Sunday, November 28, 2010

Where Did My Christmas Cheer Go?

There is so much I have to be thankful for, even in a year when I had major surgery, we have been touched very personally by cancer, and I lost my job.  I have a great family, a few wonderful friends, loving pets, a beautiful home, reliable transportation, and the ability to give my kids what I think is fairly good parenting (I hope) and a stable, happy childhood (again, I hope). 

The sad statistic is that there are many people at this time of the year who are reflecting on what they have to be grateful for and can't seem to count up many blessings.  They are either alone for the holidays or they have lost someone they love dearly and are suffering or they have no home.  Real, tangible things to be sad about.

And then there are those people, like me, who are counting their blessings and know they have it really good, yet are still sad and have no idea why.  For me, the glass has always been half empty, which I absolutely hate about myself.  I would like to turn that around and be a positive, cheery, perky (well, maybe not perky) person who sees nothing but the good in people and looks forward to every new day.  The fact is though...that just isn't me.  This has been a tough year and I can't seem to get past the bad things, even if it's time to move on and get on with life.  I just feel sad this year.

Justin and I took Jamie and Joey down to visit his parents and grandmother yesterday.  Justin goes down every couple of months, but it's a tough trip for me, because of my fibromyalgia, so I only go a couple of times a year, usually holidays.  Christmas Eve, we always spend with his parents, and at least one of the days of the Thanksgiving weekend.  He doesn't get to see them much and his grandmother will be 95 in April.  I know he wishes he could spend more time with them and I find myself feeling bad that he doesn't have that opportunity.  Justin and his grandmother are very close.  He can remember going over to her house while he was growing up and she would ask him to dust the furniture in exchange for a coke.  Since his mom restricted soft drink consumption, he would sneak over just to dust for Grandma. 

Justin has great memories of his grandparents.  His mom's parents lived two doors away and his dad's parents lived just down the street.  His great-aunt and uncle also lived on the same street and he can remember his brother being missing one morning when Justin was about seven and Monte was about four.  After looking frantically, they found him asleep in the back of his uncle's cow trailer.  Justin has lots and lots of memories about growing up.  He believes his earliest memory is of being in his crib.  That's amazing.  My earliest memory is probably from when I was six or seven years old and that is the memory of a lot of snow, because we lived in Minnesota at the time.

I think the reason Justin has these early memories and I don't is that he lived in one house his entire life...well, from the age of two, when he moved from a house "in town" to a house in the country, a few miles away.  In other words, he grew up in the same town, with the same people, until he was twenty-three years old.  He went to the same school every year, unless it was time to move up.  With the same group of friends.  What on earth is that like?

My dad worked for Honeywell and was transferred approximately every eighteen months as he moved up the corporate ladder.  I was thirteen when we moved to Virginia and, after a couple more years, he was offered yet another promotion and he finally decided it was time to find a job that didn't rip his kids away from their friends every couple of years.  I was so grateful he made that decision.  Virginia has been my home since I was thirteen, but before that we lived in California, Michigan, Kansas, Tennessee, Minnesota, and upstate New York.  For my parents, moving was kind of like breathing.  It was just something you did every couple of years or so.  In fact, I think they still get restless if they live anywhere for more than a few years.

Most people can remember things from when they were two or three years old.  I think that reflects a stability in early life that I didn't have because of all the moving around.  I don't hold it against my parents and I'm not angry about it.  But I didn't grow up surrounded by people I had known all of my life, the way Justin did.  When we moved to Virginia and were states away from both sets of grandparents and all of my aunts, uncles, and cousins, my mom decided we needed some traditions to make up for the lack of family and that's when my really good memories start.  Unfortunately, it's also when my mood disorder started and those good memories and stability are riddled with those horrible black depressions that made no sense and the feeling that nothing would ever be right.  What should have been the happiest, most carefree time of my life just, well, wasn't.

Holidays can be tough.  They were when we came to Virginia, because we didn't have any family or friends when we got here.  My parents took it in stride - they were used to moving around.  For me, I've always longed to be part of a big family with lots of sisters and brothers and a larger "family" of close friends that I grew up with.  It didn't work out that way and that's okay, but I still find myself occasionally struggling to get through the holidays, mood wise.  This year, again, something just doesn't feel right.

I have worked very hard to make sure my kids have stability, especially during the holidays. We have some simple traditions and the boys always seem happy to partake of those traditions - decorating outside with Justin the day after Thanksgiving, going to Justin's parents' on Christmas Eve, watching A Christmas Story while we decorate our Christmas tree.  Dinner is always the same, Thanksgiving and Christmas.  I try to make sure that my holiday malaise doesn't seep into our traditions, leading me to be much quieter than I would usually be.  Justin probably wonders what happened to my non-stop voice.  The fact is, I'm simply trying to be positive (or at least not negative) because I don't want everyone else to be as depressed as I am.

I guess it's only natural to be depressed when you aren't recovering from surgery the way you had hoped you would, you've watched someone go through a horrible loss, you've lost your job...all in the same year.  Maybe this year my depression isn't so unwarranted or unexplainable.  Not to mention that when you have chronic pain, it's going to make you depressed at least every once in awhile.  My goal for the rest of the holiday season is to function as well as I can and give my kids the best Christmas I possibly can.  And hopefully make a few good memories for them that they can take out and dust off when they are dealing with their own adult issues someday in the future.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

To Sleep, Perchance to Dream....Ahhh, Insomnia

Insomnia...the bane of the bipolar's existence.

It's 12:04 a.m. and Justin is snoozing away upstairs, able as always to instantly fall asleep the minute his head hits the pillow.  I usually give him a good twenty minutes to make sure he's really out so I don't disturb him as I slip from the bed, grab my glasses, and come downstairs to try to while away the time until I can actually go to sleep.

Somehow over the years, I have finally given up trying to force the issue of insisting my brain follow a planned sleep schedule.  It just won't work that way, no matter how hard I try to force it into the "normal" sleep mold.  It seems like for the past few years, my body is tending more and more towards staying up at night and then sleeping later into the morning - like, say, 8:30 or 9:00.  Nothing too decadent or teenagerish.  Just not the normal 9-5 working stiff's schedule.  Nor is it the county schools' schedule, which can be a problem when you have children still attending them.

We have one child in college who sets his own schedule and gets himself where he needs to go.  Case closed on Ben.  What a sense of freedom!  For him and me, since he can decide when he wants to wake up, work, go to school, write his papers....he told me yesterday that he had stayed up until 5:00 a.m that morning and gotten up at 2:30 that afternoon.  Well, if you don't have to be anywhere, what's the problem?   I applaud his ingenuity in using these years for flexibility, being that he's not a morning person and his goal is to teach high school history, a job that requires a morning person mentality or an addiction to caffeine.  I say enjoy it while you can.

My eighth grader and sixth grader attend the same middle school.  This will be the only year they do that together - next year Jamie will go off to his freshman year of high school.  But for this year, they are both up by 6:30 and out the door by 7:00.  At 7:05, my butt is back in that bed until my body tells me it is time to reasonably get up.  I can stumble through finishing up Joey's lunch and making his breakfast and making sure they are dressed appropriately in the half sleep that comes from only a few hours rest before my alarm went off, praying I won't have to get them to the bus stop in my pajamas in case Justin is, for some reason, not with the program one morning.  We try to plan ahead for those days.

Insomnia is kind of an integral part of being bipolar, according to my psychiatrist and every piece of literature I've read about the disorder.  The less sleep you get, the more likely you are to get manic, which means the less sleep you think you need.  It becomes a vicious cycle.  We have gone the ambien route for the last eleven or so years and it worked beautifully at first.  But, as with all medications, a certain tolerance eventually built up in my increasingly med tolerant system, and now even two ambien finds me lying in bed, twiddling my thumbs, waiting for Justin to fall asleep so I can just get up already.  That I won't get comfortable is a given, with the fibromyalgia, so I might as well be doing something productive to make myself sleepy.  I can either lie there in pain and frustration or get up and do something about it.  I find the latter to be much more satisfying and better for a more positive mindset.

I am eternally thankful to the flexibility that Justin has in his job and for the fact that he is a morning person.  It means absolutely nothing for him to begin working right at 6:30 am and work straight through until he is finished, even if that means skipping lunch.  That means for me, I can shuffle the last two kids out the door and drag myself back up to bed, where I feel much more amenable to the whole sleep process at 7:00 in the morning for some reason.  Maybe I'm turning into a vampire and don't realize it.  Does it now take the hours of darkness to produce my best work and daylight for me to sleep?  Sounds a little too Stephen King-ish to make me comfortable.

At any rate, insomnia being such a large part of being bipolar, it would be negligent of me to leave that particular part of my illness out of any of my little dissertations on being bipolar, since it is such a huge part of my life.  I start watching the clock around 9:00 every evening, just dreading the knowledge that Justin is getting tired and wants to go to bed and knowing that I am nowhere near ready to even contemplate sleep.  It is only long after the house is quiet that the sandman seems to come around and let me know that if I were to actually crawl in bed, I've got a shot at a few hours of rest.

I've suffered from primary insomnia for as long as I can remember, dating all the way back to the age of 7 or 8 and it got really bad when I was a teenager.  I can remember being a "good kid" and following those bedtimes that were set by my mother and tossing and turning in the overheated house during the summertime thinking morning would never come.  No one back then had any inkling I had any kind of mental disorder, mostly because I was so good at acting totally normal (it's absolutely amazing how you can hide a mood disorder if you try hard enough), so it never occurred to them that my wanting to stay up late was anything other than teenage opposition to the rules.

