An old family friend (actually she’s more of Mom’s friend but that’s a whole other story) is kind of estranged from what’s left of her family (that’s a big part of the story) and because of that and other things in her past that were beyond her control doesn’t seem to have many friends or even a decent boyfriend. One family member she does have and could/wants to visit runs an Airbnb called Happy’s Bus Stop in Kanab, Utah (UT).
If I decided to accompany this person to that place, I have already suggested to my only remaining high school friend who now lives in Tucson, Arizona (AZ), that we could also visit her oldest daughter in nearby (to Happy’s) Northern AZ. This daughter teaches school on the Native/Indian reservation that is close to where she lives in Page, AZ.
I have been in the Kanab area before. It is just over an hour away from St. George, UT. St. George is the first city over the state line between Nevada (NV) and UT heading north on Interstate Highway 15 (I-15). I have made the 28-hour round trip between Los Angeles and Malad, Idaho (ID), more times than I would care to count. Malad is where my in-laws lived and we made at least one annual trek up there when the kids were growing up and we were still living in Southern California (CA).
The closest I ever got to Kanab, though, was on one of the few very enjoyable side trips we took when Malad was the family’s final destination. This was during the first year after we’d moved to Nashville when we rented a family van and drove there from the Southeast instead of the usual Southwest point of origin. By that time, when the kids were in their teens, they were so tired of visiting national parks (Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks were two side trips we’d made more than once when “visiting Grandma in the desert”) that after driving through Zion National Park (between St George and Kanab), they protested that they were beginning to think all national parks looked the same!
On that once-in-a-lifetime family vacation, though, the idiot (my ex husband) got the biggest kick out of fishing for trout with our two girls on semi-frozen Panguitch Lake. Neither he nor I had heard of this place till I found it as one of the stopover points that offered places to stay in the middle of winter! Since Daughter #2 is more like her dad, we’d expected she’d take to fishing with as much gusto as he did. Maybe we shouldn’t have been surprised that Daughter #1 was the one with the patience required to actually catch a fish. In hindsight, this early father-daughter bonding with #1 may have been the initiating event of her rise in his eyes and affections.
Given that I-15 runs through Las Vegas, I have been there many, many times – before, during and after marriage and motherhood. It is also a pretty central point on this potential upcoming road trip with interim end points of Tucson and possibly even as far north as Gunnison, UT, the ancestral home of my high school friend. I heard so much about it during those years that if I get that close to it again, especially with my friend and her family’s fond memories and enduring presence there, I must finally make that pilgrimage!
I started my holiday letter in 2020 the same way with this thought and went on to say “I don’t know about you, but I don’t think my life or really life in general will approach any kind of normalcy until 2022.” I guess I was right! I wish I was in a position to have even a really clear idea of “what I might do in ‘22”, but who does?
This is REALLY how my new life started in 2021
The year started as it had ended, and indeed as most of 2020 had progressed, if you could call it that. I got Mom through all her doctor’s appointments, tried to get her to eat what she should when she should vs. her normal preferences and habits, and did what I could to keep her spirits and her body up and moving. We both knew her mind was going and, though she tried as best she could, in the end (though more accurately in early June when she took her final fall), there was little I could do to restore that or to ameliorate the decline in her physical capabilities which had never been a big priority of hers before anyway.
Meanwhile I had to keep plowing through the increasingly difficult and nit-picky details of my divorce. When the ex abruptly filed in June of 2020, he went to a pay-as-you-go type of lawyer with the expectation that I would go easily, as his previous two wives had done. He should have known better after thirty years of marriage to a woman he’d always acknowledged was smarter than him! I took me a while last year (as he pushed me) to get a lawyer (the stupid idiot didn’t expect me to). I got a smart lady lawyer who worked on a flat fee retainer and protected my interests throughout, even beyond things I’d already considered.
