Thursday, June 7, 2018

Thoughts on a Late Spring Day

Right now my yard looks like this with a big gaping hole, a mangled old (and holey) septic tank, and a small excavator working its magic. I'm familiar with the look of dug up dirt, tracks from machines, and the earth torn up from my dad's work as a dirt contractor building roads and bridges when I was a kid, to now working at a gypsum mine. We are putting in a new septic tank and fixing some problems in the system so that it will function well and efficiently once our house is rebuilt.

Speaking of my house, a lot of work has been done already. Most of the inside has been framed. We've picked out the most essential pieces of the bathrooms so the plumbing can be installed.

I'm starting to think about paint colors and other details that need to be decided. After all these months of waiting and stress, this is really starting to feel real.

My yard is a total mess with overgrown grass, trees, and bushes that need to be trimmed, and branches that need to be cleaned up. I love my yard and hate to see it suffer. But next year I will be able to tend it properly and make changes there.

In the meantime, the peonies were generous this year and are bringing me joy in my temporary house.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

I Was Totally Wrong

I've been doing this parenting gig for 18 years. With six kids ranging in ages from 4 to 18, I have a pretty decent amount of parenting experience.

I have had this idea or expectation about parenting that I was supposed to: a) protect my kids from harm and b) teach my kids so they would make good decisions and go down a good path.

Turns out I was totally wrong. I definitely think that parents should protect their kids and teach them good principles. BUT, I can't realistically protect my children from every harmful thing (physical or emotional) and I certainly can't control my children's choices. Heck, I can't even make my son turn in his chemistry lab. For a while, I've been beating myself up about my parenting weaknesses, failures, and mistakes. I guess I'm really good at the self-flagellation thing, but it is a horrible space to occupy mentally and can be really hard to recover from.

So here is why I think I'm wrong about how I viewed parenting. The truth is my job as a mother is to love my kids unconditionally, help when they get hurt (physically, emotionally, or spiritually), and to help my kids figure things out whatever choices they make. It's a relief to reframe my responsibilities in that way. First, I am really good at loving my kids. Second, I am good at helping when they get hurt. Third, I have enough life experience to help my kids navigate their choices.

The way I have approached parenting up till now is fear-based which is completely exhausting. Trying to protect one's kids from everything means living in fear constantly and coming up with every scenario and then creating solutions or plans to avoid the pain. Fear is also the primary motivator with ensuring my kids make all the right decisions. That doesn't allow them to grow.

I don't think I really was abiding by the original parenting philosophy but I sure was beating myself up when things went wrong, as they inevitably do. I think my second approach is better because it frees me up to do what I do best.

What do you think? Have you ever looked at parenting the way I used to? What do you think of your role as a parent? Is it fear-based?

Thursday, May 3, 2018

You Have to Adapt With Parenting

One of the ongoing struggles in my life is the health/emotional struggles of my oldest son. For several years he has dealt with never-ending migraines. He is also coping with stomach and joint issues. We have been to so many doctors and have spent so much money on tests and medication. Nothing has really worked. Part of the problem is that he hasn't tried very hard or been diligent to follow through with the suggested treatments or ideas. I worry constantly if he can manage college in the fall if he can hardly get out of bed to go to high school. Sometimes I get so angry with him and with the situation. I tend to say and do stupid things to him in my frustration, which is a bad parenting strategy, by the way.

Last year my son had a total mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual breakdown. It was terrifying to watch and experience. I don't think I have ever cried so much in my entire life than at that time. I felt like a total failure as a parent and I blamed myself for the problems he was having. Our relationship was horrible, full of conflict and difficulty.

After our house fire, things actually got better, but I have no idea why. Maybe we all recognized what we could have lost and just kind of reconfigured things from there. I still feel like much of relationship with him is still very tentative and tenuous.

A couple days ago I was venting my frustrations/worries/fears to my husband and told him that I felt if our parents were in this situation things wouldn't be the way they are. My husband reminded me that our parents had different challenges with different successes and failures.

Today I was listening to a podcast with a woman whose teenage son committed suicide. She was talking about learning from the experience and how to be a better parent. Then she said something her therapist told her. He said in a fight or conflict, lean toward the relationship. That may mean lowering expectations or changing how we parent but always work on the relationship. She also said that things are really different right now and are changing so rapidly that we have to adapt to the times to survive.

