You say potato, I say…well… mind your own damn business!

It turns out that, according to some, I’m a bit of an army general whereas according to others, I’m a bit of a pansy ass. It baffles the mind.

My in-laws were here for a few days at Easter and they kept remarking on how “good” the children were and how they do things that “other children don’t have to do” and I’m such a “good mother”, the subtext of which was clearly how the children are poor, over-burdened, little soldiers, and I’m a slave driver. (And when I say subtext I mean my father-in-law literally saying the words under his breath). All this because my kids help “set the table” (I put that in quotes because while the five-year old kind of knows where the utensils and stuff go on the table the three-year old dumps everything in the middle and just spreads stuff around randomly), and unset the table (what’s the opposite of “set the table”? we used to jokingly say dress and undress the table when we were kids, which regularly prompted my brother’s catch phrase “but mom we haven’t been properly introduced” to which much hilarity ensued… or not, anyway…),  and vacuum under the table with the dust-buster, and clear up their toys, and change their own clothes, and generally try to help out around the house. All stuff we did when growing up (despite the fact that my mom generally had between one and three maids in the house at any given time). I don’t feel like a slave driver, it’s just stuff they should learn how to do (also, if they don’t do it, I have to). I realize I’m the opposite of the typical Italian mother, who still irons her kids clothes when their twenty-five and in graduate school and living away from home, but I think that if though they may not consider these things normal they should at the very least be proud of their grandkids for being able and willing to do this stuff. Whereas, I’m sure, there are conversations going on in Milan between my MIL and her friends that go somewhere along the lines of “can you believe she makes her children set the table? What kind of lazy ass mother is she?!” Ah, the joys of cultural differences.

Speaking of cultural differences, on the other side of the Atlantic, in the sweltering heat of Houston, my Mother thinks I have forgotten the meaning of the word discipline, because my kids want my attention right now even when I’m speaking to another adult, because they jump on the couch, because I, *gasp*, allow them to take all the living room throw pillows and blankets, dump them on the floor, and then keep score to see who can jump farther from the couch to the pillow pile. My children whine and complain when I send them to brush their teeth, they dare protest when it’s time for bed, they have (occasionally) thrown a tantrum in a public place… Her favorite refrain is “your children’s behavior is a reflection of you as a mother, you have to take pride in them”, like I should only be proud of them when they’re well-behaved, or rather, I should take pride in myself when they’re well-behaved. Or something along those lines.

I try to walk the middle of the road… I do that a lot, lately. We had plenty of help around the house, but my mom made sure we learned how to do everything for ourselves, we learned to cook, and clean the house, and do laundry, and iron, and sew buttons… but our house wasn’t a lot of fun, there was a lot of tip-toeing around and not bothering the adults. Whereas my in-laws, as well as most Italians, like to complain (or pride themselves on) how many sacrifices they make for their children, how they’re still at home when they’re thirty-five, how no one wants to get married, because, let’s be honest, why should they? They live rent free in their parents house, with a free maid (their mother) and all the freedom in the world. How today’s youth is so entitled… but who made them that way?

And how on earth did I become the bad guy in this in the eyes of two completely opposing camps?? Walking the middle ground is hard, neither camp is happy, and I get a lot of crap from both of them. But I’m sticking to my guns, because I strongly believe in discipline, but I also very much believe in fun, and the two aren’t mutually exclusive. My kids need to learn how to do practical things, it’s part of my job to teach them, they need to be well-mannered, and learn patience (gradually), they need to be respectful, and independent, and responsible, but they also need to have fun and make messes, and do stupid things, because how else will they learn? I didn’t have a bad childhood by any stretch of the imagination, but I also didn’t have a lot of fun, or rather, there was always a limit to the fun we could have, we couldn’t make too much noise, too much mess, and when we did scoldings and guilt would ensue. There was lots of guilt and a fair amount of fear and I don’t think fear equals respect. I want my kids to respect me, to know when and where there are limits but also when and where it’s ok to cut loose, and I absolutely, positively, don’t want them to fear me or my reactions. So to some I am too strict, and to others I am too lenient, I just hope I manage to straddle the “just right” position at least half the time.
Do you have family members judging/questioning your parenting, and if so, how do you deal??