The lawyer-to-lawyer contact started last year when mine totally rejected the agreement his lawyer had submitted. He kept harassing me to “get it done” while at the same time continuing to bring up issues that were either nonexistent or in which his proposals were inequitable. By June I had reached the point where I refused to respond to his direct communications to me and forwarded them to my lawyer instead. He’d previously jumped on me when I’d asked Daughter #1 to help him pack my stuff to be moved out here (after I wouldn’t let him put it in the attic) but ironically, in her unwanted status as go-between, Mini-me finally got him to back off his unreasonable stance on at least one issue by telling him what I was going through with Mom and that it was not fair to expect me to have to deal with his shenanigans on top of that.
I guess I could be amazed now that I got through all that stuff that seemed to follow so quickly upon each other in probably no more than 90 days, approximately end of March through end of June. I had to persevere as Mom’s caretaker, which would be an ongoing battle as long as she still had the mental wherewithal to try to carry on being who she always was, while the ex continued to careen out of control at least as far as I was concerned. I really didn’t want him to know how bad off Mom was, and I still don’t. It’s none of his business, especially since his last visit to her home was all the way back in 2014, though he continued to say how much he loved her. That was most likely just another lie he’d been telling all of us, including himself, for many years.
I got through a challenging summer as I came to realize and accept my new (again) status. I guess I knew, deep down, that I would just have to keep stepping a little further down the land-mined road toward embracing, with as little drama as I could, that I would be starting to live again as an independent single woman in the (sub)urban metropolitan Los Angeles jungle. At the same time, I knew that Covid and other lingering responsibilities would limit my options in pursuit of more social outlets. Thank goodness that by fall, when Mom was well-settled and I had figured out how I would deal with the fact that she has lasted this long, many of the things I wanted to try were once again somewhat available.
I was free and fortunate to begin venturing out in the fall. First I took a “baby step” of a trip down south as far as Escondido. Then I took a longer trip to visit my BFF and “extended family” in Oregon. Both of her kids are getting married in the first half of 2022, so I already have two planned trips up there plus a bridal shower/bachelorette party/cleanup for the first wedding trip on the books next week.
The longest and best trip was my triumphant solo return to Michigan where I finally got to meet in person my newest grandcat, Maple. This trip was also a sort of “scouting expedition” of the area so I could see if it had any potential to become my permanent home when, someday down the road, Mom will be physically gone from this earth. In the short week before Thanksgiving that I spent there, I got to familiarize myself with the area and its amenities, on top of looking into my normal pursuits that should be available again post-Covid. Other than the cold, which all my loved ones and their loved ones tried to convince me should not be an impediment, I found a lot to like up there, besides them!
Since Omicron entered the picture, I have been doing even more reading as my “need/want to read” book list keeps growing. Like many others before me, I have lately joined the “binge-watchers club” (such a thing exists, right?) where I at last got to watch some old series that on my mentally compiled to be watched list. Last but not least, after many “false” starts, I think I may have finally begun to develop my long-desired writing habit.
This year, partially due to Covid-uncertainty and partially due to my uncertainty, I have spent most days in the house. A more or less standard day for me starts by browsing the web and email then moves to one or two of a few easy reader spots in different rooms before circling back to my laptop for a couple of hours of writing and always ends in front of a TV screen. On my “wilder” days I may add just an infinitesimal amount of “retail therapy” which these days is almost exclusively limited to grocery stores. Occasionally I’ll add in a stop or two at a discount or big box store.
I also do a few “shoulds” like laundry and cleaning. The “should” that is getting harder for me to do is to go visit Mom. The caregivers keep her clean and clipped and fed. She can’t get out of bed so of course her body has pretty well shriveled up. I’m OK with that part but I just can’t deal with the fact that it is impossible for me to interact with her. I had cut back my visits from twice to once per week but now, since she doesn’t know it’s me who’s there, I can’t see any reason to go any more than monthly to pay her bill and talk to her caregivers. More often wouldn’t do much good for her and would not be good for me!
My New Life (In Old Books) or Is It My Old Life in New Books?
