Grandparents card (alternatively titled “I have no use for assholes in my life”)

How do I tell Ethan that his dad’s parents are assholes?

Ethan is seven years old, and completely naïve about the tension between the former in-laws and me. He doesn’t know that we’ve never liked each other. Doesn’t know that even his dad didn’t like them. Doesn’t know about the foul behavior at the funeral (WTH steals a crucifix from the coffin?!) or that there hasn’t been any meaningful outreach from them since January.

And most of the time it doesn’t matter. They were never a major part of his life. He saw them once, maybe twice, a year, and they never really engaged with him, just watched him play from across he room. They’ve never called to talk to him or came to a school function or sporting event.

But last Wednesday, Ethan’s school had a grandparents’ day. My mom went and had a lovely time playing games and enjoying snacks with her only grandson. Ethan made a very sweet card for her – and he also made one for Mike’s parents.

He brought it home and asked if we could send it to them.

Truth is, they moved and I don’t have their new address. Super truth: I could get the address if I really wanted to… IF I REALLY WANTED TO. But I don’t want to.

I grew up with one set of asshole grandparents, too. I saw them on occasion, and my parents never swayed me in one direction or