Category Archives: Family Ties

The Smallest Cuts…

GlassesWe had another…incident. That’s how it feels, reporting these moments of autism-inspired flare-ups—like filing a police report. You can almost see the mirrored sunglasses glinting as the fictional officer approaches…

IO (imaginary officer): “What seems to be the trouble here?”

ME (me): “I…I…He…and then…”

IO: “Slow down, ma’am. Is anybody hurt?”

ME: (snuffles) “No. Well, just a little.” (rubs hand) “It’s nothing. I’m just crying.”

IO: (looks around) “By the side of the road?”

ME: (wails open-mouthed) “Yessss.”

IO: “Tell me what happened, ma’am.”

ME: (wipes snot) “I tried to take my son to the restaurant.”

IO: (gestures) “This one?”

ME: “Yes.”

IO: “And then what happened.”

ME: “Little Man refused to go in…but I made him. And then…” (tears well up again.)

IO: “Yes?”

ME: “He lost it. He started screaming and biting himself and fighting me. I tried to stop him. A woman helped me get him to a table and I tried to give him his emergency medicine. While I was getting the pills, he sank his teeth in and I dropped them all over the floor. I was wrestling him, trying to get him calm and he finally started to settle down when…” (starts crying again)

IO: “Go on.”

ME: “…the manager asked us to leave.”

IO: “I see.” (clicks pen, scribbles a few notes) “Was anyone else hurt?”

ME: “No…just my hand. I’m gonna be fine. Just need a Bandaid.”

IO: “Are you going to be okay to drive?”

ME: “In a minute. I’m just waiting until I’m sure Little Man is okay.”

IO: “Sounds like a plan. Take all the time you need.”

ME: (sniffs) “Thanks.”

IO: “Don’t mention it, ma’am. Just get home safe…and take care of that bite.”

With the click of a pen, the imaginary officer walks back to the car and calls it in, then fades away and is gone. I’m left, wondering why days like these are happening more and more often? After forty minutes, we move back onto the highway and get stuck in molasses for what seems like hours in the Memorial Day weekend traffic. My hand stings the whole drive home.

I was tempted to post a video to Facebook. You know the kind. Angry, outraged mother, slams establishment that doesn’t understand her child.* Everyone shares and declares the company the Spawn of Satan. But really, I didn’t blame the management of the restaurant, which I won’t name, but will say, what hurt the most today was not the bite. It was being asked to leave.

In the softest voice imaginable, a young man approached our table where I was standing holding my son in a head lock/hug, and said, “I don’t want to have to ask…you know that.”

He didn’t say the words. He didn’t have to. My son was being more than disruptive, he was having a stellar autism meltdown of galactic proportions. I was just trying to get him calm enough to take him out without an incident and, in a whisper, I told him that.

“How can I help?” He said.

Getting my son to the car was a small trial, but after a Vesuvius explosion of vented rage and frustration, we sat in the car. He fumed. I wept.

People came. People went.

As the meds I’d managed to stuff into my child finally worked, I contrasted this afternoon with the successful-ish visit to school earlier in the day. It was field day and all four of the students in my son’s class participated, or not, as they could. No game went as it was intended—though, the rolling tires up an incline only to chase them back down causing everyone to scatter like ten pins came pretty close. It was a physical metaphor of the emotional rollercoaster of autism parenting. What goes up will definitely come down. Probably with teeth marks embedded in it.

IMG_5010
It’s all fun and games until someone let’s go of the wheel.
 

This is the refrain of my life. For every good moment where I manage a picnic lunch in the grass with my son and pictures are captured as proof, there is a corresponding, undocumented, black-hearted despair waiting in the wings to walk to center stage and take a giant, steamy dump.** Guess which memories last the longest?

I have reserved a small, smug nugget in my heart for the moms who struggle with their broad spectrum children. My son has had his moments, but I’ve been able to take him places and do things other families just didn’t. This makes you cocky. You want to think that you have the secret! You know something those other families don’t!

“Just push your child. Find his boundaries and respect them, but keep trying to push them.” I would think to myself.

The boundaries are now pushing back. And, at thirteen, they have the weight of an almost adult behind them. A proto-man who has his own mind and directions and preferences that I am now required to respect. Either that, or be prepared to count my fingers and come up with an odd number.***

I didn’t videotape the experience. I didn’t post it to Facebook. But for a bitter, self-indulgent, desperately tired moment I wanted to. I wanted the pity of nations and the poor-me sympathy of automatic outrage served up on a platter for autism families everywhere. It would feel so good, so soothing to be told I was right. That they were wrong. That people should be more understanding.

!!!VINDICATION IS MINE!!!

But knowing I was the one who pushed my child through the doors when he’d already said, “No!” I knew who to blame.

And yet…

Being told to leave hurts. Every time. It hurts so very deep, in a place you can’t see and don’t want anyone to know is there. And every injury scars deeper than the last. Keloid patches leather your soul, making the effort to try again that much harder. It’s the smallest cuts that hurt the most; and a life with autism is death by a thousand cuts. With lemon juice squirted in for good measure. And a dash of salt.

So, while the rest of the world expands its horizons this weekend, I am weathering the storm at home, licking my wounds and trying not to be pitiful. Much.

Hopefully by next Friday, I’ll be ready to meet my childhood alter ego on the silver screen. I’ll have my silver arm bands ready and my lasso of truth set for introspection and self-revelation. And forgiveness. And I’ll be Wonder Woman once more.

Wonder Woman
What I always wondered, as a child, was how she kept her top up!?
 

Asterisk Bedazzled Footnotes:

*Internet Rage Fest–It’s the modern-day equivalent of Andy Warhol’s 15 minutes of fame except that it lasts forever and is shared until it reaches obscure corners of Outer Mongolia and beyond.

**Go ahead, try and scrapbook that image!

***Which my son would no doubt find oddly pleasing. He prefers odd numbers to even. He thinks numbers divisible by two are the devil.

A Day In The Life…A Special Needs Breakdown

I remind myself that this too shall pass.

EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.

Missing Easter eggs–taken from fridge–still not found?

