Saturday, December 16, 2017

Christmas Angst

There are soooooo many stories. . .where shall I begin?

Let's start with Christmas, because it's nine shopping days away, and 'tis the season for family drama.

It is still my strong preference to spend Christmas in our own home, with our own traditions, but somehow things got away from me this year.  We are awash in our own Christmas traditions all season long no matter where we are--an advent calendar full of crafts, trinkets, and activities; a Christmas radio that broadcasts daily from the North Pole; the tree up in November, and Christmas music permeating the house for months.  But. . .but, the girls and T prefer to spend actual Christmas day with family in New England, vs. wherever in the world we happen to be living, and so I am rolling with it, even though it is utter chaos to get us to and fro with a holiday's worth of gifts, to say nothing of the actual day, which always involves lots of running around to different houses.

But let me back up about the decision about where to spend the holiday this year, or the lack thereof.  It is a much longer story, but we returned to the U.S. this fall very unexpectedly--like, with a couple of days notice.  Since our move was very unexpected, it was also quite chaotic, and we've spent all fall just getting the girls settled and trying to recreate some semblance of normal life for all of us.  As a result, we never really made a conscious Christmas plan, and I'm not sure T and I ever even discussed it.  It is just not where my focus was, for sure.  Almost all of our family is in New England, so there generally is not much debate about where to go if we are not spending Christmas at home, and since we are living in a temporary home until we can get better sorted out, no one really wants to spend Christmas here.  Somehow, it just came to pass that we WERE going to New England for Christmas, and that we'd stay with my husband's mother, who has plenty of room and a lovely home.  She is really our only comfortable option for an extended stay--there are lots of places where we are welcome, but not everyone has enough beds and/or can tolerate the chaos of a young, slightly unruly family.

Anyway, the notable exception to "all of our family lives in New England," is my mother, who lives closer to where we are living now. But apart from us, HER entire family is also in New England.  I didn't actually talk to my mother about our holiday plans, because a) I assumed she would go to New England as she generally does, and b) we never really made a conscious holiday plan, and I'm only now starting to focus on it, given that it is now imminently upon us.

You know where this is going, right?

My mother texted me a few nights ago, saying she wanted to talk about the holidays, because she wants to see us.  Now, I had heard recently that she did not plan to come to New England, and that she was going to spend Christmas alone with her husband.  I think that's depressing, but it's her choice.  I didn't have a chance to call her, and this morning she texted to say she wasn't coming, and she wanted to come up with a plan to see us. What she really means is that she wants me to figure out a way to come to her house to celebrate with her. . .before Christmas.  I probably would have cheerfully done so despite my reservations about making it work with our travel schedule, but she informed me via text that she was unable to join us for Christmas, because she has no one to feed her cats. 

I bristled. 

Her CATS? 

I would have taken anything plausible as an excuse for not spending Christmas with the rest of our family, but her CATS?  I very helpfully texted a link to an automatic catfeeder you can control with your phone.  (Let's pause for a moment to marvel at modern technology.  You can feed your cat from another state, using your phone!)  Also, her cats are very fat.  She could leave them for food and water in big bowls for two days, and they would be JUST FINE.

(It is probably not the cats.  But you can't choose cats over her only grandchildren and think that I am not going to take offense.  At least don't say it out loud.)

She demurred on buying the catfeeder, and accused me of not considering her when I made my plans.  It was a total drama queen moment, complete with a "no one will even miss me" line.  Then she implored me to rearrange our travel plans so that she can see the children before Christmas. . .by traveling to her house.  BEFORE Christmas.

I have three days off before Christmas, and it will take us a full day to get from here to New England.  While we COULD make a side trip, it will add another day to day and a half to our travels, and it will mean that we have to stop overnight somewhere along the way (we can't stay with my mother, because she has other guests for the time period we would be there--her husband's daughter).

