35 years…and Counting

Thyrold survivor 35 years 2

35 years ago today I opened my eyes from a hospital bed and saw my dad sitting stiffly in a plastic looking, avocado green chair with round wooden arms. His eyes were red and full of tears. I knew without asking but still had to hear it, so I asked, “Was it bad?”

“It wasn’t good, but you will be alright.” Immediately, images of my 5 and 7 year old boys flashed through my head and I began to cry. And that’s when I became a thyroid cancer survivor.

Cancer took something from me that day, but, unbelievably, gave to me as well.

It gave me the strength to leave a one-sided marriage, despite my love of our farm and the desire to keep our so-called family intact. Cancer made me realize that, if I was going to have a short life, those years, and those of my children, should be happy ones. I was eroding from the inside – and not just from hungry, malevolent cancer cells. Of course, divorce is never easy and the aftermath and emotional turmoil for my kids was worse than I could have known. Hindsight is 20-20. Looking back, I would have done things differently, but I would have still left. Otherwise, I would have lost myself, with or without cancer. Cancer gave me the power, the ability, to see what was happening to me. I just wish that somehow, the children could have been unscathed. That is my biggest regret.

Cancer reinforces my optimism for life and gives me the ability to face whatever life brings. It helps put everything into perspective, too. After all, does it really matter if someone doesn’t put their dishes in the dishwasher? Yes, it’s annoying day after day — but, in the giant picture, it’s a pretty small annoyance and not worth getting my panties in a knot.

I became a great-grandmother Feb. 19th. Me. I never thought I’d live to see my children grow up, let alone dance at their weddings…or my granddaughter’s wedding. And now, a great-grandson.

Our family picture from Jan:
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And our newest family member:
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I have been given enormous joy. Countless blessings. More love than I deserve.

I am a cancer survivor. Every moment is a gift.

Complexity Has a Teenager’s Face

This is a tough one to put into print.

For almost a week I’ve been wrestling with mixed emotions about our granddaughter. It’s a strange sense of déjà’vue, taking me back over 20 years, to a time and place I never wanted to revisit. I’ve been hurtled back to a dark period in our lives, where we (as parents and step parents) struggled through endless days of deceit, trickery, thefts of property, cars and money, underage drinking, runaways, truancy (gee, did I miss anything? …probably…), trying to fix whatever was broken in my older son. He did not want to be fixed, thought he knew better, thought we were dumb/mean/the worst parents ever and wanted to get away from us to a ‘better place where people would understand him/let him do what he wanted’. For those thinking, oh, he was just a typical teen, I need to say, No, no he wasn’t. I know normal. I experienced ‘normal’. I could have dealt with normal ten times over. His behavior was anything but normal, day after grueling day. Those days turned into years that included foster care, 72 hour emergency inpatient assessments, escapes from institutions, prison and ultimately, multi-year spans of silence broken by intermittent promises to change that have yet to become permanent.

My oldest son remains broken to this day. Contact is sporadic and I remain guarded and protective of our family. The truth is, I love him as my son, but I don’t like him. That’s very difficult to admit.

Our middle granddaughter, one of his daughters, has a deep seated resentment for him. I understand it because he let her down at every turn, making promises that were unkept, not contacting her on special occasions, etc. She had her mother’s love, but needed more. And us? We didn’t even know she existed until a little over a year ago. She was already a teenager. She’d been told nothing about us-just left to think we knew about her but didn’t want to have anything to do with her. That couldn’t be further from the truth. So, we came into her life and encountered a woman-child filled with false bravado, wanting to reach out but fearing rejection. Intensely intellectual. Highly emotional (what teenaged girl isn’t?). Volatile, with a penchant toward drama. Self abusive.

She doesn’t want to be anything like him, she proclaims. Yet, all her behavior is following his pattern. Lies. Deceit. Thefts. You get the picture. Tell her she’s like her dad and she explodes in anger, saying she’s nothing like him (NOTHING, do you hear?)… but I sense that, deep down, she knows the truth and that is her biggest fear.

Whenever her father broke the law while living with us, we called the police and pressed charges. He knew the consequences of his actions yet continued to make bad decisions, and then his actions became more brazen and he started breaking laws that didn’t just involve our home/property. He went to court more times than I could count. He played the game well, got his wrists slapped at first…but eventually, found that the court had run out of patience with a repeat offender. He could lie better than anyone I had ever met, and I often think he has actually convinced himself that the stories he tells are the truth. I told him more than once, son, if you would just use your mind for good, you could do anything. Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened.

Our granddaughter’s mom and step dad have followed a different path with her, giving her wide berth. She knows she can get away with things and she takes full advantage of it. She’s already been in court and now faces fines and possible jail time if those fines are not paid. That does not frighten her…yet…because I’m sure she believes her parents will pay the fines for her to keep her out of jail. For all I know, she could be right. It isn’t what I would do, but I am not them.

