Thursday, March 28, 2013

The DJ's Got Us Falling In Love...

video

A brief interruption from my whine fest to show you what keeps me going every day.  This is a video taken of L on our way back from Williamsburg last week.

This kid is a keeper in so many ways, but it's his pure spirit and 6 year old essence that does amazing things for my weary soul.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Caregiver

I was talking to little sister C yesterday on the phone and stating with disbelief that CA had gone to Brunei (yes you heard that right) for 10 days, leaving the girls with the au pair and KM.  She did not have to go on this trip.  It is not work related (she is a high school history teacher). But she wanted to go and so she did.  Leaving, knowing that her wife has been struggling with her role in parenting (doesn't really like kids) and had just started a new job after almost 2 years without work.  Purposely missing Easter with the girls and with our family.

During my ramblings of disbelief, C finally interjected and said, "Peg, we just have to come to terms with the fact that CA sees her role as a caregiver not a mom.  We can't possibly understand her decisions because we parent and she sees herself as merely a caregiver.  The family needed her to take the girls and she did, but this sacrifice isn't going to keep her from doing what she wants to do.  In her mind, she took the girls so she deserves to go away and get a break.  In her mind, she is leaving the girls with two other caregivers so what does it matter.  We have to face facts that KT and MG are being taken care of, but not mothered in the way Jeanne or the rest of us would.  That completely sucks, but that's just the way it is."

Yes, it completely sucks.  It really sucks for KT and MG who are getting adequately cared for (at times still debatable), but not getting an intimate relationship with their parents.  Even the latest au pair has the personality of a brick and there doesn't appear to be any real affection between her and the girls. This is the third au pair the girls have had in two years with the first one being let go after consistent partying and the second one leaving before her contract was done without saying goodbye to the girls.  CA and KM have consistently pick au pairs that they can get along with without considering how they'll interact with a 5 and 6 year old. All of this for two children who have lost their parents, been in three different living situations since the accident and not living with their biological siblings. As a result, the girls behavior at times is atrocious. They often hit, bite,and destroy their way through family get togethers.  MG in particular is withdrawn, and throws killer temper tantrums when she doesn't get her way.

Unfortunately, this also carries over to our house.  We've gotten used to "sister hangovers" from M after she spends any time with them.  She worries about her little sisters and sees the obvious differences between our two families. "Is KT happy?"  "Are they going to be okay?" "Why can't Aunt CA just dress them in clothes that fit and aren't dirty or make them look like boys?"

E asked me yesterday what our plans for Easter were.  I explained our normal schedule and then mentioned that I was hoping to have KT and MG overnight at some point.  I told her that I still had to talk to KM.  "Why aren't you asking Aunt CA?" she questioned, "Isn't she going to be around for Easter?"  I had to explain to her about the random trip to Brunei.  "This is just so wrong Aunt Peg, it always has been and it always will."

How do I respond to that?  I simply stated, "I know honey and I'm really sorry.  I'll do my best to make sure you're with your sisters this weekend."

I finally got hold of KM last night and convinced her to let the little girls come home with us on Sunday night and I'll bring them home on Monday.  Their spring break doesn't coincide with ours so that's about as good as we can do. It was pretty apparent that KM isn't happy about C being gone.  During our conversation, she repeatedly excused herself to yell at MG for not finishing her dinner.  Awkward to say the least.  She seemed pretty stressed out.  I totally get that, but hearing how she talks to the girls is often so hard to stomach, since I rarely hear her talk about or to them with any real signs of affection.

What makes the whole situation harder is that CA presents such a different front to the family (especially my parents) when we get the rare occasion to see them.  Her words just don't reflect her actions.  She hides away from us and is afraid to have authentic interactions with us.  For example, KT was brought to the emergency room for burns and we heard nothing about it.  Her recent diagnosis of severe nut allergies was glossed over, but I have to listen ad nauseaum about how they are both learning Latin in school (pre-K and 1st grade??).  I get lectures about how dangerous the "princess culture" is.  I'm told not to get them books as Christmas or birthday presents because they already have too many (they have one small shelf of books that are way too young for them at this point with no early readers for MG).  I am talked down to like I haven't been parenting for almost 13 years. I know I don't see the whole picture and don't see them on a day-to-day basis.  The fact, however, that I don't really know them anymore and that CA doesn't share their family life with us is so troublesome.  The rest of us just don't operate like that.