This too shall pass.

Two teardrop shaped containers of food coloring found in son’s bedroom. Two still unaccounted for. Mattress now looks like Jackson Pollock vomited there.

This too shall pass.

No clean clothes today…most of child’s pants cut up by scissors or missing. Must remember to check the heat ducts later…

This too shall pass.

Looks in fridge. *Stares blankly* Where’d the chicken go?

This too shall pass.

If you are a happy parent, please stop reading here. If you find fulfillment of life in nurturing and raising your beautiful, perfect little yous. Go away. This is not the blog you are looking for and I won’t be nice about it.

If, however, you have had dark thoughts on miserable, cold days. If you haven’t showered in forever and aren’t entirely sure whether it’s Tuesday or the apocalypse. Join me, comrade. And welcome.

*

While studying to get a degree in Russian Studies*, we were assigned the work One Day In The Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn. Its simplistic, yet brutal reflection of the miseries of life for prisoners in a Russian gulag are played out in a single day for the title character Ivan Denisovich. What I did not know then, while reading about the struggles of someone trapped in a cold, cheerless existence, is that it could just as well be a metaphor for what it is like to parent a special needs child.

This too shall pass.

This has become my mantra. This reassurance every time my son finds a new and inventive way to make me regret the wonders of fertility treatments: the bad moments pass. It is a lifeline when you feel you are drowning and desperate options rear their suggestive, ugly heads.

This too shall pass.

Sometimes you find yourself sitting by the side of the road weighing bad to worse choices. Because bad are the only choices you can see.

This too shall pass.

I took my son to a birthday party Friday for the son of a longtime friend in the Autism Community. Little Man refused to enter the building. When finally forced to enter, threw a massive tantrum, beating himself and biting his arms, until he realized he wasn’t getting his way and we were going to stay. He sat rigid, refusing to join in—in a place where other children played jumping on trampolines and swinging from giant swaths of spandex dangling from the airplane-hangar-sized ceiling beams. He tolerated it until I would let him go home again.

This too shall pass.

We traveled to the delightfully grey and 40-degree weather in Traverse City, Michigan. I drove for three hours. Got fifteen minutes in the hot tub of the hotel before my son screeched his regrets and left the pool; I took him for his requested walk to the nearby lake where he promptly wanted to leave; returned to the Comfort Inn to sleep to dream of wifi only to be woken at 6:00 a.m. because someone next door took a shower. This was a good day. No major meltdowns.

This too shall pass.

Then yesterday happened.

I took my son to an event sponsored by the school celebrating a program that is intended to engage children like mine with the neurotypical kids. The ones who can play the games and take part in ordinary life. The children not like my son.**

I run into his teachers and classroom aides.

“Little Man had a really good day today.” One person tells me.

“Really, he was very happy.” Another stops to greet my son.

This too shall pass.

They don’t hear it. They don’t hear the bell ringing, the tolling, sonorous carillon signaling the shift from happy child to frantic, exhausted, terrorized hulk.

Neither do I.

This too shall pass.

We win the most patriot looking red-white-and-blue cupcakes at the cake walk—on only our sixth or seventh time around. *Thank goodness.*

I coax my son into a bizarre game where marshmallows—a food my son loves—are tossed back and forth to be caught in cups. None of the marshmallows are supposed to be eaten, however, because they keep hitting the floor. My son sneaks one anyway, confused that he couldn’t eat them in the first place. Has no one heard of cotton balls?

Cupcakes
Guess who snuck these into his room while mommy wasn’t watching?

 

This too shall pass.

I drag my reluctant child to a photo room where mustaches on sticks and leis are strewn to give families props to stage silly portraits. I manage a few with my unsmiling teen and he drags me out after thirty seconds.

This too shall pass.

He attempts to leave the building by several exits. We have only been there a half hour, but he wants out.

I ‘encourage’ my son to participate in a game in the library and he balks.

“One game. Candy Land…or Yahtzee. Then we can go.” I plead.

It is too much for him.

He is desperate and begins hitting himself violently.

Thwack. Thwack. Thwack.

It is the sound of someone testing a melon for ripeness. It is the distant sound of an axe biting into wood. It is my son’s fists cracking against his skull.

He is crying from angst or anger or frustration or stress or some combination of all of these emotions. Or none. Perhaps he is drained and all that is left is the hollow drum upon which he beats an empty tattoo.

This too shall pass.

I push him into a cozy nook for readers to sit by a pretend fire where a painted tree grows to spread its branches overhead. Or so my vague memory suggests. I was too busy dosing my child with a sedative so I could get him out of the building without scaring or hurting anyone.

This too shall pass.

As I am driving him home, I am blinded. Blinded by regrets that my son cannot take part in fun activities. That I don’t get to be the parent encouraging him to stretch his limits, but instead failing to recognize them in time to prevent catastrophe.

It is as if his emotions have spilled over from where he sits in the back seat tearing strips of paper to calm himself.*** He winds the paper around his fingers and I think, “At least he’s finally using all those summer workbooks I purchased.”

I am crying now for the pain he feels but cannot express. For the fact he can never, ever make any real friends because he has such devastating limitations.

That he is so broken and so am I.

This too shall pass.

I pull off the road because, really, I can’t see now. I can’t see the point in continuing.

I park in an empty florist’s lot. The strip of grass that divides my car from the busy traffic is a green wedge of nature slipped between asphalt boundaries and a Panera coffee shop.

I am tired. I am listening to the recording of my parenting failures skipping and repeating in my head. And before anyone thinks to tell me what I great mom I am. Stop. Just stop.

Because you don’t know the thoughts I had.

This too shall pass.

You don’t hear the insidious little fucking voices in your head telling you that there has got to be an easier way than this. That life shouldn’t be this hard. That life shouldn’t be this…

This too shall pass.

You all think there are programs to help families in need. You all think we are getting help to make it through the every-fucking-day struggle of making yourself get up when black thoughts drag you down.