I would let her go to jail. I would take her calls and listen to her pleas, but I would not cave in. But again, that’s me…and we all know how well that worked with her father, don’t we?

So, here we are. She barely knows me as her grandmother, but she DOES know I am a strong woman who is somewhat immune to her rants. I love her dearly as my granddaughter and pray for her every day… and yet, there’s a silent, unspoken reality that says that, while I want her to know we love her unconditionally, we will not allow her to walk over us and use us until we are no more than nubs. And therein lies the rub. Because I cannot make excuses for her behavior. She’s too smart and too savvy for that. To say she’s the victim of her past is too easy. We all know people who have come through much worse childhoods and not only survived, but thrived. We all have things in our past that we should not have had to deal with as children. So, we take those things and say, okay, I know what NOT to do…and I know how to be a better person…and they don’t become crutches for bad behavior.

I wish I could instill in her a sense of self worth that would overcome whatever demons she is dealing with. I worry about her. If I could mend her with love and duct tape, I would do that. At this point, all I can do is pray for her and love her. If you have any spare prayer time, I’d appreciate you sending some for her, too. Thanks.

The Heart and Mind of a Child

I looked into the face of a young girl this morning who’s body shape and size reminded me sharply of myself at her age (12). Overweight and self conscious, she was respectful (though quiet) and an easy person to be around.

My heart hurt when I realized that I just put a real face to only one of thousands of kids who worry about real life, adult issues because the caretakers in their lives are less mature than they are.

Let me just say this:
Kids should not have to worry about where they will live after being evicted.

Kids should not have to worry about whether a parent will get another job after receiving (another) drunk driving ticket…or where they’ll go if that parent goes to jail.

Kids should not have to worry about getting adequate nutrition. They shouldn’t feel they need to eat junk food as ‘fillers’, or to overeat whenever possible, just in case they don’t know when or where their next meal is coming from.

They shouldn’t have to worry about loving each parent equally, what to say in front of whom so they don’t set off a parent’s rant or whether or not they will get to see one parent again because a parent owes child support or has angered the other parent.

I know I can’t save the world. I know there are countless details in parents’ lives that complicate situations.

But I would go hungry myself and work at any (ANY) job offered in order to take care of my children or grandchildren. And I darn well wouldn’t be spending money partying while my children worried where they would go to sleep that night…or in a few weeks. Giving them a stable, safe living environment should be a basic responsibility, not an option.

This girl, with her soft, dark eyes and quiet ways, is haunting me today. To say much more than that could compromise her anonymity. I don’t want to do that. Know this – she has people in her life who can/do care for her. I just hope she has enough good role models in her life to overshadow the poor ones.

I’ll be praying for her.

A Short Conversation With My Mother

I had a short conversation with my mother today. It was short, not necessarily because she’s been dead since 1994, but because I finally got fed up with her negative comments as they re-played in my head this afternoon.

Some people just make better parents than others. I realize that now. And, while I’ve made peace with my demons…every now and then, at the most inopportune time, they regurgitate themselves like bad bile, leaving a sour taste in my mouth and heaviness in my heart.

It happened today during my very first ride on my beautiful new road bike. I was struggling to learn coordination and balance while clipping my bike shoes into the bike’s pedals – all new for me. I knew I’d need to practice and had already prepared myself for the probability of falling — and I did! My left foot was firmly clipped but I was struggling to get my right foot into the cleat when I wobbled and lost my balance. Being left handed, my instinct was to put down my left foot — except it was still attached to the pedal — and down I went.

It was a moderately easy fall – some road rash, a broken blood vessel – not nearly as bad as it could have been, but a fall nontheless. I sat on the ground a moment, assessing myself and thinking, “OK, that’s what it feels like…all good…let’s get up and go again…”

But before I could push to my feet another voice popped into my head. It belonged to my mother. “I’ve told you over and over again…I should have named you Grace, because at least then you’d have had some. You are the clumsiest person ever born on this earth.”

Years ago, she’d tell that to a gawky child many times a week. She’d say that (and other mean things) to a girl who was very uncomfortable with her body. As a result, I constantly felt unworthy of love. Without remorse, she’d watch my eyes fill with stinging, hot tears. Often times, she’d make fun of my sensitivity. She’d mimic my crying as I slunk away to lick my wounds alone in my bedroom. Food became a good friend, never talking back, always accepting me. No wonder I was overweight.

Now, as a parent and grandparent, I cannot imagine treating my children or grandchildren that way.

The thing is, in public, she treated me so differently that even people who knew us well never saw that side of her. She saved the ridicule for our ‘alone’ time. I was an only child and my dad was an over-the-road truck driver, so there was no lack of that.

