Friday, September 30, 2011


Anniversaries of sad events can be very difficult on those involved.  Our family was no exception last year for the one year anniversary of Jeanne and Mike's death.  The accident was devastating to our family and trying to mark that day was extremely difficult.  For K and I it was even more challenging because we had E and M to consider.    Others in my family wanted us to stop completely and make the entire day about remembering.  K and I came at it differently.  A, D and M had soccer games that day and all of them didn't want to miss them.  A was playing another boy from his class and M's team was going to wear arm bands in remembrance and she felt she wanted to be part of that.  We also felt like we didn't want to sit around all day being sad.  Our plan was to let the kids play in their games, have a family mass later in the afternoon, and then a family dinner at our house.

C and her husband were pretty vocal about what they thought we should do.  They wanted a morning or early afternoon mass and then a picnic at a local park that Jeanne and Mike loved.  This plan fell right in the middle of the kids' games.  They were pretty harsh about our decision and forcing us to make the kids choose, like they needed to learn some sort of lesson.  Awful things were said on both sides.  C and I argued on the phone like we had never done before. She threatened to not show up at the dinner at our house.  I spent most of the days leading up to the event not eating, physically ill and a basket case.  I honestly don't know how I got through it.

But we did get through it.  We worked out a compromise and it turned into a nice day.  This year we are all in a much much better place emotionally.  The kids are more settled.  We got through it last year and we'll do it again this year.  Knowing that helps immensely.  This year, the anniversary falls on a Monday.  C had the great idea that we should meet at the same park and do a balloon release.  The kids can be late for school (or even not go).  We think it will be a wonderful, tangible way to remember them for both the adults and kids.

I sent an email out yesterday throwing out the suggestion and also bringing up a few other ideas for this fall, including a family photo shoot.  Other than C, there has been absolutely no response.  CA, however, decided to call C last night to express her reservations.  According to CA, MG's therapist feels like the balloons are a terrible idea.  Huh?  She claimed all kinds of behavior issues with MG that are tied to the fall, etc. and that something like this would trigger the trauma for her. Given CA's history of lying, I just don't buy it and I can't imagine her therapist (who I know very well) would make that statement.  CA is almost trying to erase Jeanne and Mike from the little girls.  Honestly, I don't think CA and KM want to be there and they're using the girls' issues as the reason.  More and more, CA is moving the girls away from us.  I don't understand why.  They are talking about not being here for Thanksgiving and spending it at their cabin in West Virginia.  The girls need to be together!!  They can't be together daily, but they should be there for holidays.

I know that the fact that CA is a lesbian has shaped her relationship with our family.  I know that she has felt on the outside.  But our family, and C and I in particular, have never treated her and KM any different.  My parents have accepted them as a couple.This is huge for a conservative, Catholic couple.  For goodness sake, we were all open to having them take the little girls.  I just wish that she would be more open to relaxing a bit and letting go of some of her resentments towards the rest of the family.

At the same time, I wish that MG and KT weren't with them.  To be completely honest, I don't think it is the best thing for MG and KT.  It's not what Jeanne and Mike would have wanted.  If S had taken them, they would be 5 minutes from their sisters.  From comments made over the weekend to S and C, we are all doubting whether they are going to even be raised Catholic.  In front of M, CA called KT a brat.  M got so upset and told her not to say things like about her sister.  She continues to dress the girls in clothes that are too small despite our best efforts to get them clothes that fit.

I wish that we could have taken them.  We just can't.

Putting myself in their shoes, I know how hard this has been on CA and KM.  They didn't want kids.  They are now taking care of the kids of two people who completely rejected their relationship.  On practical levels, they have no idea what they are doing.  I get that.  What I don't get is their continued rejection of our family in their attempts to solidify their new family.  In the long run, it's only going to hurt MG and KT, let alone E and M.

I've tried to let go of a lot of anger I have towards my younger sisters.  We've spent the last year rebuilding those relationships.  It's not perfect, but it's better.  I want to be able to release my frustrations with CA too, but it's hard to balance that with my gut feelings about being advocates for MG and KT.  Moreover, her actions have direct impacts on our household.  Her decisions with the little girls are so upsetting for E and M.  It feels like if I release my frustrations with CA, I'm abandoning MG and KT.

There has to be a solution to the CA problem.  I just don't see it right now.  I've already lost one sister, I don't want to lose another.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Little Breakthroughs...

Cognitive Behavioral Therapyis based on the idea that our thoughts cause our feelings and behaviors, not external things, like people, situations, and events.  The benefit of this fact is that we can change the way we think to feel / act better even if the situation does not change.

I walked out of therapy today feeling emotionally and physically lighter.  I look forward to therapy each week.  Mostly, though, because it's a place where I can vent without repercussions and Harriet is always on my side, even when she's calling me out on things.