Maybe there are. But you know what? I don’t qualify for them; barely anyone does. You apply through miles of red tape, applications, certifications, interviews, and, if you are lucky, you are put on a wait list to try and get one of the 450 some slots the entire fucking state has to help people with severely handicapped children who don’t qualify for Medicaid.

You heard me. 450 slots. For a state with a population approaching 10 million.

You all think that there must be someone out there helping families like mine make good choices and to step in when things get bleak or despairing. You would be dead wrong.

This too shall pass.

This is the problem with real life. Ugly thoughts are like rancid cheerleaders rooting for destruction. There are no angels to balance you out. Sometimes the monsters win.

But not today.

This too shall pass.

I watch the robins bobbing on the slender manicured lawn that is trapped on all sides by concrete barriers and the threat of chemical castration or decapitation by lawn mower for any daring weeds. The little red-breasted birds are rejoicing in the abundance of rain-forced worms.

This too shall pass.

I turn on the book on tape I’ve borrowed from the library.

The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto rolls out the welcome mat to sanity and invites me to listen. It takes some kind of talent to write a comedy set around a funeral.

Fifteen minutes later, I’m safe to go on.

If anyone knows Mitch Albom. Tell him, thanks.

This too shall pass.

In writing this, I was reminded that in college, I found One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich to be uplifting. Despite all of the misery, Ivan Denisovich finds moments of grace—not religious—but humanizing that help him to eek joy from the life he does have.

Ivan Denisovich got fish eyes in his soup.

I got robins bobbing for worms and the lyrical beginnings of a musician who might be a magician. Or vice versa. I’m not sure yet. The story has only begun.

I’ll have to listen for another day.

Asterisk Bedazzled Footnote:

*Because I’m all about collecting useless degrees. Ask me about my aborted career as a teacher. Go ahead, *cocks imaginary pistol* ASK.

**The normals (aka The Little Fuckers.)

***The real reason why I donated my son’s books to the school—because watching him destroy something I love and had hoped would connect us is too painful.

 

 

———————————final thoughts——————————————-

I am fine. It was just a bad moment. We all have them. Do not contact the authorities or  the Department of Human Services. I shared this to let the world know we have a problem with our resources and mental health care assistance to families in need and maybe to let other parents of special needs children know they are not alone. We just need support.

If you want to act, check out our local Autism Support of Kent County (A.S.K) agency http://www.autismsupportofkentcounty.org. They have helped my family as well as others in various outreach programs and financial aid for summer camps and therapies. Their Annual Walk for Autism is Sunday, May 7, 12:00 noon– at John Ball Zoo, 1300 Fulton W, Grand Rapids, MI 49504. If he’ll go, I’ll be the one leading my son around with a bag of marshmallows.

The Dungeon, The Escapee, and Occidental Fudge

Just after posting my celebratory hurrah about our South Haven Adventures last week, I get home and decide to compound my success by being a ‘good parent.’*

“C’mon son. Let’s go for a walk.” I say.

I’m thinking of a brisk stroll, fresh air, and then getting back to the house to tackle some work. It is a good game plan.**

As I have mentioned before, my son is a runner. He would explore a lion’s den given half a chance. Like Austin Powers, his middle name is “Danger”. Unfortunately, this evening is no exception. As we walk, he keeps pointing out buildings he would like to ‘visit’ and even writes house numbers down on his papers when I don’t seem to pick up on his subtle signals when he tries to drag me to the front door.

The night is turning colder when I spot the Grand Villa in the distance. This is a local restaurant which goes by the nickname “The Dungeon” because of its subterranean locale. If I had seen their website beforehand, I might have taken heed of the warning they post in their tagline:

“THE DUNGEON IS WAITING FOR YOU”

Teeth chattering, I haul my child away from the housing complex he is lunging toward—a nondescript giant block of apartments in what once was a large family home. Seeing as my son is now 5 feet 6 inches tall and weighs as much as an overindulged Great Dane, this takes some effort.

I lure him in with the promise of chocolate milk.

Twenty minutes later, warm again and well quaffed, we gather our things to go. Then I consider the nearly mile-long walk back to the house…in the cold…and decide the bathroom should be our first stop. I send my son into the men’s room and wait for a few seconds…before deciding I’d better make sure myself and pop into the ladies.

I swear I peed in less than a minute and was back out to wait for my son. A MINUTE.  That’s all it took.  My clever, devious, Machiavellian boy was gone.

You can pretty much predict the rest. After a frantic and futile search of the area, I’m on the phone with 911. While talking with them, I see a police car pull up alongside the road. I hail them while I’m on the phone with the operator.***

Now I’m babbling at two different sets of people—neither of whom can understand me—when someone calls out:

“We’ve found him!”

Another police officer escorts my happy, oblivious-to-the-chaos-he-causes boy to my weeping embrace.

My son is returned safe and sound and, though he had broken into a home, no one is hurt. A few papers are stolen and have to be retrieved. He’d even had time to scribble calendars on the back as a memento to the family he invaded. I hope they frame them.

In those interminable minutes he is out of my grasp, I imagine enough scenarios to make my heart stop a thousand times. I am honestly surprised it doesn’t kill me.

Once home, my child goes to bed with no complaints. I think on some level he recognizes mommy has had it. I turn off my phone and tune out the world and spend the evening overwrought and shaking.

The next day, I find the energy to call my mom.

“Hey, mom…Little Man is okay, but I have to tell you something that happened last night. Understand, I can’t take any comments about what might have happened. I still feel so emotionally raw I can barely breathe.”

My mom knows about loss. I had a sister—Robin. She died of crib death before I was even born. As a result, mom has had a super-charged paranoia about any dangers we faced as kids and I think this has multiplied exponentially for her grandchildren.

I re-live the night before as factually as I can without breaking down. She lets me vent. It is what I need—a shoulder to cry on without judgment. It is phone call catharsis at its best. Mom says she’ll check in on me later, but she has something to do first. I ring off feeling a shade lighter than before.