I can hardly believe that I am now nearly three years into my second retirement. Finally, after all that time, close to eight years in total, I feel ready, comfortable secure enough to do what I imagine many other people do at this time of year: look back at where I’ve been and what I’ve accomplished and also try to look ahead to what might enhance the value of this time, its quality and purpose, along with, best case, its joy and happiness or, at minimum, its feeling of satisfaction.
One of my more annoying and detrimental personal habits, which I have lately come to recognize in my early senior citizenship, is that I have often been a slow learner, perhaps more correctly, a late bloomer. Maybe that’s a trait that comes from being a true Taurean. As an old fart, looking back now, I might have advised my younger self to set goals, to have dreams and aspirations, or to at least have some type of design or plan for my life. Alas, over most of the prior half century, I have been more often driven by the philosophy of the late, great John Lennon, who advised us all, just before his own untimely death, that “Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.” Here and now though, with the luxury of having a lot of free time on my hands, I can start applying my hard-earned and slow in coming self-knowledge to a new and probably more achievable design for the remainder of my life.
Unpublished Draft Post written in 2017 or 2018
I wrote all of that way back in 2017 or 2018. Back then much of what I was reading and trying to implement for myself, my life and my future had to do with goal-setting and plans and efforts of that ilk. Given the turn of events in my life in general and in the world in particular it’s clear that anybody who thinks they can live their life on that basis is at least pretty delusional and possibly even insane! About (Created May 2021, Updated September 2021)
When I started this new blog, which apparently and coincidentally seems to have really happened at the beginning of the year, I said on the very first post
While that is still true, I guess I could also add that, given the thoughts I started this post with, besides teaching my daughters all about me I may also need to teach me about me through my blogs more than through a memoir alone. I want to belabor both these points at this time and in this post.
First, the bit about the past informing the present for both them and me. Much as I have tried not to rehash my marriage and my divorce and everything that went before each of those events, I can honestly say (and my daughters and my friends will attest to this sad fact) that I have not been able to stop myself from doing that over the past year. It is my hope, though, that whatever I have to say about that here will, best case, be the last time it is a subject of any posts this year or the main subject of my thoughts and feelings at any time going forward.
Again, looking back over the past couple of years and, yes, even farther back than that and indeed even wider than that in the present, I can see that I am not the first or only one to realize that it makes no sense to put the effort into developing goals or planning life around what one may expect or anticipate and continue to try to convince oneself that these goals are (1) achievable or (2) really what one would want to achieve if possible.
To get some perspective on this dreaded looking back exercise, I of course went to the written history of the thing. As a sort of old school old fart correspondent, this consisted mainly of emails and texts written and received. I had already reviewed a lot of what I had received but after finally getting back to doing this catch-up exercise on my sent emails I can see that the marriage probably entered its final death throes in 2019. Reading between the lines of what I wrote, especially to my spouse, I think I see where our mutual resentment started to build as I got more and more involved in more and more activities outside the home that made me happy.
At the same time, it looks like he was getting more and more morose and out of sorts. I base this guess on what was a clear and mainly continuing pattern of his atypical, at least for an adult male who could be considered by some to be in the prime of his life, sleeping and active periods. Like a stubborn baby or an average really old person, he slept during the day and worked on his hobby at night.
Throughout that pre-pandemic year we became more and more like “ships passing in the night” with those passages most often occurring in the late morning or early evening. In the evenings we at least both tried to indulge one of our fewer and fewer common interests by watching TV programs, sports and movies together. But in the mornings when he came up from his mancave to my woman cave in our split-level home, he would usually find me in front of the computer, often just playing games. This latter exercise had been going for some time before and when this part of our macabre marriage death dance started, I would get up, come around my desk, sit in my rocker-recliner and we would try to have a conversation, a check-in about how and what each other was doing. I think we both noticed that I made this effort less and less, until his attempts to do this started declining, too. Maybe the patterns and comforts of our lives had moved so far away from each other that they and we were beyond reconnecting.
