02 November 2017

The One That Got Away

I tried to void this from memory, but it continues to permeate into all of my thoughts when I sit down to write college papers. So, I’ve decided that I’m okay with it and that getting it off my chest is worth the time to get out the story, even though it gets me no college credit.

It was 11 am on a Sunday. The middle of fall. I was home with my four daughters, ages 1, 3, 3, and 5. The sickness started the night before but really intensified once everyone woke up and tried to eat. It was vile. Think of the grossest thing you’ve ever saw a child vomit and then multiply it in volume and grossness by four. One of the few downsides of having a big family is when one kid gets sick….all kids will get sick! I had it under control until I too started to lose my stomach. All five of us have fevers, vomits and lethargy. To this day I still don’t remember a time that we’ve all been sicker. I worry more about the baby than I do myself. Aubree is only one. I don’t dare let her go without keeping food down for long. How will I get everyone out to the doctors? I got to the point where I was throwing towels down wherever the new barf pile landed just to keep track. Then, I ran out of towels. Sheets. I started using bed sheets to contain the gross.
By 1 pm I caved and attempted to call my husband (now ex-husband). I never ask for it but today, I needed help. He left early on his day off and headed to his best friend’s house in the neighboring town. After three separate calls he finally picked up. I explained what the situation was back at home. Angrily, he responded with how I always try to ruin his friend time. I know when it’s Kyle’s time for them to do things and I purposely force him to come home or come up with something else that needs his attention. Why am I not capable of caring for my children?
 “Kyle’s the lucky one and doesn’t have a bitch-ass, nagging wife calling him all the time.”
He hung up on me after telling me, “…you’re their mother. Figure it out.” He didn’t call back. He didn’t come home. I put in calls to my mother and my younger sister. (Which I also never did) But no-one wants to get whatever it is we have. We survive the day on water and Tylenol. I get everyone to bed with whatever blankets aren’t compromised with yuck. I’ve never been so physically or mentally in pain. He comes back with the night at 9pm. I’ve never despised anyone more. I cook, clean, work, pay bills, take care of pets, take care of kids, take out the garbage, make everyone’s appointments, take care of vehicle and house maintenance. It wasn’t the fact that I wanted help. It was that I NEEDED it. And it never came.
Now if this was one circumstance there wouldn’t be much purpose to me complaining about it would there…

With hunting season came more rules and guidelines. I can’t make plans for him during hunting, ice fishing or normal fishing season. Anything that interrupts those 3 things will not happen. Whatever money is in the bank goes to guns, ammo, lures, tree stands, camo, deer pee, more camo. If I don’t give the cash, it goes on a credit card. He will go to work. He will hunt. “Don’t call, don’t text, if you scare a deer away because you’re calling me over something stupid I’m not going to be happy.” He spends most of his time at his parents or with his friends. When I call there to find him or see if he’s even alive when it’s dark out they’ll tell me how lucky I am that he doesn’t have bad habits like drugs and drinking. Hunting is an acceptable addiction. Making me question how he spends his time makes me a bad spouse.
I think it’s important to tell you, so maybe you can tell your other half (male or female) if you think their “hobby time” has become more of an issue than you can openly admit. I know there must be more of you out there, but I don’t think anyone speaks up. Of course it’s totally acceptable in rural upstate to abandon all other responsibilities when a white tail goes by. No-one wants to be “that wife/girlfriend”. When the divorce finally came it was beyond time and necessary. My closest confidants had said it for years. No-one on my side of the family had the right idea though because I spent most of my time covering for him. “Sorry he can’t be here. He’s working late.” Lie after lie to cover up the life and relationship I never really had. People asked how I did it in the beginning with just myself and four kids. It was no big feat when you’ve been pulling all the weight all along. He can show you pictures of record bass and nice size bucks. But how few pictures he has with anyone else in it with him. He kept his gun and fishing gear in his truck. Never car-seats. The littlest daughter has her birthday in the middle of rut. He took the evening off and said it was for her…..after seeing her he went back to the woods with his night off. Maybe I would understand it if every week when I got done work I ran to the mall and did what I wanted until they closed. And then continued to do that for months. But I don’t do anything that often. Besides maybe the gym now, and even then, it’s only an hour and typically not alone.
My point is – if you have a family then enjoy your family. You can’t be a father/mother, husband/wife, if you never show up to be. There was so much more wrong than this but when I see multiple friends on social media going through the same struggle I used to be in it sickens me to not speak up and tell you that I’ve been there and that it sucked. I would hate to offend someone unintentionally. Also, in my case, it never got better. I’m not saying to go “grab the ole’ ball and chain” or however that crap sexist saying goes, because everyone deserves their alone time. Just make sure it’s reasonable. If you can’t remember the last time you ate dinner with your wife or read the kids a bedtime story maybe, it’s time to go home and let that one deer, turkey, fish, get away. With prioritizing poorly, you’ll end up being the partner living the single life again. And if you ask the majority of people that are living the life with no significant other and no kids, they would tell you that they’d choose having someone to spend their time with over spending it any other way…..
The man running out of his home daily has no idea the things he’s leaving behind.
You’re teaching them how to live without you.