Today was different.  Today I didn't list my myriad of woes and frustrations.  They were sprinkled in there, of course, but she really got me to focus on how we were going to reduce my stress.  My physical signs of stress have really gotten out of control and something needs to change.  Rather than listen to me, my therapist made me try to figure out what is actually causing the stress.

Control.  It all comes down to control. My day to day life is completely complex and busy.  I am working on all cylinders all day.  This I cannot change. Yes, I can get some more help.  But, I have to admit that my workload really isn't going to let up in the near future.

As I listed all my issues with control and stress and examples of how getting help sometimes makes things worse, she just kept on coming back to the same questions.  What's the worse thing that would happen if I didn't meet up to MY expectations about a given situation?  I couldn't come up with a good answer.  So S brings E to get a dress and they have a special bond.  What's the worse thing that could happen?  Nothing.  E still comes home to us.  So someone misses a practice or M gets a bad grade.  What's the worse thing that could happen?  Nothing.  We are still a family.  M is still our child that we love.

I don't think this realization is going to change things over night, but it's a start.  I need to learn to let things go a bit.  At the end of the day K and I have to be content with the decisions we're making for our family and be proud of what we're doing.

Some of you may be saying, "Duh! We've been telling you all along!"  But it's hard to let control go, when something happens in your life that you have no control over.

Today I really realized how hard therapy can be.  My hard times in her office in the past have been re-living aspects of the trauma.  Coming to acceptance that Jeanne and Mike aren't coming back.  I had a breakthrough today.  It was hard to get there, but the feeling on the other side was worth the work.  

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Deep Breath

Today was a day that needed lots of deep breaths.  Too many times my mind started racing ahead to the future and I started to panic.  I worry and worry and worry.  I worked hard today to not get too anxious about the long term, but focus on what I could do today to make things work.

My post about M's academic issues has been weighing on me.  I'm always trying to find little signs that things are getting better.  Progress on all fronts seems to be moving at a glacial pace.  I guess I just thought that all the decisions and steps we took this summer would result in immediate progress with M.  Naive on my part I suppose.  My rational brain knows that there is not going to be a sudden fix with M.  Her issues are too complex.  So I'm thinking that my need to find something positive in this quagmire that is our life, was putting all my eggs in M's academic basket.  It's still just so hard.  I think what makes it more difficult is that the outside world seems to have lost it patience for our issues.  We all should be over this.  The kids should be adjusted by now.  Life just doesn't work that way.

My issues with my siblings and parents also continue.  Sometimes I just want to scream at all of them that we are bearing the brunt of our family tragedy.  Today was another example.  At lunch I was discussing with C about how when E gets her license next year, it doesn't automatically mean that we are going to let E drive to swimming in the morning.  She doesn't get enough sleep and its makes us uncomfortable.  C's reaction was that her husband D and S's husband aren't going to be able to keep up the swimming help.  She said, "it's killing D and who knows what is going to happen when S has the baby."  I wanted to yell at her and say, "But they promised to help!!!"  This was part of the deal.  Moreover, C and D said they'd take the girls.  It got too hard and they bailed.  Driving for swimming two mornings a week is getting too hard.  They want to bail.  They get to do that.  The girls aren't their responsibility.  As their guilt over not taking the girls goes away so does their commitment to help. 

Slowly but surely I still feel that everyone is stepping away.  The crisis is over for everyone else, but continues for us.  I'm just tired and continue to feel so alone.  Tired and alone.

I don't want to end this on a negative....some good things...

1.  We had the meeting with E's swim coach this evening.  Talking about her swimming is pretty cool.  She is an exceptional swimmer.  In 4 years, she could swim in the Olympics.  She is that good.  I need to try to start focusing on how to help her reach that goal rather than seeing her swimming as a hardship on our family. 

2.  L is doing really well in pre-school.  He seems really happy and comes home with good stories.  I am very proud of him.

3.  The uncles on both sides of the family did a fantasy football draft with D tonight.  It means nothing in terms of money, but means the world to D.  He has been talking about nothing else for the past week.  Our biggest problem was trying to convince him that drafting only Hokies was a bad idea.

4.  I watched A skate from the front porch before dinner tonight.  He is getting so good and the joy on his face filled me up.

5.  Our little Montana honeymoon has continued.  The past few days K and I have sent each other silly emails during the day loaded with innuendos.  I love him.  I get annoyed at him, but I do love him so and it's nice to have a little romantic spice to the day.

6.  At work yesterday, during a presentation by our CEO I made an intelligent comment  that she agreed with.  I felt smart and professional.  It was nice to be reminded that I'm good at what I do.