You would have thought, as I got out into the working world, I would have settled into going to bed at a decent hour, just to be able to get up and be at work in the morning, but again, I would toss and turn and get frustrated, not knowing why I couldn't shut off my brain.  It wasn't until I went through a severe manic episode back in 1999 that I was finally diagnosed with bipolar disorder and my sleep disturbances of all those years finally made some sense.

I think insomnia is the reason I am such an afternoon person.  I can't go to sleep at night and I can't wake up early in the morning, so there's really not much left to be good at.   I spend a lot of nights sitting in front of cable television, remote in one hand, trying to rock myself to sleep without waking the dog.  It is in the darkest of night that all of our fears and obsessions and worries become of nightmare proportion and I have spent no few nights living out my worst nightmares awake, just because I'm that neurotic and there's no one to tell me I'm being completely silly and unrealistic.  Thank God I kind of have an idea of what's going on in my brain now, so that I can say, "Chelle, calm down.  When it's daylight, this really isn't going to seem so important."

Being bipolar means you're alone a lot.  Probably because you're awake a lot when normal people would be asleep.  The people who could reason or rationalize you out of the crazy things you are obsessing over are getting their much needed rest for another round or two with you tomorrow, so you have to be careful not to wake them up and drain their resources.  Thank God for writing and a great chain of consciousness, whether it gets read or not, because once I get it out, then finally I feel like I might be able to get a little sleep of my own.

So, goodnight...unless I find myself up there tossing and turning again....

Monday, November 22, 2010

Bipolar Means Always Having to Say You're Sorry

My original plan for writing about being bipolar was to do one big, long entry about it, but I think it might be more effective to give a little glimpse into different parts of being bipolar, maybe just a little at a time.  Because even reading about what it's like to be bipolar is overwhelming, which means actually being bipolar feels something like getting hit head on by an eighteen-wheeler, over and over and over again....well, you get the idea.

One of the worst parts for me about my illness is my inability to let go of an idea.  Bipolars are not only obsessive, once they get something stuck in their heads that they think is a good idea, they are also uncannily like a dog with a bone.  Once I decide I need to do something, particularly if it's something that I know might be a bad idea even though it seems like a fantastic idea to me, it's kind of like being the conductor on a train without working brakes.  You can see the car stuck ahead on the tracks and know there's a horrible collision about to occur, but you are completely unable to stop it.  Even though I have that sinking feeling in my stomach that there will be hell to pay for whatever it is I'm about to do, I know that I'm going to do it anyway.  Lack of free will is part and parcel of this disease.  Even though people think you're choosing to act a certain way, your brain is actually forcing you there, against your will.

Part of my bipolar illness is something they call "hypomania."  I never go into those floridly psychotic, run down the street naked, waving an American flag in front of the White House, yelling "sic semper tyrannis" manias, but I will think too fast, talk too much, be unable to go to sleep at night, spend impulsively, and latch onto an idea that I absolutely cannot let go of, no matter how badly I try (or the people I love try) to talk myself out of it. 

There is a difference between Bipolar I disorder, which is how most people think of the disease and Bipolar II, which is the form I have.  If you have Bipolar I, you probably should accept that no one is ever going to understand your behavior, because "just" being Bipolar II, which I am, often leaves people, at best, irritated, annoyed, and tired and, at worst, never wanting to speak to me again.  I can't imagine if I were to have the more rabid of the two forms of the disease, because having the less intense form costs me dearly on a regular basis.  Although I'm not going to quote statistics or talk about this subject much here, I believe that the reason people with bipolar are so much more likely to commit suicide than the general population is that they are constantly alienating the people that love them, pitching themselves into a black hell of depression where life no longer seems worth living.  Just my opinion.  I have nothing scientific with which to back this up.

My own journey down the bipolar path has led to some very terrible ends to relationships and repeated instances where I have had to say I'm sorry.  I burn a lot of bridges because, although I usually allow Justin's better judgment to prevail for me since I no longer trust my own, sometimes I don't listen to him and, once the damage is done, I am always both immensely ashamed that I have hurt someone and horribly sorry that I've once again forged ahead against both Justin's advice and my own better judgment, something that has been trying (a tiny, unheard little voice called "reason") to scream at me that I should just stop before I hurt someone.

Having bipolar disorder creates a lot of embarrassment for the person who has it.  Because it affects the way you behave, people don't tend to see it as an illness, but rather as a series of bad choices.  For me, those choices are usually in the form of insisting on carrying through on an action, even though I can kind of see there will be a train wreck if I insist on staying with my present course.  No matter how much I recite the Serenity Prayer, particularly the line about accepting the things I cannot change, I continuously insist to myself that whatever it is that I think I need to do is what I am going to do and wonder why no one else can see why it is such a great idea.  The fact that other people don't think it's a good idea should cause bells and whistles to go off loudly in my head, but that ability to listen to reason seems to have been left in the dust and debris that is the course of this disease.

What really bothers me is the incredible stigma that is still attached to this disorder and the fact that people who know I have it can believe my behavior is a series of choices made of free will.  There is absolutely no free will attached to anything I do while hypomanic, but the effects of my behavior are the same as if there is, and I have lost more friends and damaged more relationships while in this state than I care to remember.  Telling people I have bipolar disorder does not seem to help when I am moving forward at full speed, similar to the running of the bulls in Pamplona, and the results of my insistence on doing whatever it is I am hell bent on doing are always disastrous. 

The only thing that has ever grounded me in my life (besides medication, obviously) is my wonderful, incredibly patient husband, who serves as a steadying force, a sympathetic ear, and a guiding hand, always there to rein me back in and tell me when I am not acting rational.  And if he believes I am actually thinking logically, he will always support me and back me up.  He's a great anchor and an even better barometer for me.  If he says it's a bad idea, I try to believe him and let it go.  I don't always succeed and, when I don't, I'm usually back in the position of having to say I'm sorry once again and hope the person will understand that I didn't make the choice to do whatever it is that I did rationally or of my own free will.  Sometimes, I've just got to do what I've got to do, conseqences be damned, which leads to the inevitable black depression and the need for the apology.

Being bipolar is embarrassing, which is why I haven't, until now, shared that I have it with a lot of people.  But I'm tired of being ashamed of having something as out of my control as heart disease or diabetes would be.  Nobody asks for an illness and nobody should have to be ashamed they have it.  I am lucky enough to have found a wonderful therapist and psychiatrist, both of whom understand the best way to treat me and, between their good care, improved medication, and my husband's rational mind, I am usually able to act, for the most part, "normal."  But it aggravates me that I have to hide the fact that I have a disease because of the fear of someone's reaction.  I have been astonished to find the stigma still present even among people practicing in the psychology field, never dreaming someone who knows this is a disease would still actually make fun of it.  Until we remove the stigma from mental illness, we might as well go back to the 19th century and throw people who have it into the stereotypical sanitorium for life, because if you have to be embarrassed about a "condition" you are unfortunate enough to have, what's the point in even trying?

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Countdown to Christmas Has Begun

Justin and I kicked off the holidays last night by watching Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.  That has got to be one of the all time funniest movies on earth and John Candy and Steve Martin are hysterical in it.  Jamie watched it with us and I was happy to have something of a "family moment," although I was open mouthed with astonishment at one point during the movie.  Steve Martin is trying to call home and the hotel room has a rotary dial phone with a lock on it.  Jamie asked, "How would he know which number would go through?" or something along those lines.  In other words, he had no idea what a rotary phone was.  How old am I?

We started the tradition of collecting Christmas and holiday movies way back in 1987, the Christmas before we got married, with the movie A Christmas Story.  Originally collected on VHS tapes, these were eventually replaced with the newer DVD's, which I assume will eventually be replaced with something newer and "better."  We have added approximately one new movie each year and have a rather impressive collection that we start playing sometime around Thanksgiving and usually end with It's a Wonderful Life on New Year's Eve.  I still need to replace my beloved Charlie Brown holiday classics, but I was lucky enough to catch the Thanksgiving special on ABC last week.

I love our holiday tradition of movie watching...most years.  No, that's not right.  I love it every year.  But last night, a very humbling and panicky feeling hit home as I watched that first movie.  I haven't started shopping yet!!! 

I'm the original planner (usually having started my shopping in August and finished by Thanksgiving) and I'm the one that always takes care of getting the family's Christmas wish list together every year, decides when to get the decorations out, and does the gift shopping and wrapping.  I have been hampered in my OCD'ness this year on several fronts:  I am not physically where I need to be to handle the hustle and bustle of the holidays, we have an almost six month old puppy who presents a real hazard to the tree and my preciously collected ornaments, I have gotten lists from no one with gift requests, and I lost my job last month, leaving me somewhat, well, depressed and definitely poorer.  Did I mention Ben's tuition for next semester is due December 8th?

Losing my job makes me sad on so many fronts.  That's not what this post is about, but I think I would be remiss in leaving that part of my feelings out of this, because there are so many reasons I wanted that job to work out, the financial part of it being a large (but by no means the only) portion.  With a child in college, cars breaking down, wisdom teeth needing to be pulled and extracted, and the holidays upon us, it is a huge blow to my self-esteem to realize that I am just not as employable as I wish I was.  I feel that I have let my family down, which does not lead to great feelings about myself.  The fact that I am probably not currently physically able to work does little to help me feel better - in fact, it probably makes me feel worse emotionally, because not only am I an emotional wreck about not being employed and bringing in that extra cash, I find myself having difficulty physically getting out of the house to even make it to my doctor's appointments, let alone do all the things that need to be done to get ready for the holidays.  Christmas is now just over a month away and I have bought exactly three gifts.

