Sunday, June 24, 2012

The joy and the tears

My hubby is cooking a delicious stir-fry for us for dinner. The three of us, that is. Our eldest son normally does not deign to dine with us anymore unless Austin-Allison make a joint appearance at the dinner table. My contribution to dinner tonight was to turn on the wrong burner on the stove, which I discovered when smoke began to billow from the bottom of the plastic cutting board that happened to be placed squarely on that burner. The odor of burning chemicals lingers. (For that reason, when I cook, the entire stove surface is always clear of flammable items! My husband hasn't learned that lesson, though maybe he did tonight.)

We may be approaching another turn in Dad's health (and not for the better), pending the results of a bone marrow biopsy. He says "he's just fine" -- a typical response -- and I should take our upcoming family vacation to DisneyWorld, which includes our 25th wedding anniversary. Even the oh-so-grown high school graduate in our family will be going! Sans girlfriend!

I haven't decided what to do yet. I need to know Dad's diagnosis, and prognosis, and how easily I could hop a flight back if I go.

Meantime, Dad's favorite occupation these days seems to be sleeping. He hasn't had much fight in him for a long time. Maybe he never did.

It's hard to know what to do with someone who apparently doesn't know the value of his own life, or who has given up on it. I've never been confrontational. That is not my style, for better or worse. I would rather just be present to someone else's feelings and preferences, most of the time. This has led, in the past, to some differences of opinion with my sister, who was more of a mind to try to kick Dad's butt into gear and out of bed.

Is it OK to sit by without argument while a loved one gives up on life? How about when it is your Dad? What about when his health, his quality of life, is greatly diminished and will never be the same? I guess I don't know the magic answer to reigniting someone's passion for life, especially if it may never have existed in the first place. I can only walk the walk of my own beliefs with as much integrity as possible. I am loathe to try to convert others to my way of seeing things, most of the time. I can't be so arrogant as to say that someone I disagree with is wrong.

What a wonderful grace that I found God and happiness, and so much meaning in this life! So many things have blossomed from that groundwork. And yet, happiness is a hard thing to plant in others. It's a tragedy that neither one of my parents ever seemed to be happy, or to find much fulfillment in life. I can't stand to think deeply about their sadness, because I start to sink into it myself. It's a part of me, always, as surely as my genes came from them. An ocean of tears. Yes, life is that! The great paradox is that for every tear there is an equal measure of joy! Joy! The two things, sorrow and joy, cannot exist apart from one another, and each points to the other, here on earth.

The great, unanswered question, is why some people see the joy as well as the tears, and others don't.

There does seem to be a time I apparently violate my own personal "Prime Directive" (any Trekkie fans out there? The prime directive forbids interference with alien cultures; in my case, it forbids interference with others' lives). That is with my children. Austin tells me that I am an intimidating person, with steep standards, who is very judgmental of him and his friends. Reluctantly, I have to believe that he sees me that way, anyhow. I can catch more than a glimmer of all that in myself.

Who does that remind me of? My own Mom, completely. She was always so full of information and rather enjoyed showing up the ignorance of others, which usually meant her immediate family! She always demanded a high level of achievement from me and my sister that she could point to and brag about, and we delivered endless disappointments. I think she lived vicariously through her dreams for her children. That's common for parents to do. But she also seemed to give up on her own progress in life, withdrawing from the outside world more and more over time. A lot of my life, subconsciously at least, is about being "not-Mom" -- about finding my own identity and not repeating her mistakes. But I've taken a page or two from her parenting book, after all. I don't know how I feel about that.

I know Mom has been closer in my consciousness as Dad's health has seemed to be more frail once again. It seems like their destinies are connected, although Mom died 13 years ago. Both of my parents came down with blood cancers. Mom had myelofibrosis that became acute myeloid leukemia. Dad has multiple myeloma and possibly something more now. So many myelo's! (Just looked up: Greek word meaning marrow, also used to refer to the spinal cord.) Both have been treated by the same oncologist, Dr. Lyons, a wonderful man who must be past retirement age by now but who hasn't stopped fighting hard for each of his patients yet. He has a great sense of humor that is probably required for anyone working in this field of care.

So what will the upcoming weeks bring? There will be joy -- a vacation with my family, the celebration of 25 years of marriage. I have to make the affirmation that there will be joy, no matter what!

There will be tears, too. (With me, that's inevitable.) But once again, like last summer, I can't face up to the mortality of my only remaining parent. It's just too much to comprehend.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

In which our son, Austin, graduates


Austin, prom night

Dear blog/diary:

This graduation stuff sucks! Talk about an emotional roller-coaster ride. God, I'm glad that's done. However, what's next?