25 April 2017

Laying Love Down in the Driveway

"What weird people.", I said as I slammed on my brakes. This crazy old man and woman were veering in and out of their driveway on bicycles. I waited, somewhat annoyed, for them to complete the action and be roadside but no such luck. Even with the multiple chances I had given, they stayed glued to their paved driveway. I was about 5 miles from being done with my work day. I didn't have time for this nonsense.
 I was on my favorite mail route, about five years ago that I first met Mr. & Mrs. P. Before I came to know who they were they seemed awful strange from the outside, and trust me, I shouldn't even judge! My first run in with them was brash and quick. The second time I ended up there was for a bit longer....
   My old blue mail jeep strikes many peoples interest. With her steering wheel on the opposite side and odometer tipping 250,000 miles she's of novel curiosity. Mr. P caught me one day while stuffing bicycles are us magazines in his mailbox. I wasn't fast enough to get away without the introductory conversation that becomes necessary when a mail customer flags you down. It's never easy to be a speed demon, like headquarters desires and to be your neighborhood Mr. Rogers like your customers deserve. I accepted defeat and put on my best "I love new people" face. I could tell by the bicycle incident that this guy was going to be a weird one.
      Mr. P was in his 80's and nothing like the conclusions I had jumped to. He and Mrs. P moved here to be alone in their latter years. Which was going fairly well until I came along. For being in a town where there are more bovines than people they lived a fairly secretive lifestyle. Besides their daily bike charades!
 Mrs. P was his true love and that was about all I knew of her. He was a coastguard, a mathematician, a mad scientist and a mechanic. He talked of philosophical beliefs and scolded me on my cold views of humanity.
"There's good people and there's bad people Sam. Don't ever let the bad guys win.", he'd say.
Instead of using my lead foot, I began to slow down in hopes that Mr. P would be outside to entertain me with a new story of living and learning. My young brain enjoyed the tales of travels these two had made since the 1950's.
The only thing that became apparent...besides how wrong I was to judge this couple by first impression, was how much he loved Mrs. P. I had actually wondered if maybe he was in the beginning stages of dementia with all his repetitive elaboration on how wonderful his wife is. I swear her rosy cheeks were some form of permanent blushing caused by sharing a life with this man.
She was a woman of few words and many smiles. Mr. P would visit with me whenever I could make an appearance. Some days though they'd both kindly wave me by. If they were both on their bikes and riding in their weird ritualistic circle in the driveway they were not to be disturbed. Not that I ever understood this, I always respected it. I also began to pull a little farther away from their mailbox so not to scare Mrs. P into thinking I was about to put her under my jeep tire.
 A couple years had passed. Old Blue and I were still delivering together but this day was a bit different. I'd been overheating for about an hour now. I knew my time before complete disaster was limited but I was down to my last 5 miles! Sure enough my radiator blew it's top at Mr. P's. No one was riding bike in the driveway today, which seemed strange because it was beautiful out. To my relief Mr. P came out to their garage when I rang the door bell. I noticed his bike in the garage on the ground. Mrs. P's was hung up in the rafters. For safer keeping I imagined.
Sure enough I was right. Paul confirmed it. For the time being though, he said I could take whatever stopleak brand radiator crap he had along with however many gallons of water I could fit into the back of Old Blue. Everything combined should be enough to get me up and down my last hill and back to the post office. Success! That's all I could ask for. While we were filling jugs from the garden hose that's when he told me. Mrs. P had died. It was so unexpected that I managed to maintain my composure and focus on the tasks at hand while he told me what happened.
     I blanked out bits and pieces though....it was much easier on the heart to focus on the water jugs. She had gotten sick since my last visit and I hadn't been back to deliver mail there in so long that I never even knew. Immense guilt washed over me. Not that we bonded much, but I loved Shirley indirectly because of how much Paul loved Shirley. I needed a sidelining topic. This was a conflicting time for me...I told Paul of my beginning stages into the abyss that is divorce. I currently despised life and any type of "investment" into another human being. What a waste. I waited for his disapproval. Without a tear in his eye or a frog in his throat he said,
 "There is no divorce in love. There's not a thought or action towards it. You cannot come close to dissolving someone that is your entire existence. You don't know what I speak of Sam because you obviously didn't have it, but do what you need to do and get it done because that is not the kind of love you live your life for. No ma'am. It's unfortunate that you didn't know this sooner and that children have been brought into it but thank your stars for the chance to get it right because if you get it right you will find someone that would literally die for you if they had to. I always thought that I'd go before Shirley. I had everything set up for her so that even though she'd have to carry on without me she could do so without any worry about who was going to take care of her or that she wouldn't have the means to get by. I took care of EVERYTHING to make sure she would be okay when the last thing I'd ever want to do is leave her and now in some sick joke life has taken her from me.
Do you know why we rode the bicycles Sam?? We'd ride here in the driveway because our plan of traveling the country after my retirement was halted by the risks of Shirley's declining condition. She'd always say we could go but it was never worth her health. So instead of biking the big roads we circled the driveway. We may not have seen all the sights the world had to offer but just seeing Shirley's bike wheel right behind mine was enough for me. She was enough for me. The world can have all of it's glory. The best time of my life was the love we laid down in this driveway. I am not a simple man Sam, but I can tell you I have found beauty in the simplest of things. Do not have sympathy for me for I know what true love is. I will hope that it finds you someday. Only then will you understand what it is."

