Weirdo

2017

Four years ago, I lost my husband to a horrible disease called Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis which basically means something caused a hardening of the lungs until he suffocated to death. I remember walking my 2 and 5-year old daughters through a long hospital corridor to say good-bye to their father. I thought that was the toughest day of my life.

Throughout the 4-year healing period, we have gone to therapist and have had our “team” to support us. My therapist warned me that kids have a different grieving cycle. One that dips in and out throughout their whole entire childhood feeling the same intensity at any age rather than like an adult that experiences it more intensely at the beginning and then it becomes less painful over time.

My youngest was only 2-years old when we lost her father. She doesn’t have memories from 2-years old. She is angry. She wasn’t given a memory to take with her, at least a consolation prize for me and my oldest daughter. My youngest didn’t realize what she had lost until she turned five, once the realization of permanence had set in. I noticed her starting to act in defiance and anger, similar to a two or three year old who is declaring their independence but with anger and hate in their eyes. I worried about her and reached out to psychologist, play therapist and teachers to get her the help she needed.

It was her time to face grief, to work through it, to feel all that pain, so that she could get to the other side. My oldest and I had gone through it, and we wanted to support her and let he know she wasn’t alone. I knew I needed to equip her with the right tools for the journey, so that she may handle the turbulence with the least amount of injuries. I’m very lucky to be able to afford resources and have a great community supporting us, but no matter who you are, the same work has to be done.

My youngest started interpreting her grief as her identity and it made her feel alone and unworthy. She began writing notes to me and her teacher saying “I am stupid. I am worthless. I want to die. I want to kill myself.” Tough words for a 6-year old to write and tough words for me to read. When you have kids, the grieving of death isn’t over after a year, you as the surviving parent continue to deal with it day in and day out as a caregiver. Three years later it hurts my heart to hear those words from my child as much as walking down the hospital corridor. In both situations, there is nothing I can do to fix it, to make it go away. I can only hold her, listen to her cries and love her.

When I went to the therapist to discuss what to do and how best to help my child, the therapist said, “Your child is associating her identity with the grief. She feels alone because she is the girl without the father. We have to make sure she understands it’s something that happened to her, not who she is. She isn’t a weirdo because her father is dead, and we need to help her understand that. She is not alone. Others have lost a parent. Then, that will address her self-esteem.”

So away we went and began working on it with weekly play therapy, “Girl Talk” weekly talks with me and the two girls about our feelings, 1-1s monthly so each girl has time with me, reading books to help me and the teacher be better, empathetic listeners, and play dates with others who had lost someone too. Over many months of hard work and dealing with feelings, my youngest notes started to change from self-deprecation to happiness and pictures illustrating our vacation.  She was working through it.  All those things we had done were helping.  I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw a happy note one day and began to see a light at the end of the tunnel.

Last night when I got home from a long day of work and asked my oldest daughter how her day was, she broke into tears and said “a boy called me a weirdo because I didn’t have a dad.”

Growing Pains

April 26, 2017

When I got home tonight, it was already close to bedtime for the girls.  I walked up the stairs with M and started the bedtime routine of snuggling in the bed, talking about the day and just listening to what she had to say.  Bedtime is our alone time together.  She can be heard at bedtime, and I can stay connected to her.  Tonight she wanted to rank the people she loved.  She decided she loved her teacher the most and then I came in a close third to R and steamed, white rice.

“I’m happy you have many people to love and that love you,” I said.  She thought about it a second and then said, “Actually you are tied to my teacher.  I love you.”  I kissed her goodnight and moved on to R’s room.

If R decides to sleep with our very excited, rambunctious miniature poodle, I usually don’t lay down with her and have the dog jump all over my head.  I make her choose.  I asked her if she’s sleeping with the dog.  “It’s a tie between you and the dog.  Maybe you lay down with me tonight, and the dog tomorrow night.”  I lay down with her, and we connect again about her fears and what made her happy that day.  I kiss her goodnight and head out the door.

Not sure what to think about my ranking equivalent to rice and the dog, I reflected on the early days after their father’s death, and how M couldn’t sleep alone in her bed, and how they fought over me putting them to sleep.  My drop in ranking meant their independence and their growth.