Hearing that just took off the bricks of shame I've been carrying. I'm parenting and trying to parent in the best way I can. Of course, I make mistakes that my children have to suffer for. I can't parent the way I was parented because times are different and the kids are different. I'm trying to adapt and change as the situation demands. I feel a lot better about some of the decisions I have made.

I want to strive to look at parenting, not as something I do perfectly without mistakes, but as a journey where I learning and adapting. And above all, loving my kids as fiercely as I can.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

It's True, I Am a Total Mess, But I Keep Showing Up Anyway

Sometimes I feel shame and embarrassment that I feel so much frustration about my life and the way it has gone over the past two years. I don't exactly exude serenity or calm resignation. I want to be facing these challenges that continue to baffle me with more grace and calm.

I was beating myself up yesterday about my response and feeling terrible about how I am failing everywhere. My mind did a bang-up job of internally enumerating every flaw and failure and went on an epic bout of beratement. At the end of which, I felt absolutely terrible and a total mess.

Somehow, miraculously, a thought penetrated the dark fox later in the day:

Yeah, it is true, I am a total mess, but I keep showing up anyway.

I'm still showing up as a mother, wife, daughter, friend, and human being. I make dinner, wash laundry, scrub toilets, check homework, take kids to practices, attend school performances and games. I still hug and kiss my husband and we work through our problems, even when are both overwhelmed and exhausted. I still show up for my church responsibilities and also try to be helpful and kind to my friends. I have mourned with grieving friends who have lost parents or family members. I still volunteer at school, even if it is at more minimal level. I try to look for things to be grateful for.

The way I am feeling about my life and the challenges I cope with on a daily basis is pretty normal. It's normal to feel frustration when building permits are delayed. It's normal to be angry and exhausted having to do another temporary move. It's totally normal to feel overwhelmed and sad thinking about where I want to be versus where I am. It's normal to feel fear and anxiety about parenting. And actually, considering everything we have gone through so far, I'm doing really well and I have handled it with courage and grace.

All those feelings are normal and it is totally fine that I am feeling them. But I'm not allowing my struggles to prevent me from living. Maybe it's not my best life right now, but I'm still moving forward.

I am being adaptable and flexible, allowing these events to shape me to be a better human being. I feel a hundred times better thinking that, I'm a total mess, but I keep showing up anyway.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Why Our House Isn't Rebuilt Yet

These days when I mention our house fire people ask, somewhat startled, why our house isn't finished. It is a long story and one that gets tedious repeating (partially because it is so frustrating-having lived through it). I also want to be better at documenting this so here is a summarized explanation.

One must understand that smoke seriously damages everything. While the actual fire was confined to one section of our house, the smoke did serious damage, ruining about 95% of our belongings. The entire interior of the home had to be gutted.

The entire process is rather involved and had to be taken in steps.

1) The personal property adjuster and his assistant went through the entire house with my husband and oldest son cataloging every single item in our home, making lists with value. Because we had replacement insurance, it meant they had to estimate the depreciated value of the items as well as estimate what it would cost to replace those items at current market value. However, that was a moot point as we maxed out our personal property claim. (Yay! We didn't have to save receipts. We could just buy what we wanted and needed, within reason of course.)

2) After all the property had been accounted for, a contractor was engaged who then did the demo on the house.

3) The fire started in the garage as a result of a rechargeable battery. Because the insurance company wanted to recover their loss, they decided to pursue litigation. A fire inspector was employed and the garage was left intact so he could access the damage and make the determination. Once the fire inspector made his recommendation to the insurance company lawyers, they (the lawyers) contacted the liable company. That company then had to send out their own fire inspectors to assess the damage and do their own investigation. Cue investigator and lawyer dickering. We weren't actually privy to any of those interactions because the investigation and lawsuit have nothing to do with us.

4) Once the investigations were concluded by all invested parties, the contractor did the garage demo and then cleaned the house.