I need to remember these positive points and not worry too much about the future.  It will all work out or it won't.  I can't imagine it getting any harder so I might as well just be satisfied with the little positives I can find in each day.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


K and I were both good students growing up.  We both went to good high schools, a great college and have master's degrees.  It was a combination of basic smarts, hard work and doing what our parents expected of us.  I don't think I ever worried about what my parents or other kids in my class thought.  I was a good student and it's just the way it was.

Like most parents, I've always felt my kids were smart.  They are intellectually curious and have varied interests.  They love to read and do research about stuff that they are interested in.  Not to brag, but the boys are pretty cool kids and at the core of this is a bright, vibrant intelligence.

When A was in first grade he had trouble reading.  Nobody could figure it out.  His comprehension was great.  He could point out the verb and subject in a sentence, but struggled with reading out loud.  We had him tested, got tutoring over the summer and by the end of second grade he read all of the Harry Potter books.  I was reassured by his tutor that reading is a skill and was not a reflection of intelligence.  It was hard though to accept that A was struggling.  I just always assumed that academic success was a given.  For goodness sake, at the age of 5 A could list all of the venomous snakes in North America and was already designing his own golf courses.  A's academic performance certainly does not always reflect his abilities,  but for the most part he does well in school. Still, as an over achiever, it was hard to think that my child might not be.  It's hard to admit, but I just always assumed our kids would follow in our footsteps.

Then we adopted these two kids.  E is a great student, but to the point of slight neurosis.  Her being a good student and good swimmer is how she defines herself.  Anything less than perfect is completely unacceptable to her.  She'll argue with a teacher about a question on a test to go from a 96 to a 98.  Dealing with her school issues is an another post altogether.

M is at the exact opposite end of the spectrum.  As I've written before, her basic grammar and math skills are lacking. So, we had her tested.  We got a tutor.  We got a student accommodation plan at school.  We started her on medication.  I've set up a homework space.  But still M is struggling.  I try to help her and she just cries, screams and tells me that she doesn't care and she's just dumb.  I don't know what else to do.  I don't know how to help her.  I want to have the same expectations of her that I have for the boys.  At the same time, I sometimes find myself holding my praise for the boys in check because I don't want M to feel bad.  That's not fair to the boys either.

It's especially hard since she and A are in the same grade.   An 88 for M is good, but an 88 for A just isn't. Is it because she's not our biological daughter?  Is lowering my expectations for M wrong?  It's also hard to accept that M may not be a good student.  I worry about her as we get closer to high school.  It so hard to be able to focus on all of M's needs and make sure that I'm there for the other kids too.  I was hoping that this year would be different with all of the steps we took for her this summer.  I'm already seeing signs of the same issues.

Parenting is tough.  Parenting my sister's kids is even tougher.  I want what is best for M, but there are times when I want to scream and pull out all of my hair after trying to help her with basic math or grammar.  My 11 plus years of parenting just didn't prepare me for the challenges M is presenting to me. 

Oh to be 4...

We had some hilarious quotes from our favorite 4 year old this past week that I just have to share...

1.  L declared on his second day of  pre-school that the "big kid" was bad again.

Me:  His name is Vincent buddy and maybe he's just not used to pre-school and has to get to know the rules just like you.  He is four just like you.  He is just taller than you.

L:  He is definitely not 4.

Me:  Of course he's four, how old do you think he is?

L:  (a long pause and he ponders the answer)  He is at least 13!

2.  As I've mentioned before, my sister S is pregnant and due in October.  L is very into the baby and is so excited to meet his new cousin.  He is constantly touching her stomach, asking if the baby is still in there and talking to the baby.  We were at M's soccer game on Sunday and L walked up to one of the dads on M's team, rubbed his stomach (it was a rather large beer belly) with both hands, and asked,"what do you have in there?"

3.  We had to go to 5pm mass on Sunday because of the various sporting events of the day.  This mass is actually not at our parish, but at my parents' church so L is only used to going there on Christmas Eve.  We sat up in the balcony which put us at eye level with the large, realistic statue of the crucified Christ wearing only a loin cloth...

L:  Who is that? (very loudly)

Me:  Shhh...that's Jesus pal.

L:  But he's not a baby.  He's big. (in a more reasonable voice)

Me:  Yeah buddy, baby Jesus grew up to be a man.

L:  Oh.  But why is is naked?  (in a very loud voice).

The giggles from our pew were immediate and sustained.

While two of these stories were pretty mortifying, I have to say they totally made me crack up.  He is such a funny, sweet little boy and I love seeing the world through his eyes even if it involves pointing out to the entire balcony at church that Jesus was scantily clad.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Sometimes things are just sad...

M had a very bad day today.  She came home and cried on and off for 45 minutes.  She yelled at her sister and complained about illnesses of all kinds.  She just looked so small and sad.  I love her so much and wanted to make things better for her.  I forget sometimes when they are being so difficult and causing such pain in our lives, that they are two little girls who lost their parents in a sudden, terrible way.

