Friday, September 08, 2017

Here is something from my drafts folder, a piece I started working on the summer I was living with, and losing, my grandmother.  I've been thinking about her a lot lately, about how much she made me feel capable and loved, and how difficult it is for me to make LilGirl feel that way. How it doesn't come as naturally to me, as it must have to her, and how I wish she were around to talk me through it.  So, I've been wandering back and looking at some of the things I've written about her, and about our relationship.  Here is something I think that's worth posting... I don't know why I never finished it, then.  Probably it hurt too much. But, it's a tribute to her, so I want it out there, on this the fifth anniversary of her death.  


She talks in her sleep; probably all sorts of things that she wants to say when she's awake, but doesn't dare.  "Shut up ~ I'll only listen to that for so long;"  "Who do you think is the boss around here, Mister?"  "Well, I'm smarter than that, which you'd knew if you listened to me at all."

But it's not just that: sometimes she opens her eyes and talks to people who aren't really there, except for her.  "What are you doing here?" she'll say, "Where have you been for so long?"

The other morning: "Is that Brian's chin? Do I recognize Brian's chin? I know it's you, because you have my chin, boy: why won't you talk to me?" Her voice is sweet, and cajoling; later it's hurt and quiet. 

Brian is my father, and he's been dead for 13 years.  He was not, contrary to her beliefs, 'necking in the living room the other night with some girl.'  At least not that I could see, and I had a pretty good view of things, since I was sitting on the couch she claimed he was sitting on.

"I'm glad that he has someone;" she reports back, "but did he have to ignore me?  What kind of evil have I done that my own child would pretend I didn't exist?"

When I suggest that he didn't hear her, she gives me a look that says she knows I am not that stupid, and I should know that she isn't that stupid either.  She's right: neither of us is that dumb, but what else can I say?  He's gone: If she saw him in the living room, it certainly wasn't the Brian that either of us used to know, and trying to explain about hallucinations to a person who is hallucinating all the time, is like trying to explain about breathing: you don't do it consciously, therefore you can't think about all the bits and pieces that go into it.  You don't think to yourself "Diaphragm in" before each breath, and she doesn't think to herself "this could possibly be fake" before she has a chat with the person she sees so clearly.

Don't try to convince her that she's hallucinating, all the experts/books/hospice workers agree: so now I've got a woman who's sure she's seen her dead son, and that he ignored her, that he hates her enough to not even say hello, when she is clearly ill and needs his company.

 Even my father, whose memory is pretty tarnished (if only in my own eyes) was never that bad.

She pines for a little boy (sometimes two little boys) who is/are missing, but she can't recall their names or their faces, only that they are her littlest boys and that someone has taken them from her.  My uncle is sometimes cast as the willing accomplice, other times the clueless and cold father, still other times the evil mastermind behind this whole plot: he doesn't know where the boy(s) are, and he doesn't seem concerned enough with finding them, in her opinion.

We don't know how to search for pretend boys, or how to explain that no one has absconded with any of her children, and so she longs for them, brings them up in every quiet moment, wonders if they are fed and clean and happy and "where could they be?"

"Safe and happy; sound and cared for", we promise, but we haven't got enough details for her. There could never be enough details to satisfy a mother who is looking for her missing children.  What is the address, the phone number, the house like?  Where does the father work, the mother shop, the school bus let off?  Do they ever get an extra cookie at night, does the mother wash their hair with that special lice shampoo, are we sure they don't do their homework while sitting in front of the television?

Obviously my worrying genes did not come from the ether.

But what a wonderful mother she must have been, back then, when her kids where little.  To still worry so now, all these years later, about whether or not someone is making sure the little one brushes his teeth because 'he hates to brush his teeth and will just wet the brush and pretend he's brushed, you know'.  To have in her head that there are little hearts out there that it's her job to protect, and to be un-moving in that conviction - it's both awesome and horrible all at the same time.

Because I can so clearly see her in that mom mode - living through the daily struggles of raising nine children, one with a very severe disability in a time where kids with disabilities were hidden from sight more often than not; in the projects of a city she never liked, close to in-laws who treated her like a slave, and far away from the life she lived with her Grams in New Jersey. 

And yet, she excelled - she knocked it out of the park, if you ask me, even if she made mistakes along the way.

But how horrible, to feel that connection, to feel that pull, and to be able to do nothing about it.  This is a feeling I have my own experiences with, that wanting of a child, that feeling that your child is out there somewhere, waiting for you, but you can't get to them.  Our realities are infinitely different - she's reliving the life she's already gone through maybe fifty or sixty years ago, now and I'm looking forward to the life I want in my future - but that pull, that pang and hollow feeling, yeah: I know it too well.

This summer with my grandmother is awful.  It's an endless wait for an end you'd do anything to avoid; like you're constantly slipping towards a great big hole, and you know you're going to go into it face first, eventually, but the fall is taking an eternity and you can't figure out where to put your hands out to stop yourself, so you just keep slipping, closer and closer to the big fall.

She has days where she's fine, mostly, and those days of just sleeping for hours and eating and watching Judge Judy, well they're almost normal, except you can still feel the slide happening, deep down, under your feet, under your skin, in your heart.  It's there in the way that she asks what time it is, again, and you can tell her internal clock has run hours ahead of the actual time, and she's lost again.  The way she tilts to the side while we're watching the news, like a curious puppy who can't quite make out what he's looking at.  The way it takes her 15 minutes to get food onto her fork, into her mouth, chewed and into her stomach: It takes her so much energy to eat, that you want her to eat only the highest calorie foods, to make it worthwhile.  All those little steps, little bumps, all part of the slipping.