Yesterday, we did manage to locate a baby gate online that won't break the bank and that will keep Jackson out of the dining room, where we have decided to put the tree this year.  I have planned ahead far enough to decide that the gifts (assuming I ever actually buy any gifts) will not be put out until right before the actual feverish ripping of wrapping paper, just in case Jackson finds a way around my man-made doggie protection system.  Justin is planning the Thanksgiving menu and I am hopeful that the paint on the finished shelves in the family room will be dry enough to replace the stacks of books which are currently occupying the dining room table before dinner is served next Thursday night. 

Justin reassured me this morning that if I can force lists out of the kids, most, if not all, of the shopping can be done from my computer while I am comfortably on my couch in about an hour.  We're scaling back, for obvious reasons, and will lean more on tradition and less on a flashy show of materialism this year.  My plan, at the moment, is to get through the physical discomfort with as little complaining as possible (and a good heating pad), enjoy the fact that I have more time to spend with my husband and boys this year than I did last year, and that my family is intact, healthy, and thriving.  It's the time of year to remember what you have and remember those less fortunate.  It helps a lot to know that regardless of the fact that I am no longer working, I have much to be grateful for.  If I can find the rest of the holiday movies in the messy piles in my family room, maybe tonight would be a good night to pick another one to watch.  Maybe the kids will even join us.

I think Jamie is going to get a rotary phone for Christmas.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Trivial Matter of Eyeliner

While I would never, ever say I could have been a beauty queen (or anything remotely resembling one), I have always made an effort to at least make sure that I am clean every day, hair styled, in decent clothing if I am leaving the house, with makeup on.  I don't wear a lot of makeup, but I feel like if I don't put what I do wear on in the morning, I really haven't "gotten ready" for my day. 

My mother used to (and may still) call this "putting on your face."  I've never thought much about the makeup I do wear, but it has always been an integral part of me and I don't particularly like anyone to see me without it.  Some days I do wonder why I worry about it so much, most recently when Justin came home from the grocery store one day and said that he had seen a woman in the store shopping in her pajamas.  Seriously?  Why I am bothering again?

I discovered over the many years since I began wearing makeup that my skin is of the sensitive variety and that I am only able to wear one particular brand of makeup.  All of those products that are advertised as "hypoallergenic" were obviously not tested on people with my face.  I finally settled on one brand as being my "go to" brand (you women will get this) and have stuck with it because of the awful reaction I get when I try something, anything else.

Of course, over the years I tried to get outside of my comfort zone, but every time I attempted to change labels to get the color I really wanted, I would get a horrendously red, swollen eye or two, complete with itching and the constant feeling that I was crying for two days.  My eyes and makeup just can't seem to get along.

I've always tended towards the cool colors and I like my eyeshadow somewhere in the purple/plum area.  I finally discovered that Cover Girl would not cause intense discomfort with use and have stuck with it.  Unfortunately, they have never made eyeliner in purple and so I would periodically try something different, going right back to the swollen, weeping, itching eyes.  I would immediately go running back to the standard, if not boring, brown.

I was at CVS the other day, waiting for a prescription to be filled, and discovered much to my delight that there was a new Cover Girl shade of eyeliner - purple!!!!  It's amazing how the little things in life can get us revved up.  Of course I had to purchase this incredible product and finally, finally I would be able to wear the color I always wanted...or so I thought.

I broke out the new eyeliner yesterday morning and used it, not thinking much about it because, after all, it was Cover Girl and I had never had a problem with that manufacturer.  This morning I woke up to a very red, itchy, swollen right eye.  I kept thinking I had pink eye, but no.  I finally realized that eyeliner had gotten me again.

This is a trivial matter, to be sure.  But it's amazing how the little things in life can trip us up.  No makeup means I don't leave the house and I'm sure not going to answer the door.  I'm supposed to be going out with my family tonight for a really nice dinner downtown to celebrate Ben's 19th birthday and I am thinking of taking a paper bag with me to wear over my head.  My eyelid is coated in neosporin and I am cursing the day that makeup was ever invented.

You can't return eyeliner, so you're out whatever you invested.  Big time bummer.  I don't know what it is about purple, but apparently God does not want me to have eyeliner in this particular color.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A Day of Frustration

The last three days have been interesting, to say the least.  We had a friend come down from New York and stay with us to go with Justin to the Redskins/Eagles game.  The dog decided Mike was his best friend and Justin and I spent much of our time while he was here begging Jackson to please stop smelling Mike!

Today, Mike left early to get back home to his family and, just as I was sitting down to write a truly serious post about bipolar disorder and how it has affected my life, the guy who is finishing the shelving units in our family room showed up.  And stayed all day.  And was really loud.  Tuesday was shot before it even had a chance to get going.  I sat at my desk and wrote about a page and a half of total crap, because I simply could not get out what I was trying to express.  I didn't even finish the laundry, the one thing around the house at which I am actually good.

Maybe the subject matter was too personal.  Maybe the sander that ran for a couple of hours rattled me.  Whatever it was, again the creativity was not flowing.  Plus, I didn't have my family room and trusty cable television to run to when I needed to ruminate on how to best get my ideas out in a coherent way.

At any rate, I totally intend to write about my own journey through the hell of bipolar disorder for the last thirty years and the associated stigma attached to mental illness that still prevails in our society, even, sadly, among mental health professionals.  I think it's time that people stop being afraid of individuals who have been diagnosed with mental illness and start treating them as if they were to have any other illness.  Diabetes, say, or heart trouble or high blood pressure.  It's only the brain malfunctioning, just like every other organ in the body does at one time or another, and I am sick to death of being ashamed of the fact that I have a disorder that affects my behavior, feelings, and ability to deal with the real world.  It might be awhile in coming, because writing about this subject is incredibly painful and still embarrassing, but my story needs to be told.  I'm tired of being embarrassed and I'm tired of hiding it because I'm afraid of what people will think of me.

Stay tuned.

Monday, November 15, 2010

On The Anniversary of my Son's Birth

Nineteen years ago right this minute, I was in Fairfax Hospital, three days more than nine months pregnant, and repeatedly begging the nurse for drugs.  The nurse told me for 12 hours straight, "Honey, you're only three centimeters dilated.  You need to relax."  Um, relax?  Seriously?  Yeah, that Lamaze crap really helps when it feels like your middle is being encircled by a python with the serious intention of squeezing you until you can no longer breathe and the pain is so bad you are willing to have a surgeon amputate everything below your neck.

I had woken up with my first real contraction from a dead sleep, sometime right after Justin had just gotten to sleep about an hour after his arrival home from working his regular day job and then moonlighting as a bartender at a local hotel for the holidays.  Yep, one contraction and I was on the phone to the doctor screaming, "I'm in LABOR!  I'm going to the hospital!"  Can you say first time mom?  The baby was three days late and I was tired of being on maternity leave, after six weeks of sitting on my ass because my precious little one was pressing on the nerves in my hips and causing me atrocious pain when I walked.  My doctor, being a kind and caring soul, had given me a "doctor's note" saying I needed to be on bed rest.  Technically I was more on "recliner rest," since I had spent the time I was off from work in the recliner on my increasingly large butt watching soap operas and commiserating with a friend, who was also pregnant and on bed rest.  I was actually mad at her when she had her baby before I did, even though she wasn't due until after me.  That pissed me off.  I can vividly remember standing by the counter at the kitchen sink, holding my ever larger belly, which seemed to be growing by the day, and saying into the phone "What???  But you're not even DUE yet!!!"

It had taken three years for me to do what most people do by accident - get pregnant.  There were specialists involved and embarrassing tests and hormones.  I couldn't understand why teenagers were getting pregnant in the back seats of their cars and I'd been married for three years and it just wasn't happening.  I didn't want to adopt - I wanted to grow my own baby.  The unfortunate fact was that apparently, my body simply couldn't lay an egg.

I was one of the very lucky women who happened to have infertility problems after they figured out how to fix irregular ovulation and three months of mild hormonal therapy found me happily, ecstatically pregnant.  I had been starting to believe I wasn't meant to actually carry a baby and I didn't believe the woman when I called for the results of my pregnancy test.  I was at work, after having the blood test done at lunchtime, and I stood up and screamed "POSITIVE?" so loudly that everyone within earshot knew my good news before my husband did.

My elation was soon met with consternation as I spent the next five months yarking up my socks several times a day and turning green when food was put in front of me.  I took little comfort in the much touted wisdom that the sicker the mother, the healthier the baby.  I think I was probably one of the few women in history who actually lost weight when I was supposed to be gaining, but I more than made up for it when the "morning" sickness finally went away and Ben started to make his presence known in more tangible ways, like kicking.  I was convinced I was growing a future Redskins field goal star inside of me.  As he got bigger, my excitement at his moving around and the incredible feeling that life was growing inside me gave way to irritation, as he continuously jammed his tiny little feet under the right side of my rib cage and pushed with everything he had.  I would push back and tell him to "get your damned feet out of there!"  There just wasn't room for both of us.

It took eight and a half months to come up with a name for our little bundle of joy.  I would toss out boy names (after the sonogram revealed that that extra part was not a third leg) and Justin would promptly veto my suggestions.  I particularly liked the name Chase, but Justin kept insisting that Chase was a verb and our boy would regularly have the snot beaten out of him if I insisted on it.  My better half repeatedly made the point that he did not want a boy's name that ended in "n," because he had spent his whole life having trouble putting "Justin" together with "Newton" and that the two "n's" back to back made pronunciation difficult.  Coming up with boys' names that did not end in "n" became a new challenge.  So I hadn't brought up "Benjamin" until about eight and a half months into the pregnancy when, in desperation, I surprised everyone by saying I loved the name Benjamin and our child surely wouldn't have trouble with "Ben Newton," would he?  To my surprise, Justin actually liked the name and I was finally able to relax knowing my son would not go through life being called "Baby Boy Newton."