On the one hand, I feel bad for my mother.  She is a very lonely person, married to a difficult man who doesn't allow her to do much.  He is probably the reason she is not traveling to New England.  On the other hand, she is a grown woman with choices, and she always casts herself as the victim.  I am ALWAYS the one who has to accommodate her "difficult situation."  She makes me feel sorry for her so that I do what she wants the vast majority of the time.  I should also note that my mother is not elderly--she is in her mid-60's and in good health.  She just retired last year, and she has no trouble getting around.

If it had been a normal year, I would just cave, as always--spending money and time and tying myself in knots to make it work.  But this year, I am really tired.  The move back to the U.S. was very unexpected and due to a potentially dangerous situation, so it was stressful.  We have managed to iron out a lot of wrinkles since then, and everyone is healthy and thriving.  I was looking forward to peaceful, happy holidays.  But my tank is low, and I know it.  I am not feeling as resilient as normal.  I am exhausted.  And this feels like a Dr. Phil episode.

My husband wants to invite her to come to visit us the week after New Year's, which happens to be Miss M's birthday.  He thinks we celebrate both at once.  When I step back, this strikes me as a very logical solution.  But I know that is not what my mother wants.  She wants to shower gifts on the girls BEFORE the holiday, when it is still exciting and new.  She wants to have celebrated FIRST (before my mother in law.  Sigh.). 

I haven't responded to my mother's last text, in which asked me to rearrange our travel plans and come to her house before Christmas.  I need some time to stop being frustrated, so that I don't snap at her and make things worse.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Long Time, No Post!

Why hello there!  It's good to be writing again.

I have been on a bit of an unintentional hiatus.  The fall was really busy with getting the girls settled in their brand new and utterly fantastic private schools, and then in January, we moved back overseas.

I know.  We are nuts.

The thing is, things were going smashingly well for the girls in the U.S., but lousy for us as a family.  The grownups were working crazy hours, and we were always rushing around, and it was no fun at all.  And then I got a pretty great job offer in a cool tropical place with terrible Internet service.  And we were off.

It's been really nice.  We have a lot more time together as a family, and our quality of life has gone way up.  I had a lot of angst over moving the girls again, but they've had an easy transition and are happy.  Their new school is decent.  They have friends and activities, and we have a big yard.  And we can go to the beach on the weekends.

All in all, things are really good.  Not perfect, because life isn't, but we are happy and well.  What's new with you?

Saturday, September 10, 2016

The Appointment

I have really struggled since my diagnosis in 2013.  The idea of dying and leaving my daughters behind just absolutely gutted me.  Before my surgery, the doctors were hopeful that it was contained to my appendix, in which case, the long term prognosis was very good.  If any of the cells get into the abdomen, though, it would be a very different story.  After my surgery, the pathology was unfortunately murky, and they were not able to tell me much about prognosis.  It's been very wait-and-see, with regular monitoring appointments.  In dealing with this uncertainty, I've had moments where I'm completely fine, and moments when I can't deal at all.  But when I think about the girls. . .that's the piece of it I just can't even contemplate.  I can't leave them.  I just can't.  They need me, and I need to be here for them.

So every time I have to go for a monitoring appointment, it is extremely stressful for me.  Will this be the moment when everything changes?  The weeks and days leading up to the appointment, the drive to a nearby city to see a specialist, that space in between the CT scan and the doctor delivering the news. . .it's just all really tough.

I am coming up on three years now.  It will be three years at Christmastime.  But I got sick of doing my appointments close to the holidays, because I felt like it cast a dark shadow over a time of year I love.  So I bumped the appointments, so they are no longer around the holidays.  It hasn't gotten any easier, these appointments, but at least they do not overshadow the most festive time of year.

Which is a long way of saying that I just had my monitoring appointment, and it went well.  There is no sign of a recurrence.  Or in my doctor's words, my "scans look good"  Every time she says it, I think she's saying my skin looks good.  So weird that I misheard her in that way.  But anyway, she also said this time that most recurrences are found in the first two years after this type of neoplasm.  They'll continue to monitor me for five years, and I won't be totally considered out of the woods until 10 years out.  It's the first time that I've really been able to exhale.  Maybe, just maybe, I can stop worrying about the "what ifs" and start living totally in the now.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

First Days of School and an ER Visit

I have mostly been doing okay with my impending medical appointment.  It really helped to write about it.  But honestly, that is not the only thing I've been having anxiety about.  The constant rushing around, the high cost of everything in America, the lack of family time, work stuff, the ordinary day-to-day stress of regular life. . .it has all felt oppressive lately.  I'm trying to step back a little bit and savor the moments, but it is tough.