5) Because we didn't know any contractors, the insurance company assigned us a contractor to get started on the work. This is where the situation got bogged down. This company took several months to draw up plans and an estimate without consulting us. We planned to make changes to the floor layout and wanted to provide input. The contractor didn't listen to us, despite us reaching out several times. Finally, just before Christmas, they set up a meeting, with full architectural drawings and a complete estimate for the house. It was an unhappy meeting as the contractor balked at the suggested changes and told us we were out of money to do anything else. After a couple weeks of discussion and consulting with a friend who builds high-end homes, we discovered the estimate had about $75,000 worth of additional profit sneakily written into the quote. We decided not to accept the contractor's bid.

6) Then we had to find a contractor. Using friend recommendations, we solicited a few bids and did our homework. Finally, we chose a contractor we thought we could work with who would listen to us.

7) We purchased our home as a four-bedroom house. We pay taxes on our house as a four-bedroom home. The room in the basement was so large that we wanted to divide it into 2 rooms. When we started investigating our septic system to see if that would be possible, we discovered that the septic system on the town records was only zoned for a 2 bedroom house. My husband spent a lot of time at the town and county offices trying to figure out what was going on. Eventually, we hired a septic engineer to investigate the size of the tank. The truth is our septic system isn't quite up to code and while we were doing research, we realized that we might have to completely redo the septic system and dig a new well, something that would significantly eat into our building budget. Fortunately, we were given permission to do a workaround. We will have to install a new tank and some other things, but it won't be a totally new system, at a much lower cost.

8) Once that was resolved, we could move forward with hiring an architect to draw up the plans for the town. Fortunately, we met with a fabulous designer, Peter Fillerup, who owns Anson Fillerup Design, who made a gorgeous and practical design for our home. Armed with those plans, we worked with the architect to make sure everything was up to code. This took a while though as the architect was quite busy and didn't complete the plans as quickly as he should have.

9) We submitted the architectural plans to the town to receive the necessary building permits a month ago. We are still waiting for the permits but are told they should be ready this week. (Cue the angry face emoji). In the meantime, the contractor was given permission to get started. He started ripping out the ceiling and floor joists that were damaged by the fire.

So there you have it, the entire saga of why our house isn't rebuilt yet. This process has been more frustrating and traumatizing than the actual fire itself. It is really hard to be in a place of feeling like being in permanent transition never quite moving forward. 

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Madrid: Day 1

This January, my friend Laurel emailed me and our friend, Christine, with the best idea. Laurel is an actress working on musical theater shows in London. She got a part in the opera, Street Scene, and was performing at the Teatro Real in Madrid. She had a flat for a month during rehearsals and the show run. "Come to Madrid," she said. "You can stay with me and we can explore the city."

I just didn't think it would be possible as we are trying to rebuild our house and I still have Winter at home. Brent was so encouraging and supportive and said that I should go. Christine and I booked tickets and eagerly awaited the trip.

On Thursday afternoon, Christine and I met at the JFK airport to fly the red-eye to Madrid. I haven't been in an airport by myself without a little person holding my hand in forever. It felt like a decadent luxury to walk through the airport shops without worrying about little hands breaking stuff. Our flight to Madrid was uneventful, though neither Christine nor I slept much.

We arrived in Madrid on Friday morning. As we flew over the mountains of Spain, it looked like the mountains and terrain of Wyoming with scrubby trees, rocky hills, and lots and lots of brown. Admittedly, Wyoming does not have Palm Trees, but otherwise, the two areas could be twins.

We grabbed a taxi that took us to Laurel's flat right in the heart of Madrid. The cab driver stiffed us on the price, which was a little irritating.

Laurel welcomed us to her second story flat and we dumped our luggage and ourselves on her couch, so excited to see each other. What followed was an epic girl talk/catch-up/therapy session. After hours of just hanging out, we decided to head out for some food.

Laurel's flat is right by Plaza Mayor, a beautiful square with shops and restaurants. We popped over to Mercado de San Miguel to try some gourmet tapas. First, we got a couple kinds or paella- seafood and sausage. We had some churros con chocolate, a fancy cheese tapas, and some cute yogurt shots (in shot glasses, but which did NOT contain alcohol).

After eating we walked around a bit, enjoying the sights. One thing that made me chuckle was the cereal bar restaurant, which apparently is a real thing.

We stopped at a couple small grocery stores to grab a few things. I found Kinder code eggs which I bought for my kids. They always got them in Sweden but can't buy them in the U.S. There are kinder eggs in the U.S., but the ones in Europe are different.