I try to have empathy to her situation.  I try to understand how her life of growing up gay in our family has effected her behavior.  What makes it hard is seeing how it's affected the girls.  It's hard to separate my feelings of empathy with my guilt over not taking the girls ourselves.  These are Jeanne's little girls.  Up until the accident, I knew them intimately through my relationship with their mom.  For the first year after the accident, I often cared for them like I was their mom, bringing them to doctor's appointments, reading to them before bed, changing diapers and cuddling on the couch.  I am now mothering their big sisters.

C is right.  I can't make CA be a mom when she had lived 20+ years as an adult choosing not to have kids.  I can't make KM like kids.

I can try to get them over with us when we can.  I guess when you already have 5 kids, what's 7?  I can try to keep a positive relationship between the sisters and try to help my girls when they get upset.  I can continue to reach out to CA and try to model for her a positive sister relationship so we can improve our connection.

Our new family life is already hard enough and the bleed over from theirs makes things even more complicated. I just wish things were different.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Always

But the ghosts that we knew will flicker from view
We'll live a long life

So give me hope in the darkness that I will see the light
'Cause oh that gave me such a fright
But I will hold as long as you like
Just promise me we'll be alright


-Ghosts That We Knew, Mumford and Sons

She was my big sister for 39 years.  She taught me to read. She did my hair for prom. We wore the same wedding dress (she convinced me to promise dad I'd also wear the dress when the one she loved was above the budget).  We were pregnant together twice.  She was my go-to person for parenting advice and sharing all the little things the boys did from rolling over the first time to deciding to lick the other kids in his first grade class because he was "being a lizard" (you can guess which kid did that).  Our friends became their friends.

In the novel that is my life, she was is a major character.

************************************

People like to say that our loved ones who've died are never really gone because they live on in our hearts.  A popular cliche, but I suppose it's true since our love for them certainly doesn't go away when someone dies.  As Mel pointed out in a recent post, their stories stay with us even if they aren't physically there.

Jeanne is still present in my life in so many ways, not just tied up in an amorphouse feeling of love and loss.  At times it feels like she's still here.  I don't mean in the metaphysical, hovering around and watching us kind of way.  Even though my grandmother believed in ghosts, I'm a bit skeptical.

I sometimes think that they are just on a long vacation.  The other day I was sending out an evite for one of the kids birthday parties and I saw that I still have Jeanne and Mike's emails entered in my contact list.  I can't delete them.  If I send them an evite, will they RSVP?  Will they come back?

I talk to her all the time, mostly in the form of random questions.

Has M always been this difficult?

Were you scared?  Did it hurt?

How can I help E, when she doesn't want me but wants you?

Can you see us?

Are you proud of me?

Are you mad at me for not taking MG and KT?

Just like when she was alive, I sometimes get mad at her.  Angry at the parenting decisions she and Mike made that impact our family and my boys.  Angry at her for leaving.

Jeanne's absence in some ways makes her even more present in my life than before.

*************************************

I'm noticing that my grief isn't buried as deep.  Most days I keep it at bay with the excuse of my need to be present for the kids or that it's indulgent to feel sad when my parents lost their little girl and the girls lost their parents. 

It's coming out at random times.  Listening to a song alone in the car.  Watching a TV show.  Reading a book.  Folding laundry. A late night text from C sharing a memory.  Catching my reflection in the mirror and seeing her.

I catch my breath and remember that I lost my sister.  My big sister.  Tears wash over me.  Just as quickly I can usually pull myself together not wanting anyone else (K, the kids, random strangers at Target) to see. Pulling myself back from the pain.

*************************************

She's always here and not.