Joining Shell today for Pour your heart out.

Because TV and cancer just don’t go hand in hand

Let me just start off by saying that I don’t have high hopes of this post actually making sense to everyone, but bear with me because I’m pretty pissed off. But first a quick tangent to get the new readers up to speed: my husband had leukemia, he was diagnosed at the end of 2009, he had chemo, radiation therapy and a bone marrow transplant in 2010. And we thought he had beat it. In February 2011 he was re-diagnosed, he had more chemo and another bone marrow transplant. He’s been in remission since. And now back to the point of this post.

I’ve just recently found a way to watch Netflix in Italy (not available here) so I’ve been doing a LOT of the watching of tv shows. In fact, I’ve started watching Brothers and Sisters. It’s a decent show, funny at times, sad at times, Rob Lowe is in it… I’m about half way through season 4, and if I wasn’t so late to the party (it aired a couple of years ago, I think) I would contact the writers and tell them to go screw themselves. Or, you know, to do some research before writing stuff. Now, I’m not an idiot (most of the time), I know that tv shows aren’t real and much of the stuff they portray does not reflect reality, I also get that most of us watch tv to get away from reality not get slapped in the face with it. But still.

One of the characters, Kitty, has lymphoma, she has chemo, she loses her hair, she doesn’t seem to be getting better, the second round of chemo doesn’t work, so she has a bone marrow transplant. Three weeks later: she’s fine! In remission! In fact, she’s home with her baby! Her blood white cell count is up! And OMG a few months later she’s considering running for office. WOW!

To be honest I’m not sure why this pissed me off so much, I don’t think we’re actually going to have a zombie apocalypse nor do I believe that the vampires are among us, but these episodes hit a little too close to home.

The Husband had his second BM transplant over a year and a half ago, and he still hasn’t recuperated his energy. When you get a BM transplant you’re in a sterile room for weeks afterwards, once you get to go home your immune system is still so suppressed you have to wear a mask everywhere, even in your own home, your child gets a cold and you have to stay away from them, and you’re certainly not hugging and kissing all your family members with tears and soulful music moments before a transplant.

A year and a half later, and the Husband still has to take a crap load of meds to keep his immune system suppressed, because if he doesn’t his immune system will attack his body. He’s got scars all over his torso from GVHD (graft versus host disease) which happens when they adjust his meds, because his liver or his kidneys are overloaded, and he gets these horrible red splotches all over his skin, because his immune system, the transplanted bone marrow, doesn’t recognize the rest of his body. He gets tired, easily. His heart is stressed, as are his lungs, from the radiation therapy.

He’s better, of course, every day that passes he gets a little better, but he’s not fine. Not by any stretch of the imagination. His hair hasn’t even grown back. The first time around it was all back after six months, but the meds he’s taking now are keeping his hair from growing back, and he hates it. He hates being bald, because he didn’t become bald “naturally” he’s bald because of the disease, so every time he looks in the mirror he remembers how sick he was, and how unwell he still is.

A few months ago, he had some very bad stomach pains and he was nauseous, there was a stomach flu going around. He felt horrible for twenty-four hours, we had to call the doctor in the middle of the night. The doc gave him two shots but told him that if he wasn’t feeling better by morning he had to go to the hospital, that he should have, in fact, gone straight to the hospital. I have never seen anyone more terrified of anything in his life. He was shaking, not from the pain, but from the fear of having to go back in.

This is what it’s like a year and a half after a bone marrow transplant. You get better, slowly. You go on with your life, partially. You get stronger, hopefully. But you certainly aren’t back to normal. In fact, you can’t even see normal off out on the horizon. And you absolutely aren’t off running for office.

Linking up today with Shell from Things I can’t say

Like the mighty salmon. Or possibly something more flattering.