So, today, at 58, well into my fitness journey and training to become a triathlete, she came calling. I’m sure that some psychologist could give me a wealth of theories why it happened. The truth is, it took me by surprise. I certainly didn’t expect it. But, what’s cool is how I responded. Because, without even thinking, I told my mother something I never would have said to her while she was alive. “Mom, shut the hell up,” I said. And she did.

I got up, brushed off the gravel and sand from my legs and mounted my beautiful bike. Without giving her another thought, I clipped in my left foot, pushed off and cleated my right foot perfectly. The wind caressed my face. There were no tears, no gawkiness. I may have fallen, but it wasn’t due to clumsiness. I’m merely learning. I may fall again – in fact, I probably will. But I don’t expect to hear that comment again. It has lost its sting.

A Gesture of Honesty

In early December, a Spanish athlete by the name of Iván Fernández Anaya did something worth talking about during a cross country race. Approaching the finish line in a distant second place, he saw London bronze medalist Abel Mutai pull up 10 meters short of the finish line. Rather than speeding past Mutai and grabbing an upset win, he used gestures to communicate what had happened to the Kenyan racer and followed him across the finish line for a 2nd place finish.

Anaya’s explanation afterwards was simple. “I didn’t deserve to win it. I did what I had to do. He was the rightful winner. He created a gap that I couldn’t have closed if he hadn’t made a mistake. As soon as I saw he was stopping, I knew I wasn’t going to pass him.”

His coach is 1995 World Marathon Champion Martin Fiz and he views it a bit differently. “The gesture has made him a better person but not a better athlete. He has wasted an occasion. Winning always makes you more of an athlete. You have to go out to win.” Fiz went on to say if he had been in that race, he would have taken advantage of the situation to capture the win.

Let me clarify that this was not a high profile race – nothing major was at stake. The difference between first and second place was simply that – one place. And Anaya said that if a European medal was at up for grabs he would have pushed past him and “exploited him for the win.” But on that day in that place, the bragger’s rights would simply have been to say he beat a Kenyan who made a mistake and Anaya just didn’t think it was right to do that. In the giant scheme of things, he made a choice that was right for him.

I think he was right. I think he’s the type of person that can and should be a role model for our youth. I think he needs to find a new coach.

Anyone who has ever made an effort to do anything can find a connection here. You don’t have to be an athlete or even a runner. This cuts to the heart of who you are. It’s a matter of right vs. wrong. It is (once again) a matter of perspective and attitude.

Let me break it down a little. Think back to when you were a child. You were in a store and wanted that candy/toy/whatever but you were told you couldn’t have it (or you didn’t have enough money in your pocket). You wanted it SO badly…and you took it without paying for it. Perhaps you got caught; or you may have gotten away with it. Regardless, you remember it to this day and you remember the feelings that came with it. It may have defined how you went through life after that and who you are today. If you were not caught and felt a sense of victory, you may have gone through school and life cheating on tests, taking shortcuts and riding on others’ coattails. Yet, today, you may feel you ‘deserve’ it because you worked hard to take those risks and, hey, if no one caught you, shame on them. After all, isn’t that what society, politics and sports today is all about? Or, you may have been ashamed, vowed never to feel that way again and live your life accordingly. Of course, there’s a gamut of variations in between.

This past summer we were at a rodeo when they announced an event for children in the crowd. All the kids were invited to participate. They had to take off their shoes, which were put in a pile in the center of the arena. The kids lined up inside the corral at one end. The goal was to race to the middle, find your shoes in the pile, put them on and race back to the fence. Fastest winners would get McDonalds gift certificates.

It had rained almost constantly over preceding days and the arena was pure muck – at least 6″ in most spots. Those kids struggled to get to the middle and back, sinking knee (or thigh) deep into it. Their facial expressions were priceless. The crowd loved it and parents were coaxing their progeny from the stands and fence line. We laughed as one girl went to lift her little leg out of the mud and it came up without her shoe – it was stuck in the muck! Mud spattered everywhere and kids had a great time.

But I noticed something sad as it all played out. One little boy had lined up without shoes. None of the officials really noticed – it was tough to get organized with over 40 kids. Then, when they raced to the center, the boy’s father walked up to the fence and slipped a pair of shoes inside the fence for him. They boy ran to the center and then back as fast as he could (although still behind some of the others because he was smaller than they were). He quickly put on those shoes and became one of the ‘winners.’

He jumped up and down with delight as he collected his certificate. His father cheered from the sideline. It was nothing major – no Tour de France, Olympic event or major exam. Yet, they felt they had to cheat. I felt so sorry for them.

I think about that boy and his role model father every now and then and wonder how their lives will play out. I have to say, my thoughts are not good ones.