My mom stops by that afternoon, carrying a cooler. I unpack it while she tells me a story of her own. When I get to the table with a warm bundle wrapped in a towel, she is drawing me a map as she talks:

“When I was a little girl, my father took me to the ice cream shop at the Occidental Hotel in Muskegon. It’s torn down now, but it was located between Clay and Webster Street downtown—it’s in the same area the Frauenthal Theater and the culinary school are now.”

I pull up my computer to help in the search for yesteryear landmarks. We have a doozy of a time since mom—who has a much better sense of direction than me—apparently can’t reorient her mind to the north-on-top directionality Google maps insists on presenting.

Map to Occidental

“Anyway, they had a famous hot fudge sauce that I absolutely loved. We didn’t go out very often so it was a big treat to go there. So I made this for you!”

As mom is saying this, she’s unwrapping the towel to reveal a small Corningware casserole dish wrapped in plastic wrap with a band of duct tape for extra insurance. (She’s not messing around with spills!)

“After you told me about your adventure, I thought you could use a treat.” Mom says.

She makes me sit down with a big bowl of ice cream and a dollop of the chocolaty, silken sauce melting over the white caps of vanilla-y goodness.

She then tells me more about our connections to the famed hotel with the equally famous sauce.

“Do you remember the lamp your father brought back when they sold off the property and its belongings?” She asks.

I would have been eight in 1975, and home furnishings weren’t a high priority in my experience, so I shake my head and take a bite. I swallow her memories with each taste.

“It was a heavy iron lamp and we put it in your room with the flowered Crosscill bedspread and curtains—you remember those?”

I had loved that frilly bedroom set up until I left for the Army. It was gone when I got back home four years later and I truly mourned its loss. I nod and lick the spoon. No words are necessary when you have hot fudge. Mom continues to wax nostalgic about the past:

“I was nineteen in 1959. I remember going to a Valentine’s dance there once–sponsored by the Elks, I think. A boyfriend, Jack Boles, took me to a ball at the hotel when we were dating. Do you remember the beautiful dress you borrowed for school that was stolen?”

This I distinctly remember. It was my first experience with theft. I borrowed it for a theater skit for a character in the show. It was gorgeous red dress of some kind of stiff but silky material. I have never quite forgiven myself for losing that dress.

“It was a play, Mom. We were performing at the elementary school. The dress disappeared from the prop and costume boxes before we finished the shows.” I interject. I’m apologetic—it’s a script we’ve enacted whenever we rehash the event.

“It had a square bodice and the style was so grown up. The sheer overlay matched the underskirt perfectly. Do you remember the fabric?” Mom holds her hands out as if measuring the width of a belled skirt.

“It had a swirly pattern—nothing distinct, like paisley, but more like the swirls you see when oil floats on water.” I say.

[A hunt online produced similar styles but nothing exactly like what she had:]

Now it’s her turn to nod.

Yes! I wore it when I was in the beauty contest at the ball—you’ve seen that picture, right?”

It is a small, black-n-white snapshot of three women in ball gowns. Mom was the first runner-up. In the photo, she stands to the left of two other women—all dressed up and carrying bouquets of now, long-dead flowers. It was a night of beautiful memories.

Mary Moeller - Beauty Contest3
Left to right: Mary (Mom) Benson, Joan Wachovia, and Sharon (last name unknown)

 

The fudge sauce is slowly disappearing as we reminisce. We look online trying to find a photo of the ice cream parlor that existed before The Occidental Hotel was imploded in 1975 to make way for a parking lot. But all we can find are details of the implosion. The article is an epitaph for a leveled landmark torn down in pursuit of a mall that would later close of its own fiscal demise.

The ice cream is gone and I scoop up the remains of the cooling, lava-like gooeyness to store in the fridge.

“Be sure to hide it from the boy or he’ll eat it all!” Mom warns before giving me a hug goodbye.

It’s after she’s gone and I’m cleaning up that I realize what she’s done. It is what all mothers do—try to make it better. When you skin your knee, she offers a kiss. It is a little sugar to take away the bitterness that life sometimes hands you. I may be an adult, but I am not immune to the sway of childhood remedies or memories—be they mine or my mother’s. The sweetness cannot stop the pain, but it can make it better. And when those remembrances come with chocolate sauce—it surely does.

Asterisk Bedazzled Footnote:

*Being a Good Parent—a laudable goal that, when I try to do it on purpose, results in immediate failure.

**Life is out to get me most of the time and rarely needs a good reason. Still, I thought, in light of my good intentions, the universe was being a real shit not to reward me.

***No matter how many times I have called 911, I do not improve with experience. I am just as hysterical and useless each and every time. I owe sincere apologies to the people who man those phones…and probably a fruit basket.

 

———–You read this far bonus—————–

I just had to include this photo. It is the entire line up of contestants from that long ago Valentine’s beauty pageant.

Mary Moeller - Beauty Contest

cabbage-550-jpg

Being cheap was a virtue to my father. In honor of his anniversary of cheating the tax man, I would like to reminisce for a moment.

*

Fall is here. The farmer’s market is overflowing with knobby, thick-skinned vegetables. The pumpkins are a little lopsided and I am drawn to long, creamy-skinned butternut squash.* When I pass mounds of earthy cabbage, I am haunted by my father.

I have a distinct memory from childhood of my father, out in the front yard, kneeling in the grass and chopping cabbage with the savage ferocity of a Mongol Horde bent on conquest. Why does this memory stick, you may wonder? He would buy cabbage in bulk, you see. A head of cabbage probably cost something like 60 cents back in the day—but if you bought a bushel, you’d get ‘em for a steal.

If you buy even a half-bushel, like my father did, that’s still a lot of cabbage. That means a lot of coleslaw or–gag–sauerkraut.** Nearly every weekend, my father was outside wearing plaid shorts, a white undershirt, black socks and work boots that he left unlaced, crouched over a butcher’s block cutting board committing cruciferous homicide. He would do this for a good hour or more. He did this with sufficient repetitive monotony that it has become one long reel of boring dad-moments, with only a minor variation on a theme if the bushel contained an elusive red cabbage–which made for an extra-bloody looking pile when he got done.