Laurel had to go to rehearsal and Christine and I were pretty wiped by then. Laurel left us and we went to bed. 

Monday, January 1, 2018

2017 Was a Year for the Books

Holy Crap! What a year it has been! As I look back on the year, my primary emotion is relief that we survived and are moving forward. I only blogged a handful of times this year as life was so overwhelming and I could barely write about it, let alone process it. So here are a few highlights:

Our Big Accomplishments

1. I took the online Genealogy Certificate course through Boston University.
It was one of the best things I have ever done. I still love learning in a formal setting and this graduate-level course whetted my appetite for additional education. Not only did I absolutely love the research work but I learned that my instincts and research skills are pretty good. My final project was pretty amazing as I was able to uncover the story of a lost and forgotten ordinary Civil War soldier based on a letter he wrote that is housed in the Putnam County NY archive. Upon completing the course, I hung out my shingle for my own genealogy consultant firm.

NY 44th Regiment Monument on Little Round Top at Gettysburg. George P. Read was a private in the NY 44th and fought in the battle on Little Round Top during the Battle of Gettysburg in the summer of 1863. This monument has George's name listed on a plaque with the names of his fellow comrades who fought there.

2. Walter completed his Eagle project and earned his Eagle Award.
Walter had a crappy year health-wise but still managed to complete his Eagle project. With a group of volunteers, he photographed each gravestone in a pre-Revolutionary War cemetery that was in desperate need of documentation. Then he led a team of volunteers in transcribing the information on the photographs. The photographs were printed and put in an album along with the transcriptions. This summer Walter's completed paperwork was destroyed in our stupid house fire so he had to fill all that out again. He barely made the deadline before his birthday in October. At the end of October, we held his Eagle Court of Honor where he received his award.

3. Jonathan turned 8 and was baptized by Walter.

4. Winter finally figured out how to use the toilet and we are now a diaper-free household.
It has been almost 18 years straight of using diapers in our house so this is a BIG moment, perhaps the biggest of 2017.

We are still a traveling family, even if our travels are limited to the United States.

We went to Gettysburg over Independence Day and enjoyed watching a re-enactment and immersing ourselves in a pivotal moment in the history of the United States. While I had an amazing time, my offspring informed they are burnt out of doing historical things and would like to have more frivolous fun. (Ironic as I take them to fairs, carnivals, pumpkin picking, etc.)

I went to Wyoming with Winter in May and July. In May my sisters and I attended the temple with my youngest sister who went to the temple for the first time. In November, my sisters and I surprised my dad for his birthday. It was so good to be with all my sisters and parents.

We had a lot of fun in New York this year and I have gained a deeper appreciation for my adopted home state. Here are some of the places we explored: New York City, Jones Beach, Peekskill Civil War monument, Intrepid, the Adirondacks, Cold Spring, Untermeyer Gardens, Muscoot Farm, Dubois Apple Picking Farm....

After our stupid house fire, I took the kids to Wyoming for a month. We enjoyed visiting Yellowstone National Park, Thermopolis Hot Springs, Cody Nite Rodeo, Cheyenne State Archives, Old Trail Town, Petroglyphs outside of Ten Sleep,  and experienced a 98.6% solar eclipse.

The Stupid House Fire
Our most pivotal moment occurred on Monday, July 24th, where a house fire wreaked serious havoc on our home and our lives. We lost about 98% of our physical possessions, the entire interior of our house has to be rebuilt from the studs up, and we are living in a temporary home.  The process has been slow and there have been significant hiccups, but we are doing okay. My kids have been remarkably resilient, responding to the loss with courage and strength. I'm so proud of them. I don't know how or why, but Brent and I have been so blessed with extraordinary children. We have also been blessed with wonderful family and friends who showered us with love, support, money, clothing, food, furniture, pots and pans, scrapbook supplies, and help in every conceivable way possible. I'm sad about our losses and frustrated by the delays, but I know we are going to be okay. Most importantly, I am grateful that the children and I escaped the fire without harm and were even able to save the structure of our house.

I am so excited to be saying farewell to 2017 and even happier to say hello to 2018, the year our house gets rebuilt (cross both fingers and knock on wood).