I spent the six weeks before Ben was born insisting I was having contractions, knowing that I was actually never going to really go into labor and a baby could not possibly come out of where I knew (in my rational mind) that he was going to come out.  I kept having visions of passing a watermelon through my nether regions and recoiling from the thought of what labor and delivery actually entailed.  There are a lot of women who insist that "natural" childbirth is the only way to go if you don't want a baby coming out all drugged up, but I was firmly in the camp that said there is nothing unnatural about being completely numb from the waist down when you are being split into two trying to bring this little being into the world.

So twelve hours into regular contractions and no progress later, the doctor was finally convinced that I was never going to relax to the point that anything was going to happen and, in fact, the contractions were becoming less regular and labor was stopping.  Finally, finally an epidural was ordered, along with Pitocin to get things moving.  And that's where I was nineteen years ago at this very moment.  Finally numb from the waist down and thanking God I wasn't a cave woman, before the advent of hospitals and IV's that delivered whatever that cocktail was that made sure I wasn't going to feel whatever was going on "down there."

It took about three hours to get to that coveted 10 centimeters and then about 45 minutes of pushing before I felt an immense pop! and heard that precious cry.  Many stitches later, I was informed that I had not only had a dreaded episiotomy, but also had torn all the way down to, well, you know...I think I was able to sit down comfortably about a year later.  My goal in both of my subsequent pregnancies was to not need that episiotomy, because that is just not a medical procedure you really want to have.

Ben was born back in the days before insurance companies thought new mothers needed more than 24 hours in the hospital to recuperate and also before the new mother/baby wing at our hospital was built, so I was "lucky" enough to have a roommate who had also just given birth.  I was wheeled into this tiny little hole with two beds, a flimsy curtain for privacy, and two chairs for visitors.  Justin disappeared for approximately four hours (I think it was four hours) and I was getting extremely concerned that something must be wrong with my son.  I finally sent my mother looking for him and was told that (a) there had been a mix up with the nurse's station and they had forgotten (forgotten???) to bring Ben to my room and (b) Justin was in the nursery with him for a lot of daddy/baby bonding time.  Great for daddy and baby, but mommy wanted her turn.  Not to mention that the drugs were wearing off and I was starting to feel as though I had been run over by a truck.  Six weeks of sitting on my ass had done nothing to prepare me for the rigors of childbirth.

My roommate, who happened to be of Hispanic origin and not originally from this country, had approximately 900 relatives, all of whom chose to visit at the same time, holding multiple, simultaneous conversations in very loud Spanish.  By the time my 24 hours was up and the insurance company was insisting that they would not pay for even one more tylenol, I was entirely ready to take my little one home.  Where, I admit, I missed the ability to send my newborn to the nursery at night so I could get at least one good night's sleep before the inevitable every two hour wake up calls that were about to come my way after what I felt was a reasonable bed time.

The happy ending to this story:

Ben was a wonderful, happy baby, brought into the world at 5:04 p.m. on November 15, 1991.  He has brought me so much joy in his 19 years on this planet and I cannot imagine my life without him.  I have days when I wonder what I was thinking having three children, but today is not one of them.

Friday, November 12, 2010

To Make the Bed or To Not Make the Bed, That is Today's Question

There are many things I am not.  (Those of you saying sane, shut it.)  I am not a cook.  I don't do yardwork, housework, exercise, or watch televised sports.  Apparently, I don't take direction well.  And I don't make the bed.

My mother always thought that making the bed was an important part of starting the day because it makes the room look finished.  I've always said, why make the bed if you're just going to get back in it at the end of the day and nobody ever sees my bedroom anyway.

Every night, when Justin and I go upstairs (after our nightly battle of the pets to see which will quit aggravating us the last) while he is brushing his teeth, I will straighten the covers to something approximating a bed that has been made.  I am a little civilized, after all.  What I always find, if Justin has slept in the bed instead of working all night, is that all of the sheets and blankets are falling off of my side of the bed onto the floor.  Sometime, during the course of our nightly sleep, Justin has pushed all of the covers off of himself and onto me in an attempt to get some cool air.  Which is weird, because once he goes to sleep, I don't ever remember noticing him moving.  I, on the other hand, am always cold (well, after September, at any rate) and will take all the covers I can get.  I don't think I hog the blankets, but it's hard to know when they're being pushed my way every night anyway.  I am usually in pajamas down to the wrists and ankles while he has stripped to his underwear, trying to cool off.  I'm always yelling, "Put on some pants!" if he has to get up and go investigate something in the middle of the night.

Justin has some sort of internal furnace that allows him to go out in freezing weather in shorts and say "What?" when I look at him like he's lost his mind.  He's great to have around when winter comes.  Our cats gravitate to him at night and he will repeatedly try to reposition them on the bed so that he can roll over, only to find that they've come right back, usually to the small of his back or underneath his armpit, drawn to the heat coming from that internal thermostat he has somehow set to high.

On the other hand, he has this ability to stay out in 100 degree weather (also in shorts, of course) and not notice the fact that creatures are dropping like flies from the heat.  Again, when I ask him how he can stand the temperature, he'll look at me with the sweat rolling down his face and say, "What?"

I would definitely not put the bed making problem in the category of pet peeves, since Justin and I both agree that making a bed is pointless.  I will make the bed if company is coming in case a tour is requested, simply because I know it looks sloppy if I don't.  But I draw the line at our bed.  The kids can make their beds or not because I simply do not see the importance, even if adults to whom we are not related are traveling through.  Yes, there's a bed and there are covers on it.  We've provided the necessities.  Maybe not the niceties, but I've never been very much on the niceties anyway.

I guess I decided at some point that this was a psychological experiment, because I've been keeping a kind of tally in my head of which kid will go to the effort of doing different things, such as making his respective bed (and homework, but I'm going to vent on that subject in a different post).  So far, Ben and Joey show no sign of seeing the importance of a made bed.  Jamie, on the other hand, almost always makes his bed.  In fact, his bed is usually made up in military style with crisp corners and neatly smoothed quilt.  So I'm thinking it must be a genetic thing and that he got it from one of his grandmothers.  Maybe it will show up in some of my grandchildren.  Or maybe my kids will grow up and decide that making the bed is an important thing to do and a chore they can reward and insist upon it with their own kids.  Let that be their choice.  I'm planning on being a hands off grandma in the bed making department. 

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Leaping Into the Digital Age

Two years ago, I was sucked into a two year contract with this:

You are probably looking at this "cell phone" right now and laughing hysterically.

Less than two years ago, this phone was cutting edge technology.  No, seriously.  Now, it's gone the way of the dinosaurs.  Calls on it often aren't clear and texting is, basically, non-existent because...well...look at it!  It takes approximately the time it would take to drive to the person's house and have an actual conversation to actually send a text.  In fact, I will usually snag Justin's Android (on the rare occasion I actually have to send a text), just to enjoy the incredibly indulgent feel of that smooth surface and the luxury of an actual QWERTY keyboard.

I had been saying for the last, oh, year and a half, that this phone was so last year and that as soon as Sprint got their two years out of me next February, I was getting a new phone with a touch keypad that doesn't require figuring out which number equals the letter "q."

Once I really started to think about it though, I realized that having two of these phones (the second was originally Ben's, but he has since moved up twice and the other one went to Jamie for emergencies) for $40 month was a pretty good deal, especially considering that I hardly ever have the actual need for texting.  Most of my phone involvement is usually in the form of (gasp!) a conversation.

This is a fact that I know is also somewhat last year, as we seem to have vaulted into an age where all of our discussions are had either by instant message or text.  Our children are growing up learning the English language without vowels.  One of Ben's friends last year actually got carpal tunnel syndrome in both of his thumbs from texting.  From texting???  Really????

I idly remarked to Justin last night that there isn't much point in my upgrading to one of these neat new phones with web surfing, touch pad texting, movie streaming on a four inch square screen, the ability to play music, and, in my spare time, maybe writing my doctoral dissertation on it, when I already have the ability to do all of these things with the technology we currently have in our household.  A quick inventory turns up six televisions, five computers (three of which travel with us), four gaming systems, four cell phones, three handheld gaming devices, three iPods, two home phones, cable and internet access for all, and a partridge in a pear tree.  Okay, I'm kidding about the partridge (although we do have our plethora of pets), but seriously, do we really need all of this technology for five people?  It could be argued that the only one who really needs access to any of these things is Justin, who works from home on his computer and spends most of his day on lengthy conference calls on his nifty little phone (Which hold earphones for muting so I only hear his side of the conversation.  How cool is that?)

I suppose I could also argue for my own internet access on my laptop, since my collaboration on my children's books with my illustrator takes place completely by email and through the websites he sets up for me and since he lives in Florida, while I am here in Virginia.  And, even though I'm not making any money off of it, I do flex my daily writing muscles on this blog.  Plus, okay, all of this new stuff is just, well, fun.

But none of these arguments gives me any reason to upgrade my cell phone when the contract ends in three months.  I don't have to have a new phone with an expensive monthly fee because do I, if I'm being honest with myself, really need an app for that? 

Then Justin said he thought it would be a good idea to get rid of the land line and get us all new cell phones.  Um....I like the way he thinks.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Circle of Life

We have an intensely aggravating circle, very similar to boxing, going on at bedtime in our house right now.

I always thought that when the kids grew up to a reasonable age, we would be getting that beloved bedtime, where you curl up in your comfy bed and listen to the quiet while you drift off to sleep, as one of the benefits.  Unfortunately, I neglected to take a couple of things into consideration.  Like two cats and a new puppy.