We have no pictures of my father hunkered in all his glory, but it is burned forever in vivid Kodachrome on the part of my brain where random, goofy memories are stored.

So now, whenever I visit the farmer’s market to check out the goods, I linger for a moment before the veiny, green-white disembodied heads…and remember.

Asterisk Bedazzled Footnotes:

*And before you go all phallic on me, I like to chop them into cubes and broil them until they cry for mercy. Try to make a sexual innuendo outta that!

**I survived several winters’ discontent of consuming sloppy, homemade sauerkraut by vomiting dramatically whenever forced to eat it.

If this picture makes you squeamish and just a little ill--you might be a man.
If this picture makes you squeamish and just a little ill–you might be a man.

Of Rainbows and Quixotic Meandering

I am here. On the brink. Come join me.

*

Three days of travel and the start of our adventures in Minnesota begin soon. But first, a recount:

Day 1: Unmitigated disaster. See link.

 

Boat 4Day 2: Waves of Nostalgia

We cross Lake Michigan from Ludington, MI and discover exactly how big the ‘Great Waters’ really are. Overly excited child keeps a thrilled eye on the cars and even boats being loaded onto the S.S. Badger. The ferry has a proud history serving transit needs of travelers on the lake. I’d tell you all about it, but people took up the space in the history lounge sleeping on every surface, making it hard to take notes. This is our first non-vomitous boat ride (for child and, by extension, me).  Hurray for Bonine and sea bands. 

 

 

Boat Pic 2
It’s like a turducken – A kayak on a boat in a ferry.

 

Deposited in Manitowoc around noon (we crossed a date line so I’m can’t remember if it was Michigan or Wisconsin noon) we head to a park recommended by a fellow blogger!* Fritse Park is well worth the bizarre detour from the highway—I think I took seven turns in about two miles.  The playground is impressive, though my twelve-year-old apparently had reservations about the incredibly long slide built into a hill.  We walked the bridge that spans two cities and enjoyed the view and the stern breeze which threatened to swallow my hat until I just clutched it there and back. I’m just glad I hadn’t read this article before visiting.

 

Fritske Park 6
Hats off to the windiest bridge in Wisconsin.

 

It was a brief stop on our journey to Wautoma where we traveled the back roads to find relatives who live so far off the grid, the GPS tracker wished us good luck and shut itself off. A home-cooked meal of cheese sandwiches and salad and a nice long conversation about mutual relatives and photo admiration capped the day.  On the way to our cheap-but-clean accommodations at Motel 8 a giant rainbow spanned the sky as if welcoming us to a brighter, more beautiful journey than the one we set out on the day before.

Day 3: I see dead people.  Lots of dead people.

Adolph
Meet my unfortunately named grandfather.  He went by the nickname “Chi” because he hated his name long before someone ruined it for everybody.

Two cemeteries and about three photo albums worth of ancient German heritage abounds in Merrill, Wisconsin. A lie on Ancestry is revealed and I am scandalized that someone co-opted the wrong grave markers to claim a heritage that isn’t ours.  Either that, or my distant cousin, Lee, is wrong.  But with his facility at naming generations of Krueger/Latzig family members, I doubt it.  That he visits the graves weekly and tends their flowers suggests he had more vested in the memorial than just capturing a photo, like I have. (See photos below of the true headstones.)

We visit a former convent/girls school to reminisce with one of the last matriarchs of my father’s generation—Joan. She is 87 and, despite admitting she has memory loss, seems pretty sharp and witty during our visit. She even tolerated my giant twelve-year-old sprawling on the tiny floor of her assisted-living quarters. She shows off the photo albums she compiled. In them, pages and pages of documents identify the family tree. I see pictures of my father in his infancy and grandfather dressed for hard work, welding pipeline in unidentified states. I meet new relatives in grainy black and white and faded Kodachrome color. The photo album’s shiny pages make for poor copying, but I do my best to snap pictures on my cell phone. There is a comforting sameness to the faces—sturdy, kind, loving. Family.

Eileen and Ethel Gehrt
Okay, maybe not all of the family was sunshine and lollipops!

Day 4: Get up and enjoy continental breakfast at Quality Inn & Suites, Menominee, WI. Son insists he wants to swim, so we wait the half-hour for it to open and he dips in it for about 5 minutes before saying, “All Done.”

I review our options and consider a nature walk, until I step out and see the rainy weather.  Oh well, we did make a stop at a really good gas station.** If you haven’t heard of these, Kwik Trip was just about the best gas station I’ve had the pleasure to stop. So, here are pictures of its glorious selection.  May you all be so lucky in your travels.

 

Asterisk Bedazzled Footnote:

*I will happily give credit to said blogger, just as soon as I figure out who it was.

**You may take pictures of your cultural landmarks and famous fountains.  Me? I’m impressed with a gas stop that has fresh produce and every recharger you could hope to find in stock!

Proof of Happiness

 

Photo Circa 1967
This instant photo sort of captures that certain je ne sais quois of mornings around the breakfast table at my house growing up. (Note the bottle of ubiquitous ketchup-required for all American meals.)

Instead of sitting to write my manifesto novel for Nanowrimo, I have been looking at old photos on my laptop. I’m calling it ‘organizing’ them, but what I am really doing is procrastinating wallowing in nostalgia. Some photos are incomprehensible. Why for example did I need to take a picture of my son’s gloves with his library book? Possibly for later identification when one or both got lost? The majority of the pictures, however, besides capturing the whimsical or inconsequential impulses of a shutter bug, seems to feed an insatiable need to record the best moments of life: the trips taken, the milestones celebrated and the triumphs achieved. The purpose of photographic evidence stems from a need to document a life well-lived. But what if it is an illusion? What then?

Old Photos007
The Christmas We Beat the Tree with a Broom to Remove the Needles. (We were kids, that’s why.) Hey, Cousin Todd. Remember this one?

I have been that relative. You know the one. The person who carried a camera to all family events, insisting on posing people or worse, snapping natural pictures of people unawares with their mouths open shoving a too-big piece of cake into their pie cake-holes. We are a much-reviled breed of enthusiasts* With the advent of digital cameras and cell-phone pics, we are much harder to spot. In fact, we may now outnumber those irritating people who hate getting their picture taken. Take that you privacy freaks.