Miss M had her first day of school this past week.  The school is an amazing fit.  She is a part of it, just like that.  It is everything that her school last year was not.  It's a bilingual school again, and she is cranky about having to do 50% of her time in Spanish, but I'm sure it's an effort after largely not having to speak it all summer.  She'll quickly settle in, I know, as her Spanish is good.  She has friends, and she comes home happy every day.  It's been perfectly seamless.

Before she went back to school, I had another week of vacation with the girls, which was lovely.  Unfortunately, SB fell at the playground and dislocated her elbow, which was high drama.  We had gone out to do a quick errand via public transportation, and then we got ice cream, and we were walking around and spotted a playground.  The girls begged to stop and play, and of course I let them.  I was sitting there in the sun, watching them play and truly just enjoying the moment.  As I watched Miss M, I heard a terrible noise come from SB, who had fallen while I wasn't paying attention to her.

I knew as soon as I heard the noise that it was bad.  She had tried to jump off a fairly low platform on the playground in order to reach the monkey bars, which had rings that dangled down.  She'd missed, and had landed with her arm underneath her and twisted backwards.  I ran over, and when I sort of lifted her torso off her arm, I could see that the bone was pushed out of place.  Where there should have been smooth lower arm skin, there was an extra fold.  I still cringe thinking about it.

I scooped her up and ran to the road nearby, which is a major thoroughfare.  I thought I'd be able to grab a cab, but after a few minutes, there were none in sight, so I ran over to a nearby hotel.  They kindly had their town car driver take us to the hospital, for which I will be eternally grateful.  Anyway, it all worked out fine.  The hospital had an amazing pediatric emergency room (which I didn't know existed--good to know!), and they were incredibly kind.  X-rays showed the arm wasn't broken.  They put it in a partial cast to immobilize it until we could see the ortho, and gave SB some morphine to make her comfortable.  It was all fine in the end.  Parenting!  It's not for the faint of heart.

When we followed up with the ortho a few days later, he concurred that the arm was not broken, and removed the cast.  Her arm was swollen to more than twice its normal size, and pretty bruised.  It's still pretty bruised, actually, but getting better.  Over the last week, the swelling has really come down, and it's bothering her less and less.  The ortho did want her in the sling until after Labor Day, but. . .SB had other ideas.  She has a crazy high pain threshold, so she just kept saying it didn't hurt.  Ah, my little wild woman.  Anyway, she's doing great, and I'm relieved it's not broken.

Sunday, August 28, 2016


I--CAN'T--SLEEP!!!!!  And it's making me crazy.  It's been getting increasingly worse.  First, I was falling asleep fine, but then waking for long stretches in the middle of the night.  Now, I can't get to sleep at all.  I am trying to figure out what is bothering me, what problem, what stress, I am holding too near.  But I can't put my finger on it.  It's everything.  It's nothing in particular.  It's 1:23 am and I've been in bed for hours, and I've not yet gone to sleep.

I have my next big checkup soon, to see if the cancer has come back.  Part of me thinks it has not, and part of me thinks so.  And I can't bear to think about it, and mostly, about what it will mean for our dear girls, if it has.  I hope, I pray, that it will never come back.  But I live in the grey no man's land of uncertainty, with a history of a rare disease, and bereft of doctors who can or will say much about what might happen next.  (This is not for lack of trying.  I'm being seen at a world-renowned facility.  There just are not a lot of cases like mine.  And in that regard I am lucky, because they caught it early, which means there is reason to hope.).

I think this is why I've been so fixated on next career moves lately.  Because I yearn to plan forward, to be able to say that YES, I will be here tomorrow, and the months and years after that. . .which none of us REALLY has the ability to say with certainty, but we THINK we do, and I yearn for that illusion again, the one that you have when you are young and healthy and invincible, and you think the night will never come for you.  And maybe I'm totally fine, in which case I should be out there thinking about career things and living my life.  And maybe I'm not, in which case, I shouldn't worry about the future, and should just be sucking the marrow out of the moment.