Having a new puppy is very similar to having a two year old.  They do things that drive you crazy and run around like they've lost their mind until they finally collapse from exhaustion, about the time you are weeping from exhaustion and frustration and ready to make a shelter run.

Our two cats ruled the roost before we brought Jackson into the picture.  Their days were normally spent on the couch in the family room and their nights in our bedroom.  We had a routine and, when we went up to bed around 10:00, the cats would migrate with us to the bedroom.  Since the older kids are teenagers, they are pretty much on their own to go to bed when they feel it proper and, since Ben is in college, Jamie never fails to rise before we do to get into the shower, and Joey still gets tucked in with his light extinguished for him, I never put much thought into the nighttime routine of the other members of my family.  We run a fan in our bedroom after lights out and it blocks out their comings and goings fairly well.

Enter Jackson....

Never having had a puppy before, I was shocked at how much it is like having a baby in the house.  You have to move things to higher shelves, make sure he has things to put into his mouth that are safe (mostly to protect yourself from being chewed to death), and rearrange your day for potty breaks.  We were afraid to go to bed at night because the puppy wasn't on a schedule and he didn't like his crate, so we would stay up until he wore himself ragged and collapsed onto the bed Justin had bought him, which cost, approximately, more than our first house.

I had forgotten how hard it is to want to go to bed and not be able to.  I didn't want to leave Justin downstairs with the dog because he has to get up in the morning and put in a 25 hour day at his job, not to mention the fact that he usually is in charge of our dinner plans.  It just didn't seem fair that he would also assume the care of the puppy that was, well, my idea in the first place.  So I would suggest (firmly) that he go to bed so he could get up and work the next day and he would find a football game (which never fails to drive me from the room) and insist that I go upstairs.  Of course, I always gave in - fibro dictates you need sleep and Justin can be persuasive.

Eventually we fell into a routine and Jackson is now usually down for the count around 8:30 at night.  Which would be great, except that the rest of the house refuses to cooperate and keeps waking him up.  Max usually starts the fun by coming down around 9:00 and wandering around in front of Jackson, looking for attention.  He doesn't understand that Jack isn't going to pet him and Jack doesn't understand that this furry lump with feet isn't another puppy.  Round one to Max.

I started locking the cats in our bedroom as soon as Jackson went to sleep, which would then begin round two.  Kylie.  Kylie is my shy little gray and white kitty who came to live with us from a rescue at 12 weeks of age.  I do not know what happened to that cat when she was a baby, but she is scared of everything.  Except a closed door.  If the door is closed, she is on the wrong side of it and she will insist on this by scratching her front paws up and down frantically and loudly until you let her in/out.  Which she now does every night when I lock them in the bedroom trying to keep Jackson asleep.  Which, of course, wakes him up because she's loud.  Round two to Kylie.

We finally get the cats to stay upstairs and Jackson back to sleep somewhere between 10:00 and 10:30 and go up to bed.  Then the kids' rounds start up.  As soon as we close the door and try to go to bed, it never fails that Jamie needs to use the bathroom right outside our bedroom to get ready for bed.  The door hinges squeak and he usually slams the door waking the dog.  Round three to Jamie.

Enter Ben, my oldest son.  He has this really annoying habit of not wanting anything to do with us right now (something to do with being 19 and in college - parents are really stupid until you hit at least the age of 25, right?).  So often he will either not be home for dinner or decide he doesn't like what we are having and will eat "later."  Later usually involves as soon as Jamie has gone to bed and our light is out, when he will "sneak" downstairs to get a snack (or a meal, depending on how long he went without eating, waiting for us to go to bed).  Of course, as soon as Ben comes downstairs, he wakes up Jackson.  Round four to Ben.

Finally, around 11:00, things start to quiet down, about the time Justin is saying curse words under his breath and wondering why we had to have children and pets and I am trying not to cry with frustration because I just want to go to sleep.

Oh, did I mention that Joey usually spends a couple of hours talking to himself before he goes to sleep?  If I take the DSi away, so he can't play video games while hiding out underneath the blankets, and he has decided he doesn't feel like permanently damaging his eyesight by trying to read by the light from his open closet door (which wakes Justin up every time one of the cats goes in or out of the bedroom by piercing directly into his closed eyelids), he will talk to himself to keep himself company.  Sometimes very loudly.  Sometimes loudly enough to get the dog not only awake, but wondering what the hell those noises are and come investigate by barking.  What round are we up to?

I know, in theory, that this dog is eventually going to grow out of being a puppy.  He is five months old today and, really, is getting into the routine of the family pretty well.  We have some good days in there with the incredibly frustrating days.  He doesn't seem to be gnawing on us anymore, which is a good thing.  Our clothing, just in the past week or so, seems to be a little more safe from tearing due to his jumping and biting at it.  He's stopped chewing on our toes when we eat dinner without my having to shut him in the crate.  I see  a light at the end of this tunnel.  I think I can say with certainty, however, that I won't ever be getting another puppy.  If we ever (and I doubt this) have reason to want another dog, we will be finding an older, more settled, less expensive investment to share our golden years.  Because I know I don't have it in me to do this again and I am positive that if another baby animal shows up in our home, Justin will either be kicking me to the curb with it or walking out the door saying we need something from the store and forget to come back.  He loves me, but every man has his limit.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Chronic Pain and Other Fun Stuff

I've spent the last 48 hours or so feeling extremely sorry for myself while once again spiraling into Dante's hell of chronic pain.  I'm certain that one of the levels of The Inferno was saved for people who have to live with the daily burden of wondering if there isn't something, anything, that won't make the pain go away.

For those of you who don't know, I suffer from the incredibly stupid disease of fibromyalgia, along with various autoimmune problems that apparently to go with it, like osteopenia and arthritis.  I've been lucky enough to find doctors who are willing to work with me and have pretty much figured out how to combine better living through chemistry with old fashioned remedies like heating pads, hot baths, and the incredibly inventive Icy Hot roller to make it through most of my days.

What I can't cope with mentally is when something new and additionally painful hits.  About six months ago, I had a total hysterectomy to try to obliterate the perpetual chronic abdominal pain that had sent me to the emergency room on multiple occasions.  After three kids, multiple ruptured ovarian cysts, and uterine fibroids, I had finally had enough.  It wasn't like I was planning on having any more kids at the age of forty-six.  God knows, three is certainly enough for both me and Justin.  So, I figured that fibromyalgia was plenty to deal with and it was time to take out the equipment for good.  I had heard nothing but good things about the surgery and they are doing wonderful things with laparoscopy now.  The surgeon was fairly confident that I wouldn't need the old fashioned C-section type of surgery that my mother was subjected to back in 1983 and I went into the operation feeling hopeful that my recovery time would be minimal and I would be back on my feet in no time.

What I forgot, in my excitement over the prospect of losing the monthly insanity that goes hand in hand with being female and the removal of the offending organs that were adding to my daily fibro hell, was that sometimes surgery comes with complications.

Before the surgery, I had complained for months about my pants being too tight.  In fact, nothing would fasten or fit.  I wasn't gaining weight.  I simply couldn't zip my pants.  It was not only annoying, it was painful.  I assumed that once they got the problematic organs out, I would return to my normally slender self and the abdominal pain would at least appreciably diminish.  Not so.

I joined an online group which gave support to women undergoing this type of surgery.  There was even a special section for women who were coping with not only female issues, but also fibromyalgia.  I got through the surgery with no complications, was lucky enough to get the laparoscopy as opposed to the surgeon having to open me from stem to stern, and was sent home to recover.

I knew from past experience that having fibromyalgia means that you will take longer to heal from surgery than a person who doesn't have it.  From what I was reading online, it looked like most (normal) women were pretty much back on their feet after this type of surgery within a couple of weeks and almost all back to work within a month.  My mind was certainly ready for activity within a few days and I was definitely bored.  My body just wasn't cooperating.

Over the past six months, I figured I was going to be back into my trusty size 8's and at least the chronic abdominal pain would cease.  Oh well.  I'm definitely not back into my 8's (which most people looking at me just don't believe) and the chronic abdominal pain continues.  There's one thing they don't warn you about when they propose removal of your reproductive organs - adhesions.  Scar tissue which forms in about 90% of people who have abdominal surgery.  And the worst part about it isn't just the fact that the adhesions are painful.  The worst part is that if they go in to do more surgery to break up the adhesions, it will simply cause more adhesions.  Read guess what - if you have a hysterectomy, you are probably still going to have chronic abdominal pain and now there's nothing they can do about it.

I spent about three and a half weeks on my couch recovering after the surgery, causing intense pain in my right leg and hip from lying around too much.  My already protesting muscles, aggravated by the fibromyalgia, were screaming at me to get up and do something.  So, after three and a half weeks, I got up, went back to work, and wore a lot of stretchy pants and dresses, waiting for my waistline to shrink.  Which it has persistently refused to do.  I keep shopping for pants and wondering why I still look like I'm five months pregnant.

This past weekend, I was hit with yet another insult - probably a virus I picked up from my youngest son.  Once again, I found myself lying in bed wondering why the universe hates me so much.  Fibromyalgia isn't fatal, but sometimes it can drive you to assume the fetal position while crying uncontrollably.  Because I've been in bed from whatever it was that has laid me out again, the muscles in my neck, shoulders, back, and hip are again screaming at me.  I am finally coherent enough and physically able enough to be getting up and around a little bit (and hopefully what I am writing is making some sense), but I find myself limping back to the couch after putting one or two dishes in the dishwasher and glaring at the television set, wondering what the hell I did to deserve this.  It's not enough to saddle me with the fibro, universe?  Really?  You have to add on a few viruses on every now and then to add to the fun?  It hurts to stand up from the pelvic adhesions, my mind isn't processing information due to whatever germ I picked up, and I can't lie down comfortably because of the fibro pain.  Maybe I need those anti-gravity boots they used to advertise so I can hang upside down for awhile?