Old Photos005
You can see the joy of parenting just oozing from my father’s face. It’s as if he is warning of what happens when you gamble with your dna.

What is the source of our obsession? Why do people like me seek to pin the memory to paper? To alter and revise our lives to show only the best? Perhaps, because joy is fleeting, it needs to be recorded so that we know it is possible. That, if after enough time passes, we can believe that we were happy. We are the Kodachrome revisionists—there is no negative we cannot develop into a positive.

Old Photos029
I am the chubby little chunk in red-n-white stripes. You can just see how thrilled I am about getting a baby brother. (No idea who the guy to the right is. Ignore his inclusion in this photo. I am.)

I have boxes of pictures that never see the light of day—and probably close to a million pictures stored on my computer of people and places that I have long forgotten except when I run across them. Much like an amateur archeologist discovering a lost civilization, I am forced to sift and wonder who these people are and why they were significant enough to retain forever housed in my limitless archives?

Old Photos035
And this is the photo AFTER I have airbrushed the ink marks, random stains, and wrinkles out of the picture. It’s as good a testament of my childhood as any: This is as good as it gets, people!

Following my father’s death, I revisited our mangled childhood photos that, as children, we were apparently inspired to embellish like budding, drunk Picassos. Laden with scratches and ball-point ink pen marks, these images inspire a never-before-awakened fastidiousness in me, compelling immediate photo-shopping. (There had to be a reason I stayed up until 5:00 a.m. manically scanning and airbrushing the evidence of our crimes.)** As if I could improve on life by erasing anything that suggests it was anything but perfect. This definitely falls in the category of a bit barmy, but with as few childhood photos as my mother managed to retain despite the depredation of bored children with scissors and belatedly developed film that all came out pink, I feel it my calling to save as many of these silly moments for posterity.

Old Photos033 - Edited
This is probably the frilliest I ever looked in my life. No wonder I have a lace aversion.

So I will share with you my imperfect life. The moments where I was less than beautiful and the bizarre revelations of the hidden-camera approach to self-awareness. And perhaps, in acknowledging my flaws and letting go of perfection, I can appreciate the imperfect memories that happen when I put the camera down.

Asterisk Bedazzled Footnotes:

*Besides the term ‘Paparazzi’ there has to be a word connoting a group of photographers! ‘Flashers’ seems to already be taken, and while ‘Soul Snatchers’ has a nice ring to it—it might get shortened to ‘Snatcher’ I don’t think it will catch on.

**I think it’s called ‘plausible deniability’.

Earning the Cupcake

Dear Diary:

“It’s day five; I don’t know if I’m going to make it out alive. If you are reading this, save yourselves…and send chocolate.”

Death By Cupcake

Much like the Montagues and Capulets, there is a plague upon this house. It started on Sunday.

Day 1—Sunday – Signs of Plague Appear

Drag child to public events, watch in horror his inevitable descent into phlegmy madness. I race through the stages of grief like its an Olympic event and I’m going for the gold.

(Denial)

Child: “Sniffle. Cough.”

Me: “No! You are not making that sound!”

(Anger)

Child: “Hack, snort, cough, cough, (insert revolting phlegmy sound here.)”

Me: “No no no no no. You can’t be sick! We just got here–trampoline adventure awaits and hockey practice starts at 3:00!”

(Bargaining)

Me: “Maybe it’s allergies. Or dust. Or you are just leaking. If you just go in and have fun, I’m sure you’ll feel better.”

Child: (Sucking inhalation of gargling nose noise.)

(Acceptance)

Me: “Well I guess you aren’t going to school tomorrow.”

Child: “Achkrkskhclag!” (Makes noise like a fork going through the food disposal.)

(Depression)

Day 2Monday – Home From School

Child is not the least bit tired. He races from room to room, stopping periodically to cough directly into my face or into the nearest plate of food.*

Speaking of food, have I mentioned that the microwave has been broken for days now? I eat cold left-over stuffed peppers rather than try to reheat them, because battling to get the microwave to function sends child into a fit of hysteria. I am near tears myself.

In an effort to reign him in, force child to clean room. Discover bed frame has actually warped into a vague ‘U’ shape. Child manages to keep room clean for about a minute.

bed frame
Purchased this year at Kidz Bedz–really, what they should be called is Cheap-Azz-Bedz.

While I am cleaning bathroom, child turns stove on, past the ignition point, filling house with gas. Discover window I had ‘fixed’ is actually still broken as now it won’t stay open.

Survive day despite child’s efforts. Find bottle of wine saved in basement for a ‘special occasion’. This day has been extra fucking special.

Day 3—War on the Home Front

I have battened the hatches and am maintaining a hostile truce with the enemy. My child is trying to drive me mad…or kill me. He keeps spreading mucous on everything he touches. Every surface is a burgeoning petri dish of bacterial possibilities.

He spends fifteen to twenty minutes running up and down the stairs like a maniac, giggling and shrieking for all he is worth. I am afraid to go downstairs to find out why he is so happy.

I suspect he is just thrilled to be out of school. His new phrase is ‘stay home’. Any communication is pretty big for a non-verbal child. So, I’m ecstatic to hear him talking, even if he sounds like a congested, thirty-year smoker.

Any time I leave him on his own, trouble ensues. At some point, he eats the small, rubber toggle mouse that came with my laptop computer and the grandfather clock is now missing its pendulum. He is like one of the scary, Weeping Angels from Dr. Who—I don’t dare take my eyes off him.

I certainly feel like weeping...
I certainly feel like weeping…

After he floods the bathroom and then sends water pouring down the stairs by overflowing the kitchen sink, I may have threatened to lock him in his room for the rest of his life.

I call for reinforcements.  Cousins come—bearing Lysol disinfectant and hand sanitizer, they’re not stupid—to help me eat pizza and drown my sorrows in a game of Settlers of Cataan. I feel human for a very short while. But then, they are gone and I am alone with him once more.