Another probable point of resentment, I’m guessing, is that I did not participate as actively as he wanted or expected me to in his (unrealistic) dream of making a business out of his hobby. That was where his time and our money went while a lot of my time and our money went into reading and traveling and socializing. I know I’d expected him to enjoy those last activities with me. Over time, though, his enjoyment of and interest in doing either had ebbed so low that I had begun to know better than to even ask him to join me because I knew what his answer would be.
There were other stressors that year that in retrospect could have brought us closer together but in the end seem to have had the opposite effect. That was the year that Daughter #1 got married and Daughter #2 started medical school. Both of these momentous events turned into wedge issues that drove us farther apart from each other.
Here I can add that another longtime festering wound in our relationship was how differently he treated our children. Again, these differences and disparities became more and more glaring over the years, though I can’t really pinpoint how far back they began and of course I don’t really know the reasons why. My guess is that he took for granted or accepted or expected #1 to be totally like me and therefore “perfect” while he presumed #2 would be totally like him, an imperfect and stubborn addict who would always be “less than” in the eyes of everyone that mattered, including himself and possibly, in his mind, even me. I surely had reached that point by the end of that year. There is no better indicator of this disparity, and how it finally blew our marriage apart for good, than summarizing his participation in the life of Daughter #1 and his withdrawal from participation in the life of Daughter #2 over the last six months of 2019.
And just to be complete and to add to my disappointment, I’ll have to throw in the monkey wrench that entered our relationship at about the same time. That was the necessity for someone to devote more time and effort to taking care of my mom. I’d expected my husband, who’d said and even written over and over, over all the years, how much he loved and appreciated “Mom” to do just that. He’d also warned me, based on the similar trajectory he’d endured with his mom, that I’d have to figure out what to do with her sooner rather than later by this time.
It also just dawned on me that he’d handled most of that without the help of his one remaining brother just as I found myself in the same situation vis-à-vis my one and only sister. Wouldn’t you think that shared experience would have made a better and possibly even average person more sympathetic and helpful to one’s most beloved spouse rather than drive said simpatico away? Oh wait, in fact and reality it seems to reinforce what he finally told me, after I told him I didn’t think I could continue to live this way.
In a nutshell, that was that we should have separated fifteen years earlier, based on his presumption that I would not move two thousand miles away from home (and Mom) when his job relocated. I did it because I didn’t want to break up OUR family. I can see now, as I should have seen before, that he just didn’t care about that. It also clarifies what he first told me and repeated in those six months. “You are number one for me. I am number five for you.” That first part was a lie though possibly the last part had been true for quite a long time. I’d always said he knew me better than I knew myself.
Daughter #2, the youngest at age 30 and previously most settled by virtue of how long it took her to get accepted to medical school, will start her potentially more winding road than her sister’s upon completion of her program in 2023. While #1 was Mini-Me during her youth, #2 was The Devil Child and sometimes also The Velcro Child during the same period of her development.
From the time of her birth at 2:13 AM her personality and behaviors were hard for me to deal with. The child refused to fall asleep at night and didn’t even nap in the swing or the car like most other babies. I distinctly remember the vacation from hell when we left the hotel at 2:30 AM because when she saw me in the same room she thought it was party time! On another trip she finally fell asleep in the car five minutes before we reached our destination but at least there were other people in the car to keep her entertained. On the one occasion where she fell asleep in the swing we had to take a picture as proof that it had really happened! Velcro incident, though probably not unique to us, was when she clung to me when I tried to leave her at school and later when I tried to leave her at home with a nanny so I could go to work.