I’ve been noticing certain signs, lately, that I’m getting older; time, it moves inevitably, inexorably, forward whether we agree with it or not. Here, a few examples:

Hair management and the removal thereof – I started laser hair removal a few months ago, this, I believe, is an unmistakable sign of aging. At some relatively recent point in the past shaving transformed from a daily nuisance to an insurmountable obstacle, fraught with anxiety, that basically resulted in me wearing pants, or tights, or very long skirts most of the time cause I simply found no way to fit it into my schedule. Waxing is painful and despite the inevitable comparison with childbirth, has become both unendurable and too easily forgettable since it is only necessary occasionally and requires a certain degree of planning and appointment taking. So, I decided to go the way of a more permanent solution, I realized, in doing so, that though there aren’t many twenty-year olds getting lasered, in my age group pretty much everyone I know has either done it, is doing it, or is seriously considering it.

Another unmistakable sign of aging is Botox. I’ve always been wary of botox, not from a deontological or moral standpoint, I certainly have enough trouble worrying about what I’m doing to worry about what everyone else is doing and why, but rather from an angle of fear and distrust. Who knows what the far-reaching consequences of injecting muscle freezing liquids into our faces could be? Not that I’m a clean-living fanatic, I certainly ingest my fair share of poisons, it just seems to me that the far-reaching consequences of Nutella are quite simply extra fat and higher blood sugar, whereas with Botox I imagine myself twenty years down the line with my eyebrows drooping over my eyes… and yet, everyone is botoxing away all signs of expressiveness from their faces.

And what of our feet? I was with a friend recently talking about varied and sundry girly topics and we noticed we both had dry heels. What’s with that? I never had to pay specific moisturizing attention to my heels, now it seems that if I don’t slather on Vaseline followed by thick socks every night even in the middle of summer, my heels crack like I’m some poor, lost, dehydrated, soul, walking aimlessly in the Arizona desert. And my friend commented that she now looks at her feet and they reminded her of her mother’s, me too! I exclaimed, remembering playing in my mother’s bathroom, as little girls do, unwilling to have her for even an instant out of my sight (which explains why we, as mothers, have collectively lost the ability to be in the bathroom alone) and watching her furiously scrubbing at her feet with a pumice stone, muttering (and, quite likely, swearing) under her breath.

I see a future looming before me wherein I covet, if not outright get, some sort of boob job, a future wherein I worry about broken capillaries and droopy knees. Right now I don’t wear miniskirts because I could stand to lose a few pounds, and they seem… unseemly… but soon enough I won’t wear them because I’ll be too old (though, truth be told, some may opine that thirty-five is already too old).

Surprising, isn’t it, how the encroachment of time becomes suddenly apparent and unforgiving, not by looking at our children growing bigger, stronger, more independent, every hour of every day that goes by, but by stopping to notice the evolving nature of our daily beauty routines. Routines aimed at maintaining, preserving, furiously negating the passage of time… becoming by and by more convoluted and time-consuming as we progressively have less and less time and patience and quite possibly desire to fight what is destined to be an inevitably losing battle.

And yet, despite it all being quite clearly ridiculous, I still cannot resist the siren song of laser hair removal, or of that wonderful anti-wrinkle cream, or the inevitability of just one small shot, for that frown line between my eyes and I cannot simply ignore my heels, so I slather and scrub and make appointments and endure pain and the clock inevitably ticks forward, but though I often wonder why I let myself be taken over by the fickleness of vanity I simply cannot let myself age without an attempt at battle. Aging gracefully is one thing, but giving up and letting go to the passage of time passively is simply unacceptable. The wild salmon, after all, swims upstream.


Linking up with Shell today, it’s been awhile!

Of grandfather-y things and such.

The premise: Sometimes my brain complicates things way more than is necessary

My mom and her husband are visiting from Houston and every time I see them together it feels a little uncomfortable, it raises a few issues for me. They had a whirlwind and rather disconcerting romance, they met and married within about four months. When they got married I hadn’t met him and I couldn’t attend their completely secret (as in only my brother and his daughter were present and nobody but a few very close people even knew they were getting married) wedding as I had just given birth to the Girl.  I finally met him a couple of months later, but by then the Husband had been diagnosed with leukemia and was spending his days in a sterile room in the hospital and frankly my mom’s new husband wasn’t very high on my list of priorities. Also, he’s very reserved, so despite the fact that we spent two months in Houston at the beginning of the year I still don’t know him very well. Or at all really.