 

Ukulele Strings

February 2017

The girls and I were on vacation in Los Angeles exploring the city and shopping.  I allowed them to pick a few souvenirs as we shopped different stores.  M really wanted a Ukulele she spotted at the beginning.  I told her to explore more, and we could come back and get it at the end if she really wanted it.

After two days, M still had her heart set on the Ukulele, so we went back in the shop to buy it.  It was a cheap, blue toy Ukulele with flowers on it, but she loved it.  I took it out of the package for her, and then she began to strum it.  I had a flashback of her dad wanting to purchase a Ukulele on our honeymoon in Hawaii.  We were at an outdoor market with lots of artisans, and he saw it and wanted it.  He ended up buying it, and we still have it today.  The kids play with it now.  He never learned to play it like he could play the guitar, but it was on his list to learn one day.  That Ukulele is very dear to the kids’ hearts since it was their dad’s and just the perfect size for their little bodies.

I looked down at that sweet girl playing her new, blue Ukulele, and realized she was hoping the Ukulele strings would provide a connection to her dad.  Probably missing him on a vacation with just the three of us.  Spending time with friends who had complete families with husbands and seeing all the families at the beach resort probably made her feel disconnected and missing him.   I had forgotten that it may appear odd a mother with her two children vacationing at a beach, but maybe my children hadn’t forgotten.  I had gotten use to the man behind us in line always assumed to be the fourth in our group and having to correct the ticket taker.  I had moved on to just the three of us and all the places we could explore, but maybe M wasn’t there yet.  She was still longing and disconnected.  Her mind wandering, she strummed into the night trying to find the right tune to heal her broken heart.

The next day at the airport in one of the stores in the middle of a crowd, M sat down on the floor and pulled out the Ukulele that had been tucked in her backpack and played it while calling out, “daddy, daddy,” confirming what I had thought.  I smiled at her and asked her if she missed her dad.  She smiled and nodded yes back.

It was time to catch our plane.  As we walked down the airport hallway, a woman in her 20s walked up to M and showed her a Ukulele still in the box she had purchased and said “that’s cool you have a ukulele.  I bought one too!”  They both smiled at each other.

And then I saw how everything was connected.   These simple Ukulele strings connected us to a random stranger, M to her father, me to his memory, and created a deeper connection between me and M.  And if the simple strings of a Ukulele provide such deep and new connections, what other connections are out there if we stop to listen to the strumming of the Ukulele?

 

 

A Taste To Remember

February 12, 2017

“Mom,” says R, “I read in school that there are lozenges that make you feel sad.  The ingredients are sugar, strawberry and something special.  Do you think we could buy them at the store to help us remember Daddy?”

“I don’t think that is real R,” I said and then backtracking to not destroy her hope I said “we can try it if you want.”  She smiles and grabs a bag of Jolly Ranchers off the shelf.

R asks a few times if I want to try it and me being on an eternal diet said no a few times.  I finally give in, mentally agree to be present for my child’s imagination, and say “if we are going to do this, we need to park, sit in the car, and really feel it.”  She agrees.  We each take our “lozenge”.

After exploring the flavor in our mouths, R says, “what do you think?”  Not sure how to answer I ask her what she thinks.  She smiles mischievously and says, “I asked you first”.  

I close my eyes, take a deep breath, and say “it reminds me of Daddy’s laugh.  He had a great laugh.  I think of the good memories.  What does it remind you of?”

She says smiling “it reminds me of your’s and Daddy’s wedding, you dancing around and my cousin as the flower girl.”

I pause for a moment wondering why she chose a memory that didn’t include her.  Had she forgotten all the memories?  I smile and say, “that is my memory.  What do you remember of you and Daddy?”

She says, “I remember him putting me to sleep.”  When I ask her what else, she responds with a moody reply, “this lozenge thing was a bad idea. I didn’t know you would want to talk about feelings.  Blah, Blah, Blah.  Just thought you would feel it.”  That was my clue to end the conversation.  We were entering emotional territory.  I drive the car off to pick up her sister. 

A few minutes later M gets into the car and R offers her a lozenge. R tells her it is made up of a special ingredient to allow you to feel sad and remember Daddy. M says, “I think the special ingredient is tears.  I taste the tears and remember.”

