Thursday, May 10, 2012


In my work life, as an analyst, I am known for my ability to sort information in logical "bins" and make sure apples are with apples and the oranges know where to go, etc.  It's kinda my thing.

When it comes to our family, however, what drives me batty is when people try to put us (or one of us) in a box.

"What's the big deal?  Other families have five kids."

"You're a blended family."

"All the kids are so well adjusted and seem so happy."

"You are an inspiration and an angel for what you did."

I know why they do it.  People want to make sense of a horrible event and don't want to see or think about the continued crisis in our family.  Dismissive of the difficulty in our everyday life.  Telling me I'm doing such a good job, or that I'm somehow a holy person for taking in the girls, makes them feel good about themselves in their effort to try to make me feel better.  They want all of us to sit comfortably in our happy little box, wrapped in colorful paper with a big, cheerful bow on top.

You cannot box our family. We are not a blended family.  We are a family of 5 that added two cousins.  We're not the Brady Bunch.  Nobody ever talks about what happened to the first Mrs. Brady.  In our case, she and Mr. Brady were violently killed in a car accident.  Our Marsha and Jan were tossed around in two other solutions till they landed in our laps.  We were an established family with our own traditions, rhythms, jokes, activities, and roles which were suddenly rocked by the addition of two traumatized, grieving children.

Practical solutions that may make sense for most families, often don't make sense for us because of the emotional ramifications tied to a change in routine.  I don't always feel like a good person for taking in the girls.  There are days where I've fantasized about grabbing my three little boys and running away to a secluded beach in Mexico.  Just us, where there are no such things as car accidents, screaming 12 year old girls or surly teenagers.  I am not a saint.  I am not a perfect mother by any means (as documented many times in this blog).

The only thing that makes sense to me is to try to live our lives as "normal" as possible.  I'm not sure if it makes sense to other people, but if we give up the things that helped define us as a family, we're letting the accident take away more than just Jeanne and Mike.    We were a busy, active family before the accident.  I was a mom that cooked a family dinner (most nights), helped with homework, played board games and was the first to offer up our house for a play date or a potluck dinner with friends.

Normal means the kids play sports.  They each really only play one sport a season (except D), but we're now balancing 5 schedules.  If we told D that he couldn't play baseball because it was too much for the family, he would blame the girls.  If we made M and E not play/swim on the teams that did before they came to live with us, they would get yet another loss in addition to their parents, sisters, house, friends, and school.  The decision may not be what's best for the whole family (or me), but the alternative seems worse.  We get TONS of help with practices and games, but we still struggle with trying to make sure they each feel like we care about their individual stuff and that E's swimming, for example, isn't more important than A's soccer game.

Normal means I throw big, fun family parties for the kids' birthdays.  I babysit for my nephew when I can.  We have spontaneous play dates with cousins, go to mass on Sundays, family celebrations at the in-laws, and trips to the skate park, creek and the local ice cream place. 

Keeping up with that normal isn't always easy.  In fact, most days it's an absolute nightmare (again, well documented here).  The alternative, though, emotionally feels worse.  The accident pulled apart the seams of our family in so many ways.  I CANNOT, I WILL NOT allow it to keep me from dreaming big for all five of our kids and letting them have the childhood and family life we want for them.

There are basic changes that we have made, and still need to make, that have and will help our family life run smoother. We're working with the kids to pick up the slack a bit around the house and be a little more independent.  Financially, we really don't have the money to get any more help than we already have.  The reality is that this new life is hard.  It's been hard on me.  It's been hard on K. It's been hard on the kids. It's been hard on our marriage and my relationship with the boys.  It's heartbreakingly hard on the girls.

From the outside, people still want us to be that shiny new package or the happy ending from a sitcom where Bobby gets his new suit all dirty, but he does it saving the little girl's kitten (sorry Brady Bunch on my mind) and it all turns out okay (even when the washer overflows).  Our box is worn and messy.  It's ripped in one corner.  It's dirty and complicated and filled with grieving, confused children and stressed adults. 

It's also filled with lots of love and I'm hopeful that this love can sustain all of us in the desire for OUR normal.  A normal with no boxes, just a family doing the best it can to live life to the fullest.


  1. A very honest post. Not a fan of such boxes either. Wishing you success in finding the strength and balance it will take to arrive at the kind of normal you seek.

    1. I think you hit it right on the head with the word "balance." It's hard enough trying to live up to my own expectations let alone a mom in the neighborhood who constantly calls me a saint or someone she looks up to. I'm not sure I succeeded in trying to explain why I hold on to parts of our old life. Normal may not have been the right word but its the closest I could find. Thanks for always reading and having the right words :)

  2. Yikes - I'm definitely one quick to offer advice and give praise to you, and I am really sorry. It's hard to see another mom struggling and not want to jump in and fix it.

