another place for the actual exam....

While we were in one of the waiting rooms, I watched a little girl who couldn't have been more than about 2 years old. She was there with her mother and as soon as they walked in, the mother handed her cell phone to her and the little girl proceeded to watch a video or something on it (I'm not sure what it was, but the accompanying music was ...... interesting). I didn't think too much of it until the phone dinged with what I assume was a notification, and the mother took the phone from her to check it. The little girl FREAKED OUT and started screaming, until the mother handed it back to her. A few seconds later - same thing.

Around that time, a boy walked in with his mother. He was older, maybe 4 or 5. He sat down and immediately started doing something on an electronic tablet gizmo. When they got called into an exam room, he pitched a fit about having to put the tablet away.

In the meantime, Daniel was sitting on a chair beside me, reading an old copy of Sports Illustrated. He occasionally pointed out a picture to me or asked me what certain words meant. When it was his turn, he put the magazine back on the table and walked into the exam room.

The exam went well. This is a new ENT to us because ours apparently left town at some point in the past few years, but this guy seems pretty cool. Daniel's hearing is perfectly normal, although the wayward tube does need to come out of his ear. It's not an emergency, so we're waiting until after he is done wrestling in a few weeks to do it. It's all good. No biggie.

When we were done, we got The Dude and Alex from the main waiting room where they had been reading an issue of Time together. I said something to The Dude about the kids in the other waiting room with their electronics, and he said that he had seen some of the same while he was waiting for us.

After that, we decided to take the boys and go see a movie and get something to eat. We had a blast just hanging out and goofing off and made total pigs of ourselves at the restaurant. While we waited for our food to arrive, the boys worked on the word searches on the kids menu, and then had more fun finding words that weren't even on the list. But while we were sitting there eating, I noticed it again. There was a little girl, maybe 7 years old, playing on an iPad-like gizmo. But she wasn't just sitting at her table - she was wandering around the restaurant with it, staring intently at it the entire time. She didn't look up and ran into several people, including waitstaff with trays full of food. The adults with her (I assume her parents) just let her go for the most part, although I did see the woman go and get her and bring her back to the table a time or two.

When we go on our family road trips, people always ask me what video games I take along to keep the kids amused. Or they want to know if we want to borrow their portable DVD players for the ride. They are always stunned when I say that we make these trips without the electronics. (The girls do have iPods that they bought with their own money, but without wifi all they can do is listen to music that they've downloaded - which they do because they don't like our music.) Instead of playing with the electronics that would inevitably get lost, broken, or tossed aside with dead batteries, we play those silly old travel games. Or we look out the window to see the scenery. Or we teach the kids how to read a map. Or we talk to each other.

Personally, I think it's pretty cool that we do the road trips the "old-fashioned way".

Seriously people - when did it become "normal" to shove an electronic gizmo into a kid's hands and count on that gizmo to keep the kid amused instead of doing it ourselves?

I see it more and more. Kids who are barely more than infants who pitch an absolute screaming fit if Mom takes away the phone or the iPod or whatever the gadget of the day is. Older kids who can't even go to the grocery store without their iPod. Teenagers who aren't able to find their way to the local grocery store because they are so busy playing handheld video games that they've never paid attention on the ride there. Kids who have crappy social skills because when they go to the neighborhood block party they are too busy looking at a screen to even figure out that there are other kids there and they could all be running around playing and having fun if they weren't trying to get the next high score.

Why is this becoming the norm? Why have we become so electronics-centered that we can't go anywhere without them?

I'm just as guilty as the next person when it comes to my phone. It goes everywhere with me for many reasons. Besides the fact that as a single parent I rely on it in emergencies, it's also the only way that the school can contact me if something happens with the kids. It's how my family reaches me if something happens with my parents, which sadly is happening more and more often these days. But I also play around with it in waiting rooms at doctors and while waiting for my food to arrive - but I can also put it away while I'm eating or while I'm at the movies or whatever. Other than the girls and their iPods, the kids don't have electronics. If we go somewhere that might involve waiting, they bring books to read or draw pictures or people watch.

We don't have video games at home. We don't even have cable. They watch DVDs or occasionally play on my laptop - or they read or color or play with Legos or ride their bikes or play ball in the backyard.

They aren't perfect. They can act spoiled or self-centered or entitled or downright nasty at times. But for the most part they are fairly well-behaved and can have awesome social interactions with people and are excelling in school and sports and almost everything else that they do. There is no way to know if it's because they have limited screen time, but I do think that it has something to do with it.

I do know that when they get bored, they can usually create a game to play with each other. Granted, sometimes it ends in a fist fight, but more often than not they can amuse themselves for several hours.

I know that they love to go to the library to get new books to read, and that even my very hyper and active boys can plop themselves down on the couch when the weather is bad and get lost in a pile of books for an entire day if I let them.

I know that they enjoy the road trips and love to talk about things that they've seen along the way, even if we didn't stop to play tourist at that particular spot. They've also asked me to find out more information on things that they spotted, so I know that they're paying attention to the world around them.

I also know that avoiding electronics is impossible in this day and age. I just wish that more parents would find a better balance in their use.