We put 5 gallons of water in the back of my jeep. The stopleak in the radiator seemed to be holding. I tried to pay Paul $20 for all of his help and supplies....he wouldn't take a penny. He shook my hand and told me it was a delight as always, even in the darkness of both our situations.

I cried softly the remainder of my mail route. I actually didn't even realize it until I saw the dampening dots on the front of the farm magazine I was holding. Oddly enough I didn't know if the tears were for me, Shirley, Paul or something completely unrelated. I just know the realness of what I just drove out of shook me. I would never see Mr. P again.

He died shortly after I saw him. It was November of 2014. He plugged the exhaust to his car and let it run inside the garage with all the doors closed. He was an intelligent man and I imagine he made it as painless as possible. He had hung his bicycle up with Shirley's.
People called it an "unexpected suicide".
There was a request for no donations, no service. No goodbyes. Paul didn't believe that he was going to a pearly gate to be united with his long lost love in heaven but a world without Shirley in it was not a world he wanted to live in. Although any chance at seeing her again, through any means possible was worth whatever sin was in his way. Death was not going to stop him from trying. There is no divorce in real love and there's no way to dissolve it. There was more love in that driveway than there had ever been in my heart in 23 years. I did not cry for Paul the way I did for Shirley. I'd been holding on to this story for a couple years now. Maybe it's taken me that long to actually appreciate the depths of it. But when I passed their driveway today on the mail route my heart "pinged" and I realized  how much their example meant to me and that just maybe you needed to hear it because it could mean something to you too. This really happened and the people are real. The love even more so...

25 March 2017

Wrecking Children and Mom-belts

              I'm eight years old. My mother put me into black stockings because "Samantha you need to cover up those bruised legs! People will think I beat you!"
She didn't.
     Honestly though, I'd rather show them the bruises than sport these things ever again. I haven't felt my belly button in three hours. My little sister Liz is riding in the back seat with me, along with Abby, the neighbor girl and her grandparents. They let us use their big astrovan just so we all could go! Everyone came out for me. It was the night of the local elementary chorus concert and being the eldest, it was my honor to have the first concert ever for anyone to attend. Thus, making it a grand event.
       Velvet from my holiday dress rubs on the bottom of my palms. It tickles. A weird satisfying tickle. Being new to this winter holiday custom I thought my outfit to be unique and special. Little did I know, every young girl had been stuck in one of these monstrosities at some point in their adolescence. Of course the bottom is plagued by assorted snowflakes...or are they swirls?

"Don't peel off the glittery shit!"
My mother was always full of unconventional wisdom.
I stop picking at it.

   We're only about five minutes from home when the car veers head on into our van. My step dad had tried everything he could with only seconds to react to the oncoming vehicles behavior. I saw my mom turn out of her seat with the speed of a superhero. Liz is only four years old and in the 90's, car seats weren't given the levels of importance they so desperately deserved. I gazed out my window to try and understand the commotion. My curiosity was answered when my brow bone rapped off the glass. My mother had made a security sacrifice to get to my little sister. She torques both of her arms. One more so, due to the metal plate that was placed in it years ago from a bicycle collision on a steel deck bridge. For the first time in my childhood I recognize my first feelings of empathy for all the passengers in our van. When the ambulance arrived my mom had to sign a paper just to keep me from being taken to the hospital. With how I acted they were worried I had more serious injuries than just the bleeding scrapes, swelled brow and expected bruises. Everyone fared about the same.