I’m participating in a virtual marathon right now. We have approximately 2 weeks to log our mileage and earn a finisher’s medal. It’s on the honor system and the race director accepts what we tell him. I could easily add a few miles in here or there to reach that magic 26.2 mile marker easier and faster. I could, but I won’t. It’s not who I am. To me, it would only cheapen the prize and every time I’d look at that medal (and at myself in the mirror), I’d know I really didn’t earn it.

When I race, I’m part of a group, to be sure, but, no matter where I finish, I’m racing against myself – to achieve more, to be stronger, faster, better. I think Anaya has the same attitude.

Anaya’s coach called his actions “a very good gesture of honesty.” The way he said it, honesty isn’t important.

I think we all know better. But, if you think that’s true, tell that to Lance Armstrong this week.

Disturbing the (Dining) Peace

Nothing would be more tiresome than eating and drinking if God had not made them a pleasure as well as a necessity. ~Voltaire

I can admit it. I’m not very patient when it comes to misbehaving kids in restaurants.

When we go out to eat, I’m the person who will boldly ask the host/hostess for a table as far away as possible from a boisterous family. I know, it’s probably wrong of me to expect a calm, quiet meal conversing with my friends/husband when so much of the world is in turmoil – but, hey, that is my quest. And, since I’m paying for my dining experience, I’d like it to be a pleasant one.

That said, I certainly understand that the families I’m avoiding are spending just as much (if not more) to rent their assortment of tables, chairs, booster seats and/or high chairs. They have the right to expect a good experience, too, with friendly, courteous service, tasty food and no clean up or dishes afterwards.

We all enter the restaurant with those same lofty goals.

Herein lies the difference: I won’t knock over my chair, leave it laying there and run off, circling around the restaurant holding the remains of a chicken leg in one hand (it could be a crayon, toy or anything, really), wearing chocolate milk mustache above my lip and screaming as loudly as possible while no one…NO ONE…does anything.

(Can you imagine what would happen if I did do that? Well, someone would inevitably record it on their phone and it would be an internet sensation within the hour. Hey – my blog may get a few more hits for a day or two! *snickering*)

I realize that expectations are different for adults and children – and they should be. Kids will be kids and laughter is very, very good for the soul. It’s asking a lot of children to expect them to stay in any one position for the length of time, let alone the time it takes to have a meal in a restaurant. So, bringing kids to restaurants and expecting them to behave for the duration is stretching the boundaries of rational thought, to say the very least.

In fact, I’ve been a parent in that position. I’ve dealt with crying, cranky kids who are too tired – or revved – to really care about taking another bite of that burger. When that happened we’d take the little one out of the dining room to see if we could calm down the situation. Sometimes, that’s all it took. Sometimes, all they needed was to cry on my shoulder, cuddle for a moment or two, or to tell me they really weren’t hungry. We’d go back to the table after that and limp through the rest of the meal without too many problems.

But, when that didn’t work and things turned ugly, the outcome was much, much different.

We were the parents who (don’t be shocked) actually removed our children from the restaurant (or church or store) if their antics were publicly unacceptable. We would get up from the table, quickly collect our children and our belongings, pay our bill, and head for the exit. It didn’t happen often (twice, as I recall and both memories are vivid), but when it did, we cut our losses and took our miscreants out of the situation. I imagined other patrons breathing a collective sigh of relief as the door closed behind us.

I have no problems with kids who listen when their parents say, ‘that’s enough now, put down your toy and eat a little.’ I have no problem with normal, active kids’ behavior. And, if I’m out with friends who have kids, I have a great time – because my friends are good parents, and their children are fun to be around and interesting to talk with. We’ve actually asked to be put in a section away from other diners so the kids COULD get up and move around without disturbing anyone else. The kids were happy, we were happy – and the rest of the restaurant was oblivious – a great dining experience for everyone.

McDonalds has literally built a marketing plan around that idea. Many of their locations offer a play area combined with seating for meals. When people go to McDonalds and choose to eat in that enclosed section, they should have different expectations of their dining experience compared to, say, Olive Garden. There are many other kid-friendly restaurants and even web sites that offer kid-friendly dining information. I applaud them, because they fill a great niche.

It’s not that hard to understand – but somehow, a lot of parents today believe (selfishly, in my opinion) that it doesn’t matter whether their kids’ behavior is bad and affecting other people. They deserve a meal in a good restaurant and, damn it, they are going to have it, regardless. If that’s you and I’ve touched a nerve, I won’t apologize and I need to tell you: that’s just wrong. Stay home with your children until they (and you) can behave better. Or, head to a restaurant that caters to kids and families.

People eat 64-75% of their meals away from home, according to online sources. That’s a lot of restaurant/take out and a lot of opportunity for improvement. Here’s hoping for good dining experiences!