Hmmm.....maybe I should be sucking the marrow out of the moment either way.  Food for thought.

Maybe I'll try to meditate for a bit now, amongst the husband snores and sleeping child elbows.  Perhaps putting the fear into words has released me from its stranglehold.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Work, Work, Play

Things have been crazy again around here.  The girls stayed up in New England with T for a couple of weeks, while I had to come back here and work, work, work.  It was a long couple of weeks without them.  I thought I would try to accomplish a few projects around the house while they were gone, but it just didn't happen.  Instead, I worked.  This past week, I was in the office one night until nine and another until midnight.  Meanwhile, I was still being pressed to go on the business trip for two weeks (I'm not going!).  Sheer madness.

So as work craziness continues, I've been thinking about how best to manage career vs. family, professional life vs. personal.  There is the one job that I've had my eye on for a really long time, which MIGHT happen. . .but I'm still not convinced it's going to happen.  It's potentially worth holding out for, though, as the quality of life would likely be very good. There is another job that I've had my eye on that is right up my alley, but I think the hours would not be much of an improvement, and possibly would be worse.  Then, surprisingly, I got an email out of the blue about a third job I hadn't even contemplated--it's potentially interesting, and I'm still exploring it.

I've been procrastinating on actually submitting my materials on the second job, and after tinkering with my resume for hours tonight, I finally just decided not to apply.  My lack of enthusiasm in drafting my resume should tell me something.  It would be a fascinating job, and I would be really good at it. . .but it's just not what I need right now.  There are upsides to it (i.e., less moving around for my family--in my current field, moves are a necessary evil).  But, I. . .just can't.  I want to want it, because I know I would love it.  But my personal life needs something really different right now.

As for the third job. . .I'm still thinking.  There are upsides and there are downsides.

But for now, I'm on vacation with the girls--one final week of play before Miss M heads off to first grade, and SB to preschool.  It is so lovely to have them back home, and I'm thrilled to be able to spend time with them after the last few lonely, hectic weeks.

Monday, August 15, 2016

#Microblog Monday: Life Malnutrition

In recent weeks, life has slowed down a bit due to family vacations, and we've had a breather from our "regular" hamster-wheel routine of school/camp/commute/work/dinner/errands/kids activities/life/rinse-lather-repeat.  It's given me some space to step back and contemplate.  In short, with the slower pace of the last few weeks, I feel like I can breathe again.

This pace we are living at here in America is no good.  I have known it for a long while now, but this down time really made me realize that much as the body starts to eat into muscle while extremely calorie-starved, this life is eating away at my soul.  I am moving so fast trying to keep all of the balls in the air that I have pared the "me" parts of my life down to the bone.  There is nothing "extra" left, and I've realized that as I try to support my family financially, ensure that the kids are having the life I want for them, further my career, etc., etc., entire parts of me are being extinguished as I've moved into mere survival mode.

I'm trying to envision ways to find better balance, but it's incredibly hard.  I said "no" this week to a two week business trip that would have been a huge professional opportunity that could have led to other things--but would have meant missing Miss M's first day of school at her new school, and possibly also canceling my upcoming second week of vacation (which I wanted to take weeks ago, but was forced to push off because of other professional obligations).  Oh, and they only gave me two weeks' notice of the trip.

Was saying "no" a good idea?  Personally, yes; professionally no.  Is that "balance"?  I suppose that depends what happens from here. . .if I miss out on a professional opportunity that I'm currently seeking that would mean fewer hours, because I didn't take this trip, that would be a loss for all of us. . .but then there is the first day of school, which is something.  It MEANS something to be there in the morning and take her in.  It MEANS something to have this upcoming week of vacation together.  It MEANS something to be there at the end of the day to talk about how her day went, in person and not on FaceTime.  It MEANS something to tuck her in that first week.

The struggle continues.