 Between us though, I was broken. Deep inside me a part of my childhood gave way to reality. In an unforeseen event I could've lost my entire family and our friends without a moment's notice. I sobbed to see real fear in my sister's eyes and panic on the faces of all these people I cared about. I'd never seen my mother react so seriously.

I couldn't stop it.
Hell, I couldn't even see it coming.

            Within the following weeks I will learn that it was a middle aged couple from Maryland that struck us. There was no insurance on their vehicle and neither of them would tell who was actually driving. They weren't drunk. They were hammered. By the time police had shown up the car unhinged from us and maneuvered itself into the nearest telephone pole. It would come to rest there while they hastily threw beer cans out the windows and climbed into the back seats to await their impending persecution.
    The medics say my little sister's soft skull wouldn't have been able to take the blow on the window like my thick head did. The sacrificial seat belt my mother had made was in fact, necessary. Abby was between us....being BOTH of our friend, and right between both of our ages it was only natural that she also have the middle seat. She is also slightly bruised and scared, but unharmed. Everyone was wearing their seat belt. Abby's grandparents will never buy a van again. They begin purchasing SUV's....they will say it's for the look. To this day I think it's because they feel safer driving anything that resembles the strength of a tank. We'll never ride to a concert together again.
Coincidence? Most likely, but to eight year old Sam it was because of what happened this night.

Jump with me to present day:

I am a rural mail carrier for the United States Postal Service. I've done this for five years and enjoy it greatly. I spend much of my time alone on the back roads of my home towns. Along side the many positives of my career rides a few negatives though. With all of the miles I travel, you wouldn't believe half of the things I see. Today was another one of those days.

       It was a great morning in the office. I'm now out on the road and making great time. The ice plated mailboxes warn me to take it slowly. I've got a much stronger distaste for ice or sleet than any amount of snow. Ice is much deadlier, much faster.
   Traffic starts to block on one of my main roads. I accept the situation as a necessary delay. My jeep's mail signs allow me to wait off to the side to wait out the clean up of a wreck so that I can continue on with my appointed route after. Fairly common situation. Any detour will just cost me more time and more miles. I can't help but wonder if everyone's okay, and if ice was in fact the main culprit, not typical human error. Air bags are visible and both cars need to be towed. Crushed metal and fiber glass pepper the way. I make a mental note to avoid those spots because today would be a nasty one to have to change a flat. An ambulance leaves with it's lights on in the direction of the closest hospital.
 I can be patient because life has made me immensely empathetic. I'd much rather be here, in this delay, than in that ambulance. It is after these thoughts that I notice you coming. It's not hard to spot speed when everything else is idle. A tractor trailer has already began slowing down because he sits high enough to see what you cannot. Your little blue honda is nothing compared to what awaits you around the icy blocked bend. I watch, skeptical, as you try to pass the tractor trailer. You're young and transporting very special cargo. You have no idea that anything is going on and are totally unaware of all the warning signs around you. There's a toddler leaning in between the two front seats to get your attention. I see a phone in your right hand and the carrying arm and canopy of a baby car seat popping up behind you. You appear to be yelling. Whether it's at the phone or the little girl, I cannot differentiate. I lay on the horn to get your attention. Feeling somewhat guilty for the scare it must've given the accident crew and other vehicles, I am satisfied with my action when you hit your brakes and drop your phone. The man in the big rig makes a motion as if he was wiping sweat from his brow and gives me a wave. It was as if time slowed, and now I'm seeing from the eyes of an adult mother instead of a child. An accident within an accident would be seemingly careless.

Somebody would've missed you all.
You never would've been able to embrace your babies in a security grasp to save them.
You'd never get to make up that argument you were having.
I wish so badly to talk to you. You're holding your hand over your heart, obviously startled.
Life did not care that there were 3 children in our van.
Life does not care that your babies are in that car.
And if life's not going to care about your babies, you have to!
We are each other's safety belts.

The accident clears. You drive away. I finish delivering my route.
Life doesn't care that we were there today, but I do.


09 February 2017

Infant's Acetaminophen Dosages

Acetaminophen is one of the hardest drugs to give correctly, because it's sold in many forms. This chart can help you give your child the right amount. I know through having four babies of my own that with each new baby it seemed there was always a change. Whether it be from belly sleeping to back sleeping or dosing by age to dosing by weight....here's the up and up on Tylenol dosing for now!