Day—Infinity?—Who the F*ck knows?

It feels like eternity since I have had a break. Now the only break I can envision is a total nervous breakdown. I am randomly shrieking at child and alternately trying to make amends for my horrible behavior. He is fairly oblivious to both my good and my not-so-good efforts.**

Despite being sick, he isn’t sleeping much, as a result, I’m exhausted. Everything is getting on my very last, razor-wire thin nerve. Every time he does something—turn off the fridge, steal my keys, pour the bottle of green dish soap into a garbage can in his bedroom for the second time—my patience is becoming dangerously frayed. Even my son starts to pick up on it because when I shove him in his room with a strangled threat to hang him by his toes and beat him like a pinata, he recognizes that maybe, just maybe, mommy isn’t kidding.

That night, I drive us to the nearby store and pick up some well-earned desserts.*** My son picks out the biggest, sprinkle emblazoned cookie and coughs hard enough to etch the glass with his breath. The clerk doesn’t say a word about the diet coke I buy along with my sugary confections—I suspect the desperation in my eyes is beginning to show—either that, or she wants my child out of her space as quickly as possible.

Salted Caramel Chocolate Cupcake--Savor the Sanity.
Salted Caramel Chocolate Cupcake–Savor the Sanity.

*****

Friday dawns beautiful—regardless of weather predictions—because I can finally send him to school. He is still coughing, but no longer shooting phlegm so I am calling it ‘good enough’ and shoving him on the bus. I ignore his requests to “Stay home Friday” and walk back to eat my well-deserved cupcake.

As I go to sink my teeth into its sinful, rich, cake-y goodness…I feel a tickling at the back of my throat…like I might have to cough. I suppress the urge and gobble up my treat.

Denial tastes delicious.

Asterisk Bedazzled Footnotes:

* T-minus three days from transmission and counting.

**Putting him in his room repeatedly was for his own safety, I promise you, not just for my sanity.

***Ignore the fact that half the Halloween candy is already gone; I do.

A Walk With The Grim Reaper

When he comes to call, you might as well invite him in to tea. He's going to stay either way and it pays to be polite. Art courtesy of Tolman Cotton (Francesco Amadio)
When he comes to call, you might as well invite him in to tea. He’s going to stay either way and it pays to be polite. Art courtesy of Tolman Cotton (Francesco Amadio)

There must be a first step after loss—that moment where you get back up and say, “I guess I’m going to work.” Then there are the dishes, the laundry and the garbage to be hauled. The leaves to rake, the window to be fixed, the child to wrangle. Every motion is dragged from your body like an unwilling slug making its way across glass strewn pavement. One gets used to the sound of their tiny, anguished screams.*

I am an automaton clanking through my day with the occasional grace note of pain as thoughts pass by. “I should call him…oh…” “Dad will laugh at this comic strip…” and finally, I slip into past tense as I buy a Bigby’s pomegranate green tea: “Dad would have grumbled at the expense.” Days spent wondering when he would be gone are now chased by the ghost of that moment.

This seems apropos, if slightly in poor taste. Courtesy of gocomics.com/nonsequitur
This seems apropos, if slightly in poor taste.
Courtesy of gocomics.com/nonsequitur

In photos, I can revisit the man I somewhat, but not quite, knew. He would smile upon command, but caught unawares, usually was bowed with thought, twisting a strand of his hair so it stood up, Alfalfa-like, a shrubby cockscomb on the back of his head. The pictures are faded, pink or yellowed, erasing the certainty of who he was and leaving me with an afterimage I stare at and wonder, “Is that really him?” And then I will see a hint of that smile. The ear-to-ear, sh*t-eating grin with his eyes closed in pleasure at his own cleverness. The smile I sometimes wear whenever I feel the same.

I will shake this fugue state, I know. It is a sadly familiar road I travel. I plod the path where death greets me like an old friend. “Oh, it’s you again! Has it really been that long? Where does the time go? Shall we go past the park or down to the river this time?”** As I walk, I am cocooned by sorrow. It is like putting on a heavy cloak that I wear to winter the pain. Eventually, the sun peeks out from behind the clouds and I can take it off, basking in the surprise of warmth half-remembered. For now, I await the thaw.

Carl Krueger - Lover of irreverent humor and his equally irreverent daughter.
Carl Krueger – Lover of irreverent humor and his equally irreverent daughter.

I spent the day after he died digging a ton of rocks out of the wedge of dirt alongside the house. I planted enough bulbs—seasoned with cayenne pepper to deter hungry rodents—to choke a bouquet. When the sun does finally reappear after a winter that is decidedly too long, I will count the daffodils, tulips, and hyacinths and measure my grief in petals.

“He loved me.”

“I loved him too.”

“He loved me.”

“I love him still.”

He Loves Me
Image courtesy of RochelleGriffin.com

ALWAYS

Asterisk Bedazzled Footnote:

*Warning, my metaphors are squishy (like worms after a rain) and make little sense (ditto); it is a common side effect of grief.

**Death is overly chatty and loves to reminisce. The bastard.

My Father—The Zombie

[Update: Carl Krueger, born 07-01-1929, died 10-13-2015]

A Memorial to a Man Who is Not Quite Dead Yet

(Warning: inappropriate humor follows. And tears. But mostly badly expressed grief.)

Writing an obituary is a soul-grinding task. Trying to boil a person down to facts and enumerate their import after they are gone is doomed from the start. It is impossible to purely reflect an image—even with the most highly polished mirror. Call it the Hubble effect, if you will. You can use all the technological expertise teams of scientists can provide to accurately reflect the way the universe looks, but a measuring error will leave you with a fuzzy, indistinct picture.  Keep this in mind when you read about my father—the reflection comes from an inexact mirror. It turns out, writing this while he is still living isn’t any easier.