I’m still very unsettled about the whole situation, even though they’ve been together for three years now. Actually, one could say it’s rather unsettling to even be unsettled by a widowed parent’s remarriage as an adult.

Of course, on the one hand I’m thrilled that my mother has found someone, I never would have wanted her to be alone, but on the other hand, I didn’t expect her and my relationship with her to change quite so much.

Also, and rather more to the point, I’m not quite sure how to handle his relationship with my children. They don’t have a maternal grandfather figure. Or rather, he’s their maternal grandfather figure. And he really likes them, he actually acts like a grandfather, he plays with them and talks to them and watches over them when we’re at the park. He’s more grandparent-y than my mother is, as she’s not all that comfortable around, nor interested in, children.

Although, on a side note, she did manage to spend all of yesterday morning on the beach playing with them in the sand, which is probably the most she’s played with them this year.

But all this grandfatherish behavior makes me very uncomfortable. My kids, especially the boy, seek him out, they ask about him, he gets naturally paired with Nana when they ask about her and Houston. Of course, I get their perspective, he’s the guy they associate with a grandfather on my side of their family. He gets paired with Nana cause that’s all they know and an abstract grandpa who’s “in Heaven with the angels” looking over them just doesn’t make much real sense to them.

I guess I just have a hard time wrapping my head around the idea that they’re so comfortable with a person with whom I’m so uncomfortable. He’s a virtual stranger to me, but he’s their grandfather figure.

I am happy that they have him, because it’s one extra person to love them, because they won’t miss out on having a full set of grandparents, because he’s a good guy and their lives will be the better for having him in them. But it still breaks my heart a little.

Right now they call him by his first name, but pretty soon, I’m sure, they’re going to start calling him grandpa or pappy or whatever they decide, and it breaks my heart that that person, that grandfather-y person in their hearts, won’t be my dad. It’s some guy my mother married and none of us really know.

My dad was such a huge catalyst force in my family, so many of our customs and traditions come from him, from his side of the family, that it feels like a betrayal of who we are, of who I am, of what my family is.

It’s so strange to have such conflicting and contrasting feelings. On the one hand I’m happy my mother isn’t alone, I’m glad my kids have two grandfather figures, I like him and his children, but I’m sad that my dad isn’t here to fulfill his role, I have a hard time adjusting to the meshing of the families.

I’m going to have to find a way to make it work, to not make my kids feel guilty for loving him, while keeping the memory of my father alive. I’m sure I’ll slowly become more comfortable around him, I’ll get to know him better, but it will never, it can never, be the same again so I guess in a way I’m happy for them, but I’m sad for me and what could have been.

Linking up today with Shell for Pour your heart out at Things I can’t say.

Ode to a fine old broad

I went to Brazil last week to see my Grandmother. I usually go in February for her birthday, but I didn’t go this year cause I had just spent two months in Houston at my Mom’s and since she is slowly starting to decline I decided to take a last-minute trip to see her. Don’t get me wrong, she’s perfectly healthy, her body is just, well, old. And she’s starting to look like she may be getting done with the whole living thing… she’s started retreating into herself, not talking much, it’s like she’s in her own little world, which is fine, at her age she’s allowed to do whatever the hell she wants. And since the stars aligned just so, and I could leave the kids for a few days I decided to go see her, just in case. In case of what, I sometimes wonder, since I’m pretty sure she’s going to bury us all.