Acetaminophen safety tips

  • The correct dose for your child is based on weight, not age. If you don't know how much your child weighs and he's too young to stand on a scale, weigh yourself while holding him and then weigh yourself alone. Subtract your weight from the combined weight to get your child's weight.
  • Don't give acetaminophen to a baby under 3 months without a doctor’s approval.
  • Shake liquid medicine well before measuring.
  • Use the measuring device that comes with the medicine and do not give more than recommended. If you lose the device, get a replacement from the pharmacy or use a standard measuring teaspoon (the kind used for baking), not a regular spoon used for eating.
  • Never give acetaminophen to a child who's taking other medicine that contains acetaminophen unless a doctor advises it.
  • Infants' and children's liquid acetaminophen (both labeled "oral suspension") have the same concentration: 160 mg per 5 ml. The only difference is that the infant version comes with a syringe and the children's version comes with a cup. 
    (Note: A more concentrated version of infant acetaminophen "drops" was discontinued in the United States in 2011 and should be discarded if it’s still in your home. Concentrated infant drops may still be sold in other countries.)
  • You can repeat the dose every four hours. Don't give more than five doses in 24 hours.

23 January 2017

Huntington's Disease: A Lesson in Love

        Awhile ago I shared with you my family's genetic vulnerability to Huntington's disease. If you missed it, Huntington's disease is an incurable, hereditary brain disorder. There is no (currently) 'effective' treatment or cure. Nerve cells become damaged, causing various parts of the brain to deteriorate. The disease affects movement, behavior and cognition - the affected individuals' abilities to walk, think, reason and talk are gradually eroded to such a point that they eventually become entirely reliant on other people for their care. Huntington's disease has a major emotional, mental, social and economic impact on the lives of patients, as well as their families. It is an atrocious sickness that no human being deserves. I want to share a positive story with you, but you should also see how powerful the disease is.  Below is another family's story to give you an idea. 


 Huntington's disease (known as HD to those familiar with it) affects both men and women equally and more commonly appears during middle-age. The Huntington's Society of America says 1 in every 10,000 Americans has the disease - that's 30,000 people nationwide. It is estimated that at least 150,000 other Americans have a 50% risk of developing HD, while thousands of their relatives carry a degree of risk too. The "at risk" category is where I fall. 

(Uncle Jimmy Center, surrounded by his siblings)
 This month my Uncle turned 55. He has HD. A celebration was planned by his sister just for him on his special day.  Family members from 4 generations attended. His aunts and uncles all the way down to his great nephew were in attendance. Everything was perfection, joint laughter filled the air. Cake was gulped down, balloons were everywhere. Smiles were contagious. 
     Silents thoughts stop me momentarily. I catch myself wondering if these memories will remain this way for years to come or if they will turn into painful reminders of what used to be. How we all used to be. But that's the kicker isn't it? Love is such a powerful thing. It brings with it happiness, security and peace. But, when the things we love are lost, we tend to feel the opposite. Pleasant memories become laden with jabs of pain. I realized then that maybe that's why love is ours to give. In a family where a disease can obtain more control than yourself, we learn to value the power over the things we could undoubtedly keep just for us. This is what makes our love strong. We can't take one family member's diagnosis and carry the burden for them. We can't stop the decline when it starts. We can't walk for them when they have lost the ability to. We can't force them to remember our name. The game changer is that we CAN love them. We can always love them.  It's a shoulder to lean on. It's days spent on a party that will only last hours. It's the perfect cozy sweater in the perfect wrapping paper. It's the homemade card covered in crayon. It's in an opened car door and a phone call to make sure you made it home. I didn't know all the people at the party but when I looked out all I could see was acts of love. I felt fuzzy and warm. I could tell Uncle Jimmy felt it too! This is huge. I wonder how we overlook these things every day.
(Uncle Jim & I)
               Maybe you can't always hear it but those cookies your grandma made you, the flat tire your dad changed, the impromptu visit from your sister, the rock your son just gave you......all very big acts of love. So even on the days when you feel like you have nothing to offer the world, always try to complete at least ONE selfless task a day. Don't wait for something negative to happen to realize you wish you could do more. Call your grandparents, hug your children twice - just because, hold that door for a stranger, let your sister borrow your car...or maybe even those jeans she really likes that you refuse to share. Bring your co-workers donuts on a rough day. Help the neighbor shovel snow off their steps. Smile at a stranger. 
      We can't control everything and we never will, but if we're here together anyways why not make it easier for each other when we get the chance. You'll never know how much it means to the person you do it for, or how greatly it will touch the people watching you.