I went back to the surgeon recently to ask him why my waist continues to bloat and my insides continue to hurt.  He said it's possible I have adhesions, but if I do, there's really nothing he can do about it.  I thought I was solving a problem with this surgery, but it turns out that I may have added a problem.  As I lie here on the couch, heating pad on my right leg, wondering what the hell the mechanic told me about my son's car because I can't remember the conversation (probably fibro fog, another lovely side effect of the disease, but more likely fever induced delerium), I have to ask if it isn't somehow possible to go back to being 21 and feeling good again.  Maybe someone can finally invent that time machine you hear about so much and send me back to when normal activity didn't hurt and I didn't spend most of my day wondering when the next dose of pain medication is due.  I want my mommy.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Why Can't We All Just Get Along?

I've always told Justin that I think he would make a good politician.  He's got a huge knowledge base about world events, is a voracious reader when it comes to politics, is firm in his convictions and beliefs, and is actually honest.  Hm...maybe that wouldn't make for a great politician, since it seems that most of our elected officials these days make all kinds of promises to actually get into office and then, once elected, forget about what their constituents put them there to do in the first place.  Honesty and politics may be an oxymoron.

I voted last Tuesday, as is my privileged right as an American citizen, and I take that right very seriously.  My oldest son voted for the first time as well.  I saw an article in the little local paper today that talked about how, when younger kids came out of the polls with their parents, they seemed to have "voted" along their parents' party lines.  I've always encouraged my kids, when they are old enough to vote, to vote for the person they think is most qualified for the job instead of blindly following what their mom and dad think.  Ben was proud of the fact that he was able to finally take part in this civic privilege and I was proud of him for thinking it was important.  How he voted was between him and the voting booth.

Justin worked as a volunteer at the polls  Tuesday morning, in favor of Virginia's much beloved Congressman, Frank Wolf.  Representative Wolf has made a political career out of fighting for the rights of the Virginians he loves so much, as well as trying to work both sides of the aisle to come to agreeable compromises.  He is involved in legislation for children with special needs and takes a special interest in autism research and the care and early intervention of autistic children - all of which make me think he's still the best man for the job, even after just being elected to his 16th term in the U.S. House of Representatives.  Obviously, at least one of his causes is near and dear to my heart.

When I arrived at the polls on Tuesday, Justin had in hand a handout made by the Apple Blossom Tea Party movement, which he, in turn, handed to me.  It turned out to be an exact replica of our Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.  I don't care who you voted for, those are two of the best documents ever written and they were written by people who understood that they might face persecution or even execution for daring to go against King George and having the audacity to form the government of the United States.  These were very brave men in a very turbulent time.

I admire the guts it must have taken to break off from England and declare themselves a separate entity.  These documents were voted into being by a small group of revoluntionaries who knew their asses were on the line, but chose to follow their consciences and do what they knew was right.  So I thought the least I could do was review my U.S. Government (from a distance of many years between me and the twelfth grade) and give the brochure a good read.  After all, I don't really keep up with politics the way Justin does and it's always a good thing to know exactly upon which principles your government was founded.

The Declaration of Independence is a document that gives me chills when I read it.  The Constitution is a little more dry, but the amendments kind of make it for me.  There are certain, guaranteed rights that we, as citizens of the United States have that just aren't available to people in other countries.  Look at what happened to those hikers who accidentally got caught on the wrong side of the Iranian border.  Clearly not political dissidents or terrorists, the two young men are still being held in an Iranian prison with no charges or trial in sight and not knowing what is going to happen to them.  Americans everywhere are in danger when we leave our country and are at the mercy of governments who don't believe in individual rights and freedoms.

I wouldn't consider myself a "tea partier" by any means.  If I had to define myself politically, I'd probably say I'm a Republican, but one who leans way more towards the middle than to the extremes our government seems to lean at any given moment.  Can I be a Republican who believes in woman's right to choose (in certain situations - never as a means of birth control), gay marriage, and that religion is not the answer to world's problems?  In fact, I would propose that organized religion is probably at the root of some of the most horrific bloodshed in history.  Just look at the Ancient Romans or the the concept of Jihad.  How can a religion that preaches peace participate in the killing of innocent people simply because of their beliefs?

But I started this history dissertation with a point and my point is this.  Under our Constitution, we are guaranteed certain rights and the ones that are most pertinent to individuals seem to fall under the amendments.  Although I would have to say I'm a fan of them all, I particularly like the First Amendment.  Since I'm lousy at paraphrasing, I'll quote it here:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."  (Bold and italics, mine)"

Meaning that if the government (or an individual) offends me, I have the inalienable right to offend them back and not be thrown into prison for doing it.

Most people who know me know that I have a pretty high tolerance before becoming offended.  I try to look at things from other people's points of view and give them the benefit of the doubt.  Unfortunately, most people are not even slightly self-aware and often give offense, either without meaning to, or in a deliberate fashion.  I call deliberate offensiveness "going back to junior high school," because when you go seriously out of your way to offend someone, aren't you really just resorting to your childhood days of immaturity?  I can take a lot of crap before snapping, but eventually, I'm going to get there.

I'm also a big fan of the nineteenth amendment, giving me the right to have a say in this nation's politics and the right to bitch if I don't like what the government is doing.  Which again leads back to the first amendment, which, in turn, allows me bitching rights without fear of being thrown into jail.

The rights of the Ku Klux Klan and the American Nazi party to spout their hateful rhetoric with police protection never cease to amaze me.  Clearly, their message is awful, but still they have the right to believe and say whatever they want.  These rights have been upheld time and again by the Supreme Court.

Say what you will about America, about the government, about the "tea partiers," the leftist extremists, the country's leaning towards socialism by our current Commander in Chief.  I may not respect his viewpoint, but I certainly respect his right to have it and I have to grudgingly admire the fact that he's trying to get things done, whether I agree with his agenda or not.

Another line that I hold near and dear to my heart:  "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness."  Of course, we have created certain laws since the publication of the Declaration of Independence that say if you do certain horrendous things, like putting a child who is a cancer survivor into a wood chipper or killing your pregnant wife and throwing her body into a lake to avoid detection, you are going to lose at least your liberty and pursuit of happiness.  But, in general, the right to speak our minds remains, in my mind, my own inalienable right and I reserve the right to say what I think without fear of retribution.

Friday, November 5, 2010

On Dog Size and Hair Donation

I snapped this picture yesterday, when Jackson decided he really wanted to be a lap dog:

When we brought this little bundle of fluff home, he weighed about ten pounds.  He's now topping the scale out somewhere between 50 and 60 pounds.  And he still thinks he's a lap dog.

Luckily for me, he's also a very sweet dog, belying the jaws clamped around Justin's wrist above.  Only being not quite five months old, he still has a lot of puppy in him but, in general, we are starting to see the incredibly loving pet that we will have a year or two down the road.  As long as he gets his three daily walks (yeah, three - Justin's pretty wiped out!), he usually sleeps most of the day and through the night.  He's started realizing that the younger boys' bus comes around 3:10 and can be found in front of the front window every afternoon, waiting for them when he starts to hear school buses rumbling by in the afternoon.

I've never been much of a dog person, but this dog, I love.

What struck me more about this picture than Jackson's enormous growth over the past three months is the length of Justin's ponytail.  When you're looking at it every day, you don't really notice it, but my guy has got a lot of hair.  He stopped cutting it after we moved to Winchester, about four years ago.  His hair is extremely curly, so most of the time, the curls hide the fact that he has managed to grow about two impressive feet of hair on his head.

Sometime next year, there will be an event in Syracuse, New York called St. Baldrick's Fundraiser. For the sixth year in a row, donations will be solicited and heads will be shaved in the name of cancer research.  Justin has decided that next year his will be among the heads being shaved.  Hopefully, we will be able to garner lots of local support and do some creative fundraising for this event.  He will go to New York to do this, because the donations will be in the name of Juliana LaMonica, the incredibly brave three year old daughter of Mike and Christine LaMonica, who died of Acute Myeloid Leukemia on July 5th of this year.  The LaMonicas live in Brockport, NY, near Syracuse.

We recently discovered that another little girl from our area, two year old Brooke Rosenberg, is being treated for the same cancer that took Juliana's life.  No parents should ever have to go through the nightmare of losing their child to cancer and, if shedding five years of hair growth will help keep that from happening, Justin will elicit support and not only have his ponytail cut off and donated to Locks of Love, the organization that provides wigs to patients undergoing chemotherapy, but have his head shaved to raise money.

I plan to be there to get pictures, since I don't remember what my husband looks like with short hair and I've actually never seen him with no hair.  And I wouldn't miss this donation for the anything in the world.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

WINC Chain of Checks in Winchester

Every year, our local radio station, WINC fm, chooses a cause near and dear to Winchester's heart and holds the "Chain of Checks" campaign.  The campaign was started years ago by a local radio personality, Barry Lee, and was, literally, a chain of checks strung together inside the radio station and donated at the end of the campaign to the charity that had been chosen.

What started as a small event snowballed and, every year, Chain of Checks has gotten bigger.  Last year, the Blue Ridge Food Bank was the beneficiary of the event and brought in a whopping $76,000 from the local community to aid in feeding the hungry, a desperate need in this economy.