Born to Adolf (Chi) Krueger and Laura G. (which stands for nothing or Geraldine--depending on who you believe) Draper (VanDenBosch--which is another long story and involves divorce, abandonment issues and adoption). My father was born July 1, 1929. It was the end of the depression, but cameras were scarce. Enjoy what little I have of him from that era.
My father was born July 1, 1929 to Adolf (Chi) Krueger and Laura G. (which stands for nothing or Geraldine–depending on who you believe) Draper (VandenBosch–which is another long story and involves divorce, abandonment issues, and adoption). In this photo, my Dad would be about 10 years old. Pictured: Chi, Carl, Baby Hale, and Laura Krueger.  The dog is not mentioned.

In our phone conversations from his deathbed in a hospice house out of state, I have come to realize my father is already leaving me. He tires past the first two sentences. There are long pauses and moments of silence where I am unsure whether he has fallen asleep or died mid-sentence. It is funny, in a macabre sort of way, to find oneself saying, “Dad? Did you die on me?” And then wait for a reply. When it comes, haggard and incoherent, I am overcome by a mishmash of emotions: relief that he is still here and anguish that he is already gone.

Devilish Good Looks Run in the Family.
Devilish Good Looks Run in the Family. [Froebel Elementary – 6th Grade 1941
I’ve been trying to make the most of our final conversations—to ask the big questions. “What do you want the world to know before you are gone?” Unfortunately, I should have been asking these questions before he started slipping away. And that is the painful reality of the nearly-dead. They are on their way out and what mattered to them while they were alive no longer holds significance. Today’s conversation, for example, primarily revolved around the passage of a blue bird past his window. (Apparently they are not just birds of happiness—they arrive at all kinds of emotional crossroads.)

Me:    “Dad, I wanted to know, what is the most important thing you learned in life?”

Dad: “A blue bird just flew past, from left to right outside the window.”

Me: “Oh, well, winter is coming. Maybe it is flying south for the winter?” And then I catch myself, “but, Blue Jays stay up North for the winter. So the birds down south must be different?”

Dad: [Garbled, indistinct speech including the word ‘bird’ at random spots.]

The conversation, when it is clear, drifts from how he is feeling, to whether or not he is in pain. There is a bizarre moment when a doctor comes in and dad mistakes him for the pastor. It is a surreal thing to overhear. My dad finds energy to exchange a few words. For a moment, I recognize the man I used to know. But then, he misses the joke the doctor makes about hunting up his bible for the next time he visits. The doctor is kind when he explains he was kidding—but dad has lost the train of thought and drifts away from what he was saying.

Our conversation ends shortly after this moment—talking wears him out.

Dad: “I’m feeling tired. I think I’ll say goodbye now.”

Me: “That’s okay, Dad. You rest. I love you.”

Dad: “I love you too sweetheart. You know, you are my favorite daughter.”

It’s a glimmer of our past, this old joke. (I am his only daughter.) I hang up, crying. I know one of these times is going to be the last. And all we can manage is small talk.

But that is how people talk in real life. We don’t bring up the weighty conversations about the meaning of life and what was our greatest achievement. We talk about birds and the price of gas or some other commonplace topic. It is only when we realize we are running out of time that it occurs to us there are questions left unanswered. But, by then, it is often too late.

If what we keep reflects who we are--my father valued education and his service to his country. Above - Froebel Elementary School (May 1941), Muskegon High School Diploma (June 1947), Army Private Krueger with JAG Staff (July 24, 1954). (My dad was 24 when he was drafted and immediately pulled from being shipped to serve overseas by someone from the Judge Advocate General's office who noted he had graduated from law school.)
If what we keep reflects who we are–my father valued education and his service to his country. Above – Froebel Elementary School (May 1941), Muskegon High School Diploma (June 1947), Muskegon Junior College Diploma (1949),  Army Private Krueger with JAG Staff (July 24, 1954).

I am putting together a photo logue to help me compile his life legacy.* I am posting the few that spoke to me here. This will be my memorial to my Dad. It is my way of coping with losing him before he is really gone and acknowledging that knowing him isn’t a collection of facts and dates, but recognizing his spirit whenever I trip over something that reminds me of who he was to me.

Still loved me, despite the hair cut I gave him. Aug. 2015.
Still loved me, despite the hair cut I gave him. Aug. 2015.

My father requests that we not hold a funeral for him or even to publish an obituary; he failed, however, to stipulate that parody songs not be written. This is an astonishing oversight on his part and, as a former lawyer, he should be ashamed of his lack of vision. Please enjoy my tribute to a man who taught me everything I know about being cheap and that what really matters can’t be bought for any price. This is his anthem, his fight song, if you will—feel free to sing along:

The Parsimony Power – The Ballad of Carl Krueger

(To the tune of The Wildwood Flower)

Oh I’ll shop and I’ll hunt to find a good bargain

But buying Hallmark Cards is a waste and a pain.**

I’ll squeeze a thin dime ‘til my own fingers ache.

There’s nothing that can’t be fixed with enough duct tape.

*

I will dance, I will sing, I will drink Stewball’s wine.

With vast quaffs of Squirt, wine highballs are fine.

I will ask you to find a particular song for me

But I will give you no lyrics, composer’s name, or symphony.

*

Oh, I’ve taught the importance of turning off lights

Of searching the ads to find prices just right.

If you buy me bananas, I’ll bake muffins galore

Just make sure you get them at the second-hand store.

*

I’m a man of my word—and words I have plenty.

For each word of yours, you know I’ve  got twenty.

I can argue convictions all the day long—

A palavering opera—a most contentious song.

*

So maybe you’ll miss me, and maybe you won’t.

I’ll not have a funeral, nor monument of stone.

Just scatter my ashes along the creek where I roamed.

For the woods are my temple, my refuge, my home.

Good-bye, Daddy. I love you.

Asterisk Bedazzled Macabre Footnotes:

*Obituary is such a bleak word—when I die please refer to it as “Her Glorious Death Rattle—At Last, She Gets the Final Say.”

**My father took great pleasure in being outraged at the cost of greeting cards. I would send them as a joke to him, goading him into exaggerated offense. Feel free to send them when he dies. He’d be both mortified by the expense and secretly thrill to feel superior to you in every way. In return, I will use duct tape to stick them up In Memorium.

________________________________________________________________