I had a crazy afternoon of calming M, getting her to soccer practice, picking up D and trying somewhere in there to get dinner done and homework finished.  I had back-to-school night for the middle schoolers tonight.  I listened to a sad Mumford and Sons song the whole way there and just cried.  I cried for E and M. I cried for Jeanne and Mike.  I cried for myself.  I cried for my boys.

Sometimes the sadness just takes over.  As M showed me today, sometimes a good cry helps.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


We got home late Monday night from a wonderful time in Montana.  Wonderful doesn't even begin to describe how much fun we had.  It's amazing how being thousands of miles away from 5 kids, laundry, cooking, school, carpools and work can remind you how much you like each other and enjoy spending time together.  We laughed, cuddled, held hands (K is NOT into PDA at all) and spent quality time with friends old and new.  I highly recommend the resort at Chico Hot Springs.  The food was awesome and the landscape breathtaking.  The accommodations are pretty rustic, but they fit the bill just fine.  The wedding itself was an absolute blast.  Dancing for 5 hours straight and 4 tequila shots are my future recipe for letting off a little steam.

I woke up Monday morning, however, fairly anxious to get back to the kids.  I had pretty much reached my limit for being away from them, especially L.  Everything went well on the homefront.  Actually, what really helped was the flooding we experienced at home.  This meant a cancelled day of school on Friday and all soccer games cancelled for the weekend.  I think my 6 page word document detailing how to take care of the kids and a complete schedule also helped.  My sister-in-law Katey is also a pretty chill person and I think that contributed to a fun, safe and relaxing weekend for the kids.

Of course we slammed right back into reality this week.  Just today we have L's first day of pre-school, soccer practice for both A and D, therapy for M and a baseball game for D too.  Oh and tonight is the band meeting and back-to-school night for 1-5 grades at school.  Tomorrow I have to go to the middle school back to school.  And of course we've been away for a few days which means lots of demands of attention from all the kids both physical and emotional.  Last night the girls were especially needy in terms of wanting my full attention.

But, I do feel more relaxed.  I was reminded of how much I love my husband.  I remembered what it was like to have fun that did not involve Wii, a whiffle ball bat or endless games of Zingo.  I also loved seeing the reactions of the kids as we gave them their prizes from the trip and showed them pictures and the video of the bison walking up to our car.  I also secretly loved when L crawled into our bed at 1am Tuesday morning, snuggled into my neck and sleepily told me how much he missed me.  I hope this feeling lasts. 

It is good to be home.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Off We Go...

K and I are leaving this afternoon for 4 days in Montana for some friends' wedding.  I am at the same time excited and apprehensive.  I'm hoping I'll get everything packed and organized on the home front that I'll be able to leave without being too anxious.  My friend Kathleen wisely told me yesterday, though, "everything is going to fall apart while your gone and things may be an absolute disaster, but that is NO reason not to go."  They'll all be fine.  I just hope my sister-in-law is still talking to me after the weekend...

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Little Earthquakes

Oh, these little earthquakes
Here we go again
Oh, these little earthquakes
Doesn't take much to rip us into pieces
Doesn't take much to rip us into pieces

-Tori Amos, "Little Earthquakes"

I typically review my day in my head and think about what is ahead the next day evey night as I brush my teeth before bed.  Most days I don't think about all the things I got accomplished, but agonize over all the things that I didn't get done and all the times I messed up...not as patient as I should have been, saying the wrong thing to one of the kids, missing an opportunity to get some clutter taken care of around the house.  In the grand scheme of things, these are minor infractions and I could list many justifiable reasons for why events unfolded as they did, my reactions or tasks left undone.  But these small failings haunt me.  They weigh on me as I struggle to find sleep at night or strain to get up in the morning to face it all over again.

I had a bit of a breakthrough this week in therapy.  This is going to sound silly, but it finally sunk in that things aren't really going to change.  Jeanne and Mike are not coming back.  E and M are part of our family.  The reality of being responsible for 5 children really sunk in.  This is my new life.

My real difficulty is that I still get stuck in the negative aspect of that reality and it shades my actions throughout the day.  My lack of patience.  My anger.  My sadness.  My desperation.  There are little snippets of positive that sometimes give me hope.  I try to write about these times.  Given the sheer magnitude of what we're I'm trying to do, it's hard to hold on to these moments to sustain me and help me be the person I want to be for my family.  I know I shouldn't hold myself up to such a high standard, but I sometimes feel that by cutting myself a bit of a break, it's like I'm dishonoring Jeanne's memory and minimizing the girls' loss.

I could list all my accomplishments every night to reassure myself that I'm doing okay, but instead my little failures throughout the day wear me down and rip me apart.  I really need to work on that.  Acknowledging that is a first step.  That's something at least.