I miss my sister.  I want her back.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Kinship

I'm a researcher and analyst by trade.  This often spills into my personal life.  M has ADHD, I'll do all the research I can to understand her.  Weird rash, I'm all over WebMD.  When D struggles with his eating I've read and re-read "How to take the fight out of food."  In the past 5 months, I've done extensive research on pulmonary embolisms, DVT's, and genetic clotting disorders, not to mention prostrate cancer.

I tend to face challenges in my life by digging in and trying to find an answer, whether it's a blog, online article, book, or going to an expert in person.

When it comes to our family, as evidenced on this blog, I'm a bit stumped.  I've done research on loss, grief in children, etc.  Some of it helps, and some of it doesn't.  There isn't much out there on loss of both parents at the same time in a car accident.  There isn't much out there on helping your biological children adjust after adopting two of their cousins whose sisters are living with their lesbian aunt.  Many well-meaning people have compared our situation to divorced families who have to negotiate step-parenting and step or half siblings.  Nice try, but this really doesn't fit either.

In order to understand how to help both the girls and the boys adapt, I started looking at the adoption angle and I found out a category for us...sorta.

Turns out we've done a kinship adoption or are practicing kinship care.  I got almost giddy when I found out about this.  We have a label!  There has to be tons of stuff out there on kinship adoption!

Ummm...no.  Most of the support groups, advice, etc. on kinship adoptions is for grandparents adopting their grandchildren.  There's lots of stuff about parenting again, after already raising your own children.  I even found help for grandparents to understand the new trends in parenting.

I'd be lying if I didn't say how disappointed I was.

I'm still hoping for something or someone to help explain our family.  Help for all of us in this adjustment, kids and adults alike.  I'm grasping for something to make me feel less alone.  An answer.

Whenever the girls are being particularly trying and make declarations that we're not really their family, K likes to joke that we were already family before the accident.  We all already loved each other.  I may not have raised these girls from birth, but I was right there at both of their births, and walked side-by-side with Jeanne while she parented them. 

The accident, in so many ways, blew up our family.  We're still struggling to figure out how all the pieces fit together.  On the other hand, though, it's expanded our conceptions of family and love.  That can't be a bad thing, right?

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Flip side

This weekend was KT's 5th birthday party.  K and I were unable to be there due to sports conflicts with the big boys.  C took L and M to the party, and we let E drive (on the beltway) to the party since she had to swim.

Immediately after the party, I got all kinds of reports from people who attended.  L had a great time and was the kid who busted open the pinata.  According to C, M and KT spent a significant amount of time together one-on-one and M was great.  C innocently told me that on the way home, M told her she asked KT about how much of their old life she remembers.  C thought this sounded sweet and M seemed fine...my red flags went up.  E showed up right as the party was ending, claiming she got out of the pool late.  She stayed 25 minutes and left.  Again, everyone thought this was great that she stayed, but she had nothing else going on that afternoon and could have stayed hours to play with her sisters.  My red flags raised slightly higher, especially after she sent me texts that it was the worst swim day of her entire career (her times did not reflect that in the least).

This weekend was a perfect example of how people see the girls and think that everything is hunky dory as long as they are smiling and seem happy.  I'm not saying they aren't generally happy kids, but their grief is often a palpable feeling in our house and there is nothing we can do to help.

Nobody wants to acknowledge that fact that we separated these 4 girls, after they already lost the two most important people in their young lives.  I know it was a reality that we tried to avoid and failed, but it doesn't make it any easier to stomach.

All day Saturday I got the happy texts from my sisters and my dad.  Party was great, girls were great, all is wonderful.

But I remember last year after KT's birthday.  M ended up in the ER.  E refused to swim claiming her heart just hurt too much.

Unfortunately, my gut won out on this.  I got home around 8:40pm after doing a switch down in Richmond with K for D's soccer tournament.  Within minutes of me getting home, M broke out in horrible hives and started acting weird. After ruling out a food reaction, I figure out it was stress hives.  My poor little girl.  A dose of Benadryl and cuddling up with me on the couch calmed her down enough so she could go to bed a little after midnight.