Warning Labels

The girls gave me two labels, both a surprise to me and based on their perception of me. “Mommy,” says M, “You are forgettable.  Every time I ask you about something you forget it and can never remember.”  R says, “Mom you are lazy.  You like to just lay on the couch, sleep late and take a bath.”  I try to explain to them that I’m not forgettable and lazy, just busy and enjoy my down time to recharge.  There is no acknowledgement from either of them.

Rather than getting annoyed with it, I started using it to my advantage. “Mom, did you buy me new shoes?”  “Nope, I forgot.”  “Mom, do you want to jump on the trampoline?”  “Nope, I prefer to just be lazy and relax on the couch.”

I started realizing when I owned my given label, it gave me an excuse, and they didn’t get mad at me. It was a bye – YES!  Expectations were lowered, and I never had to live up to them because I could use my label.  It was a way to avoid responsibility.

They were wrong about my labels, but, interestingly, I started to become my labels. Instead of being active with R, I could default on “lazy”.  Instead of writing things down to remember, I could default on “forgettable.”  I then realized it was a warning on labels.

Path to Happiness

We  are attending a family camp for Labor Day Weekend.  We are surrounded by nature, cabins, families, and many fathers.

The girls and I watched an improv group last night. M and R are watching on the front row and I am in the back row.  M runs back to me with huge tears in her eyes whispering, “I miss daddy.”  I give her a big hug and say, “me too.”  After she releases the emotion with her tears, she runs back to the front row and begins laughing and participating in the act.  And then 15 minutes later, she runs back and cries in my lap again.  Once she releases, she joins the improv group activity again laughing and making silly faces.

This morning R wakes up and is playing with her cousins.  She wants her cousins to play a specific game with her but they don’t want to and they leave her out to play something else. She begins sulking and crying and says, “I hate this place and want to leave.”  I can’t console her.  We move on to our activities of the day and at some point R becomes extremely engaged in the activities.  And then she declares happily, “I love this place, I want to come here every day.”

Observing the girls’ changing emotions makes me wonder if it is necessary to feel sad, so we can feel happy.  And if that is the case, do we embrace sadness as the path to happiness?  And then I notice after a really crappy week, I am at peace, relaxed and happy.

 

 

Cool Hand Parenting

Today reminded me of the movie Cool Hand Luke.  Luke goes to prison where there is a sadistic warden.  Luke continues to take a beating by the warden and the guards whether it is punches, brick laying or solitary confinement, and he never gives up.  He just keeps getting back up over and over again.  It becomes inspiration to the other prisoners.  Unbreakable will like this is needed for parenting (especially single parenting).

Another over scheduled day after a sleepover.  The girls and I went from choir practice to carnival to errands to photo shoot to soccer game.  The whole day the girls and I are yelling at each other.  They aren’t moving fast enough to go anywhere on time and aren’t following directions, and I am “mean mommy who doesn’t care about them.”  They choose to spray paint their hair at the carnival an hour before the photo shoot.  They don’t want to do the photo shoot, they want to direct the photo shoot, they don’t want to listen during the photo shoot.  R lets me know it’s my fault the rental van air conditioner won’t get into the back of the car and because I’m not finding an immediate solution, I don’t care about her.  And I continue not to do enough for them and am “too focused on my phone”.  We’re all annoyed.

I don’t have a spouse to dump them with when I get home, so I hope for the best and a mood change on the couch watching TV with them after dinner.  I pull out my computer to help R with a picture collage for school and ask her to sit next to me.  She decides to jump over her sister and me to get to the other side and accidentally jams her knee into my eye, knocking me out.  For a second I think, “I don’t want to get back up.”  I literally was knocked out, my first knock out by my eight-year-old daughter, equally powerful to the emotional knock out of the long day.  I wanted to curl up in a ball.  I cry out from the physical and emotional pain and just let it all pour out.  R runs to her room crying because she feels bad she has knocked me out and given me a black eye.  M is hysterical because she fears all bad things happening to her last remaining parent.  I dig deep to find my Cool Hand.  I get up, ice my eye and love on my girls until they are calm.