This year, The Laurel Center, the local women's shelter that houses and protects abused and battered women and their children, will be the beneficiary of Chain of Checks.  Our neighbor and friend is on the staff of the shelter and has asked for people to help work the booth at the Apple Blossom Mall during the campaign.  I plan to be there, along with several other members of my neighborhood, to help with this event.  If you are interested in donating your time, please contact me through my email address on the right hand side of the blog page and I will get in touch with the staff at the center.  If you can't stop by the booth at the mall and wish to donate money, please consider mailing a check made out to "Chain of Checks" directly to WINC fm, 520 N. Pleasant Valley Road, Winchester, Virginia 22601.

I hope that if you are in the local community you will consider coming out to donate either your time or your money to this worthy cause.  The Laurel Center is trying to open a new and larger shelter, but has not yet met its goal.  Let's help them provide a safe haven for women who otherwise have nowhere to turn from their abusers.

On Keeping my Mouth Shut and Doing What I Love

I have this sign over the top of my desk:

It has the Serenity Prayer, which is beautiful.  I'm not a very serene person, but I'm working on it.  It also has a statement, if you can see it, requesting that God assist me in keeping my mouth shut.

As you have probably figured out from my posts, keeping my mouth shut is not my forte.  I have a feeling that when I asked Justin if I could move my desk into his office, he wasn't that thrilled, knowing my propensity to talk.  Hence the sign above my computer with the reminder.

I've spent a lot of my life in situations where it was politic to keep my opinions to myself.  In some of them, I was more successful than others.  When I became officially "retired" last month, I was thrilled with the idea that I would be able to voice my opinions freely.  I quickly realized, however, that the only person around to voice them to is my husband, who prefers to work his sixty hour week without comments from the peanut gallery.

Since Justin brings home the majority of the bacon which allows us to live so comfortably, I have to defer to his wishes and try to work in the quiet.  Sometimes I will move my laptop into the family room, just to have the background noise of the television.  I admit to missing the sound of other people's voices on occasion.

I find myself coming into the office when Justin is out doing other things to turn on the iPod and write.  There's something about background noise, even if you are tuning it out, that makes for better creativity.  My favorite writer, Stephen King, has said in numerous interviews that he listens to various classic rock artists while he writes.  If it works for him, why not for me?  I tend more towards the 80's hair bands and Taylor Swift, but whatever floats your boat or gets your mind moving makes me think he's on the right track.  After all, he's sold more than forty novels and, without fail, has a new one in the bookstore every November.

Since making writing my full time passion, I have discovered that creativity is not a 9-5 job.  You can't always just sit down and have the prose (or vitriol, depending upon your mood) flow whenever you command.  You have to be in the mood and sometimes I find that frustrating.  There are some days that I write pages and then delete them and there a lot of days when I throw up my hands and go read a book.  But usually at some point during those days, I will find myself writing paragraphs in my head while in the shower or changing the laundry.  Sometimes it's like a lightning strike and I have to run to my desk to write it out.

The beauty of being "retired" is the freedom to pursue something I've always been passionate about.  Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending upon how you look at it), I don't always have someone off which to bounce my ideas.  I have decided to take Justin's opinion when I am lucky enough to get it (because he's often the voice of reason and sanity that I am just, well, not), enjoy the ability to spend all my time working on the various projects I have started, and realize that my glass is much more than half full.  Finally.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The American Red Cross Needs You!

Last night, I went to tuck in my youngest son and he said that he'd already been in bed for an hour.  He hadn't eaten much yesterday, actually even less than he usually eats, which wouldn't necessarily keep a gnat alive.  When he said he'd already been tucked in for an hour, I felt his forehead and almost burned my hand.  Mom mode took over and I jumped into action with the ibuprofen, thermometer, and hugs.

When my kids were little and got sick, I always had this weird idea that they were going to be sick forever.  Little viruses and stomach bugs were cause for panic.  I've always wished it was me that got sick when they looked at me with those eyes that say, "Mom, please make me feel better."  Oh, how I wish I could take their pain on myself when they come down with something.

Yesterday, Justin, Ben, and I went to donate blood.  I got deferred because my hemoglobin was too low by two tenths of a point, but Justin and Ben were able to give.  We give blood now because a beautiful little girl got sick last year and, no matter how hard the doctors worked, they couldn't make her better.  While she was in treatment, she needed regular blood transfusions.  It had never occurred to me that the blood supply might not be there if I needed it, but it's a fact.  There just isn't enough donated blood.  I had never given blood before this past August - never even thought about it.  Yesterday, a Red Cross volunteer told me that over 95% of people will either need a blood transfusion in their lives or be closely related to someone that will.  Only 5% of the population actually donates.  Unfortunately, we've already fallen into that 95% of people who are close to someone who needs blood.

We now give blood regularly.  I have it written on my calendar.  I'm working on getting my hemoglobin up so I can go back in two weeks.  If you've never considered donating blood, please think about it.  It doesn't take long, it's almost painless, and it might save a life.  Someone, somewhere might be saved by the blood you donate.  Do a selfless, generous thing the next time the American Red Cross is in your town.  Think about the fact that you or someone you know will probably need a transfusion someday and donate.  You'll never know the good you are doing, but someone, somewhere will be thanking you.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

This House is NOT a Democracy!

I seem to write a lot about Joey.  I'm pretty sure that it's because he's such a great source of quotable material.  A lot of times, when I relay a conversation I've had with Joey to Justin, he will spit a mouthful of liquid across the room in laughter.  Laughter is hard to come by, so I take every conversation that turns out funny as a blessing.

Today, I suggested to Joey that maybe I should limit his video game time because that's all he wants to do.  I admit to being a somewhat bad mother in this regard by not already having a limit, but if video games are making him happy and his grades are okay, am I hurting him by allowing non-stop access to Mario Brothers?  I mean, at least he's not watching Girls Gone Wild or South Park on cable.  What's the harm?  Imposing limits hasn't worked with him anyway, as I have discovered him on numerous occasions under the covers after bedtime with his DSi in hand, looking up at me with a very guilty expression on his face.

I was informed today by my youngest son that if I limited his video game time, I would be infringing upon his constitutional rights.  Put almost in those exact words.  Um....please tell me where exactly in the Constitution it says "No parent shall impose a limit on her children's video game playing time?"  Was there an amendment somewhere that I missed?

When I was growing up, we had exactly two televisions - one in the family room and one in my parents' bedroom.  No cable, no computers, no video games, no cell phones, no internet.  We got three channels and were limited to one hour of television per day.  I used to sneak over to a friend's house after school to watch soap operas and eat popcorn (the real stuff - not that microwave crap that passes for popcorn today).  Her mother and father both worked and she was free to watch as much television as she wanted.  My parents were (hopefully) none the wiser.

I can remember when Atari released their original gaming system and suddenly Pong was available.  It was like a new universe had opened up!  A game you could play on your television - holy crap!  Then later came Space Invaders and Centipede and that are now considered to be somewhere on the same evolutionary level as the dinosaurs.  I was really too busy riding my bike and reading (and discovering boys) to get much into the arcades that came out in the 80's.  Going to the library was really a lot more fun and I think my mind got a lot more stimulation from reading a couple of books a week than by spending my allowance feeding quarters into a huge box to play Frogger for the three seconds it took my little green guy to get run over due to my lack of skill.

Video games now invade every aspect of our children's lives, as do the internet, cable television, and cell phones.  Everywhere I go, I see middle schoolers holding devices that have worldwide web access and youtube frantically texting messages to their friends while trying to walk down the sidewalk without running into something.  They are using some video games now to train military personnel.  I know I heard that from a reliable source somewhere - I think it was my husband.  Video games to prepare the military for combat.  Seriously?  Should I be scared of this?  What really scares me is how I have to swerve to avoid hitting the housewives on their cell phones while they are driving, disciplining their unruly children in the backseat, and eating a Quarter Pounder, while putting on their makeup.  Or the teenagers who are too busy texting their friends to watch the road.  Or the fact that a lot of elementary school kids have a better understanding of technology than I do and how my eighth grader knows how to make the DVD player work and I don't.  We have created a world where we have great technological capability but are losing our ability to actually have a conversation or write a real letter, with all the vowels included.

Which brings me back around to Joey's idea that I would be infringing upon his rights under our Constitution if I were to put a limit on how many hours a day he stares at his tv screen trying to get Mario to his destination without being stomped on by Bowser.  (How do I know this?  I stood behind him for five minutes.)  After informing my self-righteous little gamer that the Constitution was definitely not written by our forefathers with his video gaming rights in mind, I started to wonder when the house I am supposed to be running became a democracy and my children able to set the rules.

I think parenting should come with an instruction manual.  This is really out of control.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Where the Hell are my Earphones????

For the past couple of weeks, I've been trying to find the earphones for my iPod.  Not a really big deal...except that it is right now.  The situation is FUBAR at the moment.  If you don't know what FUBAR means, check your urban dictionary or ask a military person.  It is not a good thing.

Which brings me to the reason I am panicking over losing my earphones.  I have to go to the dentist this afternoon.

Connection please?

I have serious dental phobia.  About once every three or four years, I decide it might be a good idea to go get my teeth cleaned.  Or I sometimes call and make an appointment when, say, I am flossing and half of one of my molars goes flying across the bathroom.  Yes, that really happened.

The tooth in question had fractured about 200 ways (okay, really it was four, but it looked like it was 200 on the x-ray to my non-trained eye).  I needed another crown.  Which meant drilling.  Which meant it doesn't really hurt, never mind, I can live with it.....well, maybe not.  Just don't say root canal or you will see the back of my ass as I fly out the door.