No hives on Sunday, but a repeat on Monday gave us a physical reminder of the girls' grief.  As we explained to the boys on Sunday afternoon...the girls miss their sisters.  We can try to ignore it, but sometimes a bout of hives drives the truth home.  It sucks, for all of us.

On the flip side, though, this year didn't result in a trip to the emergency room, and E swam great Sunday morning,  getting another personal best and junior nationals cut.  We were able to talk to M about her hives and why they happened in an honest and straightforward way, which was definitely different from last year.  K has been especially good checking in on her the last two days and giving her some extra love.

We're making strides one glacial inch at a time.  I hope for the day when everyone else's vision of our family is the true reflection. I'll take these little victories for now, though, even if my assessment is based on just different levels of suck.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Where I've been

I've been here.  And everywhere.

Things have been crazy in all aspects of our life...the good and bad.

I've been writing a major report for work the last two weeks pretty much non-stop (most nights up past midnight) so this post is going to be an update of pictures.  They appear in no particular order.



A won the science fair for his zoology category.  In order for him to win in his category, because there weren't many entries, he had to score higher than the average of all the other first place scores.  He was thrilled.




M did not win an award. She acted fine at the actual science fair, but then declared the entire competition was rigged and went home claimed a mysterious toe injury, wrapped her foot in an ace bandage and then went to the garage and pulled out an old crutch. By the next day, her toe was fine, but she came home from school and refused to talk to me, wandering the house crying and mumbling to herself.

 
E offered A congratulations, but then pointed out that she had won the diocesan science fair two years in a row.

 
On Sunday, I threw L two 6th birthday parties (crazy I know).  This first was 2-4 for his cousins and friends.  Then at 5 the whole crew came over for his "family" dinner party.  For the kids, we had an I Spy / Lego party.  I had fun planning the party.

 
I made lego goody bags using primary colored bags and foam sticker circles (Thanks Rach!).


I made L his very own I Spy Birthday Super Challenger book.  He loved it.


The cousins loved it too!


In addition to another I Spy game and pin the treasure chest on the treasure map, we had a lego relay race. The kids enjoyed so much we did it a few times.  I made 2 lego sculptures using 8 bricks each (2 teams of 8) and took pictures.  Each team had to skip into the playroom, crawl through a tunnel and retrieve one brick each from their team color's bucket.  Once all of the bricks were collected...


 ...the big kids helped each team build the matching picture.  It was really cute.


He was really gracious as he opened all of the presents...even when he opened the same lego set three times.  He especially liked all the new art supplies.  His friends know him very well.


The night before, I made two lego cakes, with fondant legos and two dozen cupcakes.  My favorite part of the day was when he yelled, "I'm awesome!" before he blew out his candles...for both cakes.  He really is awesome.


All was not great at the party.  CA was there with the little girls.  I love my sister, but wow, Sunday was a day in which I really didn't like her. It's probably a whole new blog post in and of itself, but once again, I am completely at a loss as how she is raising (or not parenting) the girls.  Sigh.

Thank you everyone for your kind thoughts concerning the eulogy.  I did fine.  Somehow, I got through it and only got choked up a few times.  Fortunately, or unfortunately, I've got this loss thing down and chose the right words. 

Serge and I have been emailing back and forth from Kigali and it's been nice to be there for someone else in their grief.  We've talked at length about how to talk to his daughter who's the same age as L about Grammy dying.  I'm glad I had the right words again to help.

Snow is coming (supposedly) and I'm looking forward to a snow day tomorrow.  Catch up on laundry and start getting ready for one of our ridiculous weekends (away soccer tournament, indoor soccer game, basketball playoffs, basketball all-stars, senior champs swimming, KT's birthday party and L's actual 6th birthday).

I promise to get back on the writing horse soon.  I've actually been keeping a journal by my bed for blog post ideas.  One of these days I'll get to it.  I've got some posts brewing in my head about kinship adoption, the Mumford and Sons concert, the latest stuff going on with K, and, yes, grief.

But until then...snow!!!!