I guess it was fortunate for all of us that when we moved across country it was to a lower cost state so I could afford to stay home and continue to entertain her there while being even more at her beck and call. This included ferrying her to her favorite fast-food drive-thru restaurants, my mandatory presence watching her favorite reality TV shows and advising her daily on what to do with nearly every minute of her free time, including what to eat during her study breaks! The ties finally began to loosen when she learned to drive. I found an hourly part time job just to get out of the house and away from the Devil/Velcro Child. Our relationship finally and mercifully and surprisingly improved during her college application process. We took short trips to check out schools. She requested only minimal advice from me on her essays.
The Velcro bonds loosened a bit when she went back across country for college. I helped furnish her dorm room to her exquisitely limited though broadly vague specifications. The main exercise of her long-distance diabolical cling remained in our circular discussions around a new set of decisions she wanted me to help her make. By the time she graduated I think she really knew what she was going to do most of the time but maybe Satan just wanted to show that he hadn’t released control of our relationship quite yet!
The official last straw came when in her devilish indecisiveness she tried to talk us into letting her stay in college a year longer than necessary because she couldn’t decide which subject she wanted to get her degree in and then tried to blame me for telling her to start with an undeclared major! As it was, she got an additional semester and degrees in two subjects. That’s how long she kept me confused!
Devil Child’s degrees in Psychology and Neuroscience basically were preparatory for med school, at least in her mind. We told both our kids a couple of things re their educations: (1) We would only pay for Bachelor’s degrees and for anything beyond that they were on their own and (2) they should get a job when they completed those degrees before deciding if they wanted or needed additional schooling to continue in what they thought would be their chosen professions. The latter advice grew out of our painful and unhappy experiences after finding ourselves stuck in the jobs we’d trained for but didn’t really like doing!
So, wishing I could fast forward from college graduation to medical school acceptance, here’s the way it slowly went down. After finding herself for a very short time in a job where she wasn’t happy, #2 made a lot of progress towards deciding she might really want to be a doctor. She worked for a dermatologist to many stars she couldn’t tell me about in an office on Rodeo Drive, studied a lot for the MCAT, made some new friends and submitted her first applications for med school. The result of that last effort was a series of painful rejections but, bless her heart, she didn’t give up and went back to work (for a different dermatologist who treated some of her grandma’s – my mom’s – friends), made some better friends, got her first boyfriend and some coaching to improve her interview performance.
She also decided that she didn’t really have to go to a top tier medical school, which is probably why the second round of applications was moderately more successful than the first. She had more interviews but only one acceptance: The Homer Stryker School of Medicine of Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo!
Daughter #1, the eldest at age 31 is currently the most settled by virtue of (1) her pre-pandemic marriage to longtime boyfriend (though shorter time fiancé) in October 2019 and (2) their purchase this year of a home in Portage, a suburb and “bedroom community” on the south side of Kalamazoo. Prior to this recent full attainment of adulthood, I (and some other family members) thought of her as a Mini-Me. I guess our main commonalties were our shared love of and interest in (American) history, the close relationship enjoyed and/or endured with our mothers, and our general straight arrow Girl Scout based behaviors and attitudes displayed and developed over our formative adolescent years.
She met her hubby, whom I have affectionally referred to as The Evil Genius since about halfway into their relationship of approximately 10 years now. They were both digging up stuff, in an archaeological manner, in St. Louis. His parents and her parents both were living in East Tennessee at the time – his in Chattanooga, hers in Oak Ridge. This was a fortuitous coincidence, especially in light of the many interim stops they had separately and together before their current happy incarnation as Michiganders. I bestowed the title of Evil Genius on my now son-in-law (SIL) based mostly and initially on his appearance.
As the years passed after he met my wonderful daughter, SIL evolved into a bit of an evil genius intellectually, too. To paraphrase part of his mom’s wedding toast, his parents wondered what he would do with his anthropology degree, which again was coincidentally the same degree Mini-Me obtained in nearly the same year. (Another amazing coincidence between them was that both had been uprooted from their childhood homes as high school juniors.)
After their “meet cute” on a dirty dig site, their career interests started to diverge. He got a second bachelor’s degree in Psychology from a private university in Peoria, IL, while she got her Master’s Degree in Archaeology from a public university near where they lived in Bloomington/Normal IL. Like her mom, Mini-Me settled on her career choice sooner rather than later.