My Grandma turned 102 years old this year. 102. It constantly boggles my mind that she could possibly be that old. She was born in 1910. There were no cars back then, her preferred mode of locomotion was a horse. Seriously, a horse. There were no telephones (they existed, like cars, but nobody had them), no TVs, no computers, no wi-fi, no iPhones, no color photographs, no cameras for personal use, there were no washers, nor dryers, nor, well, electricity in the house where she was born, in fact. Because she was born at home, of course. She had something like fifteen siblings, but only eight made it to adulthood. She had four daughters from three separate husbands, only one of which died. This means she got divorced twice. Two divorces seem commonplace nowadays, but she was born at a time when women couldn’t even vote. She had my Mom when she was 43, which means she was practically decrepit for her time, and yet my granddad was ten years younger than her, At some point, for reasons beyond my understanding, she kicked him out of the house. She always worked for a living, she raised four daughters and buried three, she learned to drive, she used to smoke (and roll her own cigarettes, of course) and she quit, before the surgeon general realized that smoking was possibly not great for our health.

She never said a word when my Mother went to live in sin with a man almost thirty years her senior and proceeded to have two kids with him. In the thirty-six years that I have known her I have never, not once, seen her without dyed hair and painted nails.

with my Mom, her youngest daughter

With me, last week in Sao Paulo

She was a hard ass, she was not a coddling grandmother, I couldn’t step out of line cause she was always there, ready to tattle. I resented the crap out of her as a teenager and yet the day I turned eighteen she changed completely. My life was then my own and she never, ever commented on any of my decisions. The day I got married, she gave me all her jewelry and her blessing and then visibly relaxed.

She told me the most wondrous, amazing stories when I was a kid, I wish I had written them down, and she always sang me to sleep.

And now? Now she is doggedly hanging on to life with tooth and claw. She had a hard life, but she loved it, she still loves it, and I believe, she will love it till the end.

Dancing on her birthday with one of her physiotherapists, whom she probably would have married had he been available…

Linking up today with Shell for Pour your heart out.

Passport, ticket, bags, and a crap load of emotional baggage

I’m writing this on a Tam airlines flight from Milan to Sao Paulo, watching the Big Bang Theory, feeling guilty.Whenever I fly with the kids I dream about the days when I flew alone, just me and my backpack. Apparently, after you have kids you become physically incapable of flying light.

I’m on my way to visit my 102 year old grandmother in Sao Paulo (Brazil), I haven’t seen her in a year, and since she’s not doing as well as she was I decided to take an impromptu trip to visit her. I’m only going to be gone for six days (two of which are travel days), and yet I managed to board the flight with a suitcase (well, two in fact, but one is just a suitcase containing another suitcase that I borrowed from my Mom when I was in Houston) and a carry on trolley along with my purse. Jesus.

Also, along with the physical baggage, there’s an entire Louis Vuitton trunk of emotional baggage. I carry classy emotional baggage.

I feel guilty for leaving the kids. I feel guilty both for the physical act of leaving and the fact that part of me was happy and excited to do it. I get to fly alone! No wrestling toddlers and strollers and enough luggage to invade Germany through the airport, no dirty looks at security checks that take an hour and a half of stripping myself and two screaming kids practically down to our underwear, no singing and playing games and bribing and trying to make over-excited, tired, whiners go to sleep without incurring death glares from all those who surround me.

I get to spend time with my Grandma and my Mom (who’s meeting me there, hence the returned luggage) like an adult, I can drink, go out to dinner, and go shopping at a moments notice. I am responsible for no one and nothing. And that makes me happy. Ah the wracking guilt, though. For the first time in years I packed the day I was leaving, I forgot half the stuff that I wanted to bring, and I didn’t care. Lately, a trip down the road entails the organizational preparation of a military incursion into hostile territory. It was just so liberating to not give a damn that I forgot my jacket.

I’ll only be gone a few days, the kids have their Dad, the Nanny and their Grandma will move in on Thursday, when they’ll probably really start to miss me, as an added distraction. I’ve even got an aunt on standby in case they get hit by the blues; plus the Husband has fun activities planned for the weekend. I’m positive they’ll be fine. And yet I feel guilty. Guilty that I didn’t take them with me, guilty because I didn’t want the expense and the hassle, guilty because they’re so little and I remember missing my parents when they were gone, guilty because I’m not doing my job. I’m basically taking a vacation from my family. And yes, I know in my mind that I’ll come back more relaxed, more patient, more fun, but in my heart I feel a little bit like a traitor.

Linking up with Shell today at Things I can’t say for Pour your heart out.