And then there's days where she's never here: she eats, but she doesn't taste it.  She talks, but her eyes are empty when she looks at you.  "Where's the mail?" and "What's the time?" over and over again, and they have as little meaning to her as they would to a two year old - all she knows is that those things might happen, and it might mean that something would be different than it is now.  And god, does she want things to be different than they are now.

I can't interest her in anything: the plots of television shows confuse her, peppered with commercials that annoy her.  Movies take too long, and have too many people talking at once.  Books are too heavy for her sore arm, too tiny for her eyes, too confusing if you read them to her.  Puzzles are not her thing, nor are cards - "I used to get berated for playing a card in bridge; your uncle" (my great uncle, actually) "would scold me so for not knowing what everyone else had played." And music is, for the most part, out: I turned on a Pandora station with her favorite song, and she took out her hearing aids and went to sleep.

We talk about a long time ago, but I never know how much of it is true anymore - was there really a woman named Bridgey, who lived above them in the Towers and would shout at Grandmother's misbehaving children as easily as she'd take her own to task?  Did my grandfather lace up his Hessian boots, or was it her father, her grandfather, one of her brothers?

We talk about yesterday, today and tomorrow - who's coming and what's on the schedule, and "does your list make you the boss of everybody?" About the weddings coming up, and how they're not today, or tomorrow, or even next week: "I've missed the bride" she'll tell me at least once a week - but no, Grandmother, it's alright: The wedding isn't until the end of September.

 "I need silver shoes," she shouted as she woke up this morning, before even hello, "add it to your list and we'll go shopping for some on the next nice day."

Never mind that we don't go shopping - that the doctor's appointment she went to last week wiped her out so badly her skin was grey - or that her feet are two different sizes due to the swelling.

 "Silver shoes to match my dress.  And a petticoat, with lace."

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Why is school so stressful??

I spent a large portion of time today, convincing a sixteen year old that his life would not end if he failed his AP physics midterm. That, even if it tanked his GPA, his life would still, somehow, be worth living. We talked about a lot of things - his (most likely situational) depression and how he doesn't think it's capital D Depression (and No, Thank You: He Would Not Like To Talk To Anyone About It, Auntie!); the fact that group projects have always, and will always, suuuuck; the fact that he puts all these roadblocks and excuses up in his own way, and makes it seem like things are impossible to accomplish, when they are not; the idea that he will be taking a much less stressful course load as a senior next year, and why can't it be senior year already; his belief that having driving lessons curtailed as a consequence to poor behavior is 'totally unfair', while I think it is 'maximum effort', and hopefully, never necessary. So Many Things.  Hours worth of things. 

And I never felt like I knew what the hell I was talking about. 

I swear to you, I wanted to Google a million things while we were sitting there - building self confidence in teenagers, how to tell if a teenage boy is Capital D Depressed; what do colleges take into account beside your GPA, and on and on.  I didn't, because texting while you're talking is considered (by me, at least) rude, so I didn't, but all of my answers felt, at the very least, humblingly inadequate.

"It's not fair that I should have to do all the work in a group project! I should just tell my teacher, or take the zero." "Um: No.  If I find out you took a zero on a project just because the other people weren't pulling their weight, we're going to have an issue.  Sometimes, you're going to have to deal with people who let you down, who don't do their share.  You're right: It is 100% unfair, and you SHOULD mention it to the teacher - (bc one kid is dropping the class, he is doing literally no work for the project, and should not have been assigned to a group, IMO)- but, since it's due on Tuesday, at this point, you're either going to have to ride the other people in the group till they produce their part, or do their part for the sake of your grade. It's not fair, but it is Do-able." 

"Well, the test will be scaled, so all I need to do is get about a 45, and that will still be a C, scaled up." (I have no idea how the math works on that, just that's what he said.) "You can - for sure - do better than a 45, and you need to set your sights a lot higher than that. Are you studying the right things; Is there anyway I can help you study, so you can do better? Because aiming for a low pass is something you're better than." 

"I never should have taken this class, I'm in so over my head, and it's impossible to pass, and I'll probably get a 2 on my AP test, and then it will all have been a big waste of my time."  "OK: I can see how it would feel that way, but you have to try to reframe it a bit, I think.  It's not impossible to pass, because you are passing it. Even if you get a 2 on the AP test, you will still have passed AP Physics. Yes, I know your grades aren't where you want them to be, and here are 2 specific things I think you can do to bring it up some this next quarter, but stop thinking of it as impossible, because that just gives you an excuse if you don't do it.  You ARE doing it. You don't need the excuses." 

 And on and on.  I felt like a mix between one of my therapists, and a Hallmark "You can DO it: I have faith in you!" card. (Because that was literally something I said.  It felt so sappy, but it's also 1000000% true, so I figured it needed to be said.)

Mostly what I wanted to say was this:

You are an amazing kid, and I don't like how overwhelmed and stressed out you are right now.  I am going to help you find some better coping strategies, because this is not working out for you.  I also think that maybe you should take some deep breaths, and listen to me when I say: This class - pass or fail, A or D - is not going to be the be-all-end-all of your life.  I know it feels that way right now, because I went through it myself.  But 15 years later? None of those things actually mattered.  What matters is how I responded to tough parts; how you hang in there when things are hard - in school or in life - THAT IS WHAT MATTERS.  So let me help you figure out how to hang in there.  How to breathe, even in the midst of the really tough times.  How to see a challenge that feels overwhelming, and still know - even if nobody else shows up - that you can tackle it.  Because You Absolutely Can.  And I will help you, for as long as you need my help, but I'm also going to show you how to do it yourself.  Because those are the skills you need. 

And off he goes, to take a test he's petrified of, and all I can do is say "Stub a toe" (our family's version of 'Break a leg') and cross my fingers, and know, even if he doesn't, that he can handle whatever comes at him.