After she got her second degree, he decided to pursue his third degree, this time in Human Factors (sounds to me like a good field of study for a budding Evil Genius) at a public research university in Dayton, OH. Over the three years he was working on getting his Masters (which he got for free through acceptance in a PhD program, a degree level neither of them wanted to achieve), they put a lot of miles on their vehicles traveling back and forth between Dayton and Mini-Me’s professional though short-term and/or itinerant positions in Virginia and back again in St. Louis, among other places.
They finally ended up, together, in Kalamazoo in 2019. He had a summer internship there the year before that took longer than it should have to turn into a real permanent job. Both families, and this was post-engagement, were overjoyed! Now the Evil Genius analyzes and evaluates competitor products, usability studies and anthropometric data to provide dimension guidelines to the cross-functional industrial design and studio engineering teams. Sounds evil to me!
Mini-Me, was happy, too, though it was tempered a bit since it then became incumbent upon her to find an equally good and equally permanent job there. That took a while though not too long a while, in the grand scheme of things and certainly not within the timeline of their relationship. Just prior to the wedding, she was hired under contract to work in the archives and records department of Kellogg’s of Battle Creek.
They told her at the time she’d been hired because she already had some management experience and that she also had the requisite education and experience to replace their company archivist when she retired. The latter was really the carrot by which she was drawn in and the icing on the cake (do you love my food metaphors?) was that the archivist did actually retire!
The answer is pretty simple and straightforward. That’s where my kids are!
Not only are they in the same state but, by some weird wonderful kismet type of thing, they are both in the same city! Details on how they each got there to follow.
Not only that, but they each individually came up with the same brilliant idea that I should move to where they both are, at least for the time being, in Kalamazoo.
How did my two very different adult daughters both end up in the same place at the same time just when I needed both of them the most?
By two very different and almost equally long and winding roads, of course! I will spare you some of the nitty gritty details of all the stops and momentous events along the way and just hit the high points for each.
I may be leaving behind someday soon this standard concrete suburb close to a beach and a big city and trading it in for the smallest of the four cities in Michigan that employs a full time Historic Preservation Coordinator!
Of course, what happened to Mom and why I would think about moving to Michigan are each long stories of their very own. Suffice to say I returned to the uneventful scene of my youth just in time to become deeply mired in the extremely eventful demise of my mother!
I’ll try to spare you all the excruciatingly painful and emotionally confusing details of what went down with Mom and how she went down, nearly to the bottom, pretty darn quickly at the almost end. And, believe it or not, Covid had almost nothing to do with it! And, even more incredibly, she’s still there now, six months later!
Mom had a stroke and a fall (not sure which came first) in early June. This was followed by a week-long hospital stay until they kicked her over to a Transitional Care Unit (TCU) for rehab where she was supposed to receive daily therapy. After a week there, during which no progress was anywhere near possible, I had to made the difficult decision, following the hospitalist’s earlier recommendation, to consign my mother to hospice care. The easiest and safest way to accomplish this, given the unknowns about if or when she would or even could come home, was to move her to a facility where she could be properly cared for. She’s been there ever since, probably continuing to go slowly downhill though no one, including her caregivers at a nearby board and are home and hospice team, can really tell for sure. Her periods of wakefulness now are less sporadic than they were at the beginning but it seems that whoever visits can count on her to consistently not seem to know where she is and most of the time to talk about people who are long dead.
Additional details and more of the story of Mom and me will most likely be the subject of later posts. I see a lot of Facebook posts that advise us to appreciate our mothers while they’re still here. It seems, however, they don’t consider a situation like mine – my mother is sort of still here and at the same time sort of gone. So, besides trying (but not too hard now) to figure out why my marriage ended I could also try to figure what I want my relationship with Mom (and maybe later my ex) to look now.