Austin (our oldest son) graduated last night, and turns 18 in a few days. He's got a foot still planted in youthful immaturity, having fallen hopelessly in love/obsession with a girl. But then there are those flashes of maturity that shine through. Like today.

But first -- what's up with half of Floresville turning out for the graduation ceremony? We got there 45 minutes early and pulled into one of the last parking spots, far from the stadium. (The graduation is held outdoors in the football stadium; I guess that's the only place big enough for it.) We made our way to the stadium only to find the seats all taken on the "home" side! We had to sit on the far side of the stadium, with the speakers' backs turned to us, but right by the band. We had been warned how packed it would be, but it was still a surprise.

This was my attitude about it: I was pissed! I mean, really? There were tons of people there just to watch the show, who didn't even have a family member graduating! Is Floresville really that much of a sleepy, boring hill-billy town that everyone thinks the high school graduation ceremony is the biggest thing happening? Yup, apparently so. Austin said, Mom, it's a small town! Graduation is a big deal!

Dwaine and Andrew got bored once the top 10% had graduated (Austin among them) and wanted to leave -- walk out, right there. I just couldn't do it. That would be too tacky! So we sat through the rest of the graduates being recognized. Then we snuck out early. So I didn't get to see everybody toss their caps in the air, though I did hear the ridiculous country song that the class picked out as its own. Something, Austin said, about "Driving my tractor and big-ass truck," maybe not in those exact words. You know? It fits, about half the population (actually, less than half these days). Could have used some spicy salsa music for the greater half, which is the population that Austin mostly hangs with.

Yesterday was a really tough day, at least for me. I was stuck on the idea that Austin was on the verge of wrecking his life with this girlfriend obsession. How could I possibly be happy about his graduation? I've been ping-ponging between being furious at Austin for some stupid choices he's made/will make, and realizing that this is my son, whom I love deeply, and nothing will ever change that. Last night after graduation, he called asking to go to the river with said girlfriend today, and I sulked, very noticeably, and practically hung up on him. Way to go, Mom! Way to model how to behave as a responsible adult! (I take a sardonic bow.) Hey, at least he still asks. Though, recently, he declined to follow our advice, and that is what really hurts.


I've had all the worst disaster scenarios making practice runs in my mind, which hops everywhere like a caffeine-crazed rabbit in times of stress. I tell you, I am so tired of being an unenlightened human being and having to endure all this suffering of my body, mind, and emotions. Most of it self-induced. But I can tell that people have really been praying for me (and practicing contemplation has definitely helped, too). Because as much dirt as my rabbity mind tries to kick up, I can still catch a glimmer of the truth.


Today, I was more emotionally centered (as of latest report) and wasn't trying to manipulate my child with my moodiness -- for the moment, anyhow! When Austin had rolled out of bed, taken his brother to work and returned home, I asked if he had time to mow the lawn (because I'm a big believer in giving a little to get a little, which means he still has responsibilities here if he wants to go enjoy life with his girlfriend/friends). He did mow the lawn, and when he was done, announced that his girlfriend had left without him. I said, well just drive on up there and meet them. He said, no, don't want to waste the gas. He was remarkably calm about it. He and I went on to talk about graduation, he showed me his brand-spanking new diploma, and he was completely normal and OK with everything, not sulky at all. What a man! He then left to go to a friend's house.

This is why it's so important for me to get a handle on my own feelings! It's amazing to see how much Austin mirrors me in that regard. Today, I was calm; he was calm. Though it is tempting to pull out the emotional stops and work them, baby, work them! That's probably why he felt compelled to mow the lawn today, because I was so upset about the whole river outing last night. Hey, it's manipulative, but it works! At least in the short run. Women everywhere are in on this little secret.

The truth? Goes something like -- Austin's life is his own now. He will make his own choices. We can decide, if he bombs out of school, that it is time for him to move out and support himself with a job instead of going to college. This is not the end of the world!! (I wanted to add a lot more exclamation points there, but I restrained myself.)

Whatever we do in response, the important thing is to act in love, not in anger, and to show Austin our love, not the petty anger. It's not that hard to do, especially with people praying for me. The real disaster would be if we wrecked our loving, close relationship with our son. That would be pretty much the end of the world, and I'm not willing to go there. No matter what.

It is no coincidence that I am going through a spiritual formation class right now that emphasizes contemplative practice. This is the Christian version of meditation, by the way. I need it in my life right now!

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