    But, I can stop that and I can keep reading and just offering up encouragement.

    I think what the praise is about, at least from me . . . is less about the things that you do and more about the desire you have to make a good life for your kids and nieces. What's admirable is that you keep trying.

    None of us are perfect mothers. But I have a tremenduous amount of respect for the ones that keep trying to do right, whatever that right may mean to them.

    1. TSM-
      no worries about any advice given here. Everyone has lots of great ideas and as with everyone IRL and on the internet they only are trying to help. This wasnt really a reaction to advice in the last post, but a lot of stuff I got from a group of neighborhood moms at the park this week. I'm not sure if I suceeded but I wanted to try to articulate how complicated things are around here and some of my motivation to try to keep our family the same where in so many ways it has fundamentally changed. Please dont feel like you have to filter your comments. I truly truly appreciate any and all advice offered.

    2. Peg -

      I thought then ease of yours referencing how practical changes for other families have emotional ramifications for yours was really descriptive.

      We are here and we are in your corner.

  3. I'm having a difficult time starting this comment, which is so odd for me. :oS I'm thinking how our lives have very distinct dividing lines of "before" and "after" and how folks just have NO clue how to respond. I think everyone really just wants to help and have no idea how to.

    After we lost Hannah I had a new perspective on life and realized we have NO clue what is going on in others' lives outside of the image they present to us. I think, as a general rule, folks would have no clue I've lost a child. I don't put that out there. I suppose I make my grieving look "effortless" (for lack of a better word) and don't let folks IRL see me struggle--what good would it do?

    Sure, I put it out there in the blog, but that's my place to dump and get it all out.

    So, when folks would see me, they would say things like, "You're such an inspiration" or, "You're so strong" because they had no earthly idea what was *really* going on.

    When I was in physics class in high school, we had to make mobiles that had two distinct bars and they had to be carefully balanced. I spent time subtly shifting the filaments of my hanging objects--sometimes merely incrementally. You're moving YOUR fine strands searching for the balance that will make it all work.

    Big hugs and prayers. :o)

  4. Wow, just wow. You started great and finished off with a bang. As usual you always make me think and in your empathetic stories make me feel better and not so alone. Thanks :)

  5. After reading this and the previous, along with the comments, first I have to say you are very good at balancing feedback with suggestions, and discarding those that don't work for you. You're clearly a very open, reflective person, and I think that serves you well.

    It seems like, perhaps what stresses you out are those people who distance - yes distance - themselves from you by putting you on a pedestal, or saying things like I could never do what you do. You don't need admiration, you need empathy. It seems like you'd like people to acknowledge how hard it is and how hard you are working at it. I think people offer admiration because they think you want it, or that it will make you feel better, or that it makes them feel better that they are doing something. I mean what are you supposed to say when people offer admiration? All you can say is thanks and move on. It's harder to have a real conversation about real issues. I think people also have a hard time admitting life is hard. I wonder if there are ways to counter just the polite admiration - to ask for empathy. You obviously get a lot of help from the community, so it's not asking for help. I'm not explaining this well. You have counseling and you have your family. Those are two outlets, though it seems sometimes your family is more of a stress than a support, and you are also supporting your extended family too. It's just almost like you need more friends. More girlfriends who help you keep it real. People who are outside of the family, but who know what's going on in more than a superficial way and who are just there to listen and support. I wonder if, along with individual therapy, a grief support group might be helpful? (I know, who has the time).

    Anyway, I know money is an issue, isn't it always. But I have to say having cleaners come in is amazing. It could change your life. Services are expensive. Finding someone who comes in as an individual (or has their own team of people) is the way to go. You could get twice a month for between $150-200, I bet. Not chump change, btu it could really be one way to relieve a burden to free up more time.

  6. Thanks so much for such an insightful comment. I hate when people put me on a pedestal based on their knowledge of one decision....taking the girls. I guess it's the assumptions that are made without knowing the full picture. I have a great friend in Kathleen who knows everything including knowing the girls and Jeanne and Mike so well. She is always a good listener. I have other good friends who listen but I get wary about being annoying and the debbie downer. The best thing about this blog has been the amazing amount of empathy which really does make me feel not so alone in this.

    We do have a cleaner come once every two weeks which helps so much. It's been a point of contention between me and K (the cost) but I've been able to put my foot down. I've looked into an organizer but not sure the cost is worth it. I know what needs to get done, i just don't have the time or energy...the latter being the biggest culprit.