When I was growing up, for some stupid reason I've now forgotten (laziness maybe?), I decided that brushing my teeth was not really anything relevant to me which, of course, led to the inevitable cavities.  In pretty much every single tooth.  My mother was religious about having my brother and me go to the dentist every six months and every six months they would find one or two more holes in my teeth.  Because I was "needle phobic," my mother, in a creative attempt to help me out, told the dentist to use laughing gas instead of novacaine to fill my cavities.  Laughing gas is a pretty amazing thing, but it doesn't mean you can't feel it if someone hits you in a sensitive place.  Like, say, a hole in your tooth where there is a nerve ending.  It just means you're too stoned to move out of the way.  And yes, Mom, if you are reading this, I know you don't remember it this way, but I promise you don't forget what it feels like when a drill bit enters a hole in your mouth to enlarge said hole to put in a filling.  I am not blaming you.  You never would have done it that way if you knew.

What I got out of the whole dental experience growing up was that (a) it's a really good idea to brush and floss your teeth every day and (b) I probably don't need a dentist anyway because I brush and floss my teeth every day.  Which leads to the occasional emergency visit....leading to today's scheduled cleaning.  Because really, I am only going to have this one set of teeth.  Isn't it probably a good idea to have a professional in there every once in awhile so I don't end up gumming my food in the inevitable nursing home my children are going to throw me into because of all the years of intense therapy they'll have been through because they are my children?

I made the appointment for the cleaning after the whole molar fiasco earlier this year because I realized that I couldn't remember the last time I had actually been to the dentist.  I also discovered that if you use your iPod while they're working on your mouth, it can provide a great distraction.  I managed to get through the new crown by listening to the mix I made for when I clean the house.  You know, music for those unpleasant times in your life.  I actually did not wet my pants, faint, or cry when he drilled the holes.  I had found a way to make the dentist a little less unpleasant - a little.  And yes, I let him use lots of novacaine.  I was still drooling several hours later.

This afternoon, I go for my triennial cleaning appointment.  When I got dressed this morning, for some reason, I put on all black and Justin asked me if I was celebrating Dia de la Meurte (or Day of the Dead to those of you who didn't take Spanish in high school).  Nope.  Dental appointment.  They have discovered a new way to clean teeth (because, really, isn't every dentist looking for another way to torture you?) by using an intense stream of water that blasts away plaque and actually gets up under the gum line, leaving your poor mouth feeling severely abused for several days afterward.  Even though I've been brushing and flossing daily, I anticipate this to be an uncomfortable event.  Especially since I don't do it often enough.  Hence, the need for my iPod. 

I am attempting to not pass on my dental phobia to my kids.  They're not stupid, so I'm trying really hard to hide the fact that I would seriously rather give birth a couple more times than hoist myself into that chair.  I'm not a very good actress and I get the idea that the older two are seeing right through me.  Jamie has taken to asking me if I'm all right when we have to go to his orthodontist appointments.

Our dentist is a very nice guy.  I keep asking myself why such a nice guy would choose to be a dentist, a profession which, by definition, means that people really don't want to see you very often.  Or rather, I ask myself that question on the very rare occasions when I actually see him, which is the once a year I have decided the kids have to go to the dentist.  Or when huge chunks of my teeth start flying across the room.

Again, where the hell are my earphones??????

What Friendship Should Be

I've had a lot of practice making and losing friends in my forty-six years on this earth.  I've had times that were both joyful and incredibly painful.  The joyful ones far outweigh the painful, but unfortunately the painful experiences seem to be the ones that I remember the most.  Usually, the painful ones were a result of my not adhering to some basic guidelines as to what exactly constitutes a good friend.  I was thinking yesterday (when I could think coherently through the horrendous sinus headache I can't seem to make go away) that I hope my children will take a cue from the things I did wrong in my relationships and not make as many mistakes - living through modeling.  So I thought another list, this time made up of "friendship rules," might be in order.

1.  Don't do all the work.  If someone really wants to be your friend, they will at least meet you halfway.  If you are doing all the calling, setting up all of the get togethers, and generally trying too hard, then the person you are subconsciously begging to be your friend really isn't and they aren't going to change their mind if you bug them continuously.

2.  Respect your friend's boundaries.  I lost a couple of good friends this way before I figured out that if you push too hard into someone else's space, they don't like that and they're seriously not going to want to be your friend.  In my lifelong neediness fest, one of the things I've "needed" the most was friends.  After losing the last friend because I couldn't take the hint that I had overstepped my bounds, I realized that it's better to respect others' space and limits to the friendship.  If you're overstepping your bounds trying to make someone like you, step back and give them some space.  They'll either come around or they won't, but you'll have the knowledge that you didn't overdo it.

3.  Be your own best friend first.  This is important, because if you don't like yourself, why would anyone else like you?  I think I've always needed other people to like me because I have such serious self-esteem issues.  Justin always acts really surprised when I say bad things about myself, which I have a habit of doing on a regular basis.  What exactly am I hoping to accomplish?  If you wouldn't want someone else saying that stuff about you (or better yet, someone you love), why is that same old tape playing over and over in your head?  If you like yourself, others are bound to like you too.

4.  Don't underestimate the value of your friendship.  You have a lot to give in a relationship; you might just not be aware of what you bring to the table.  If someone is pulling away from you, it might be because you're trying too hard or it might be that they don't see how much you have to offer.  Or they may actually (gasp!) not like you.  That's okay.  Remember to value yourself and what kind of person you are.  If you know you're a good person and someone still doesn't want to be your friend, it's their loss, not yours.

5.  Give whatever you have to give to your friends.  Look to see what their needs are and see if you can help them out somehow.  Maybe all you have to give is your time or a shoulder to cry on, but sometimes that's what other people need more than you can imagine.  If you are able to help a person out by passing on a item you no longer use, why not give it away with a free heart?  If you give of yourself, people will give back.  And if they can't give back, it probably doesn't have anything to do with you, but give anyway, because that's what makes you a good friend.   Leading to number....

6.  You can't buy friendship.  Even if you have all the money in the world and are willing spend it like a rock star on the people with whom you want to surround yourself, you eventually will be judged for what kind of person you are, not on how much money you are willing to throw around.  Everyone can see through a phony, so if you are giving material things in an effort to gain a friend, you might succeed in keeping that person around for awhile, but it's not going to be for the right reasons.  You can give things if you are able and you know that the person on the receiving end has a need, but don't do it just because you hope that person will like you.  Nobody wants to be a charity case and if you make your friend into one, then you aren't doing either one of you any favors.

7.  Don't expect people to act a certain way.  I think I mentioned this in my previous rules list.  I lived almost my entire life before I realized that I can't always get the reaction I want from people or even that I was hoping for.  If you've given freely, that should make you feel good about yourself.  You shouldn't need the person on the receiving end of your friendship to act exactly the way you hoped they would because they are not inside of your head, knowing what it is you need.  A prime example:  For years, I've shopped intensely during the holidays for exactly the right gift for people or thrown my heart into making gifts.  When the ultimate gift opening came, most of the time I was disappointed that the person on the receiving end didn't jump up and down with joy and declare their undying love for me.  This is a prime example of why having expectations is not a good thing.

A little story to demonstrate my point.  I've been doing cross stitch since I was a teenager, which is a long time.  One fall a few years ago, I spent hours working on a beautiful piece for my brother's girlfriend because (say it with me people) I really wanted her to like me.  My brother and his girl were living out in California, which is 3,000 miles away and I didn't get many chances to see them.  I had only met his girlfriend once, but my parents and I had accepted that my brother was not ever going to change his bachelor ways and get married, so we accepted this girl as an informal member of the family.  The cross stitch piece I was making was beautiful.  I had originally intended to make it for myself, but I realized about half way through it that it would make an absolutely fantastic gift for Renee.  And, of course, she was going to totally appreciate what a great "sister-in-law" she had and gush her thanks for the gift.  Oh, and I think I bought a book for my brother.  No great expectations for that.

I sent off my carefully packaged presents around the beginning of December and waited, expecting an ecstatic reaction when she opened the package and, at the very least, a grateful phone call.  I waited a long time.  At first, I wasn't even sure she'd gotten the present, because I never heard a word, from her or my brother about the gifts I had sent.  I spent two months making the present and I never got a thank you.  At all. 

My parents went out to visit them last Thanksgiving and I asked my mother to (kind of sneakily) look around the house and see if the picture was anywhere on the wall.  When she came back, she said she didn't see it.  My work, my hours and hours of work, wasn't even on display!  Okay, this was making me mad at this point.  I put a lot of time into this thing, it turned out beautifully, and I don't even get a thank you?  Seriously?

In February of this year, right before my brother's 41st birthday, his girlfriend moved out.  I have no idea what happened to my gift, but it's either buried in a closet at my brother's house or it is now completely out of the family, probably in a closet at her new home.  She might have even picked out the personalization portion and sold it a yard sale.  Oh the horror!

Expectations....don't have them.  Refer to number five above and just feel good about yourself for being a kind and giving person.

8.  Know when it's time to let go.  If a friendship isn't working and hasn't been for some time, don't latch onto the other person like a leech and try harder.  It's embarrassing for the other person and will cause you no end of anguish as they continue to pull away.  Some friendships are meant to last a lifetime and sometimes people come into our lives for a short time and then move on.  Know when it's time to say goodbye and that you can take joy in the fact that you had that person as your friend for whatever length of time they were there.  I'm a firm believer that there is a reason for everything that happens.  If a friend is rotating out of your life, that's okay.  There's a reason they were there and now there's a reason they aren't.  It might be painful, but maybe the way is being opened up for a new person to arrive in your life.  Life moves in cycles and so does friendship, usually.

I think that I am finally following my own "friendship rules," but I guess you would have to ask my friends that question.  I used to think that you were defined by how many friends you have, but I now think you're more defined by the quality of the people you choose to hang out with.  After all, if you're surrounded by quality people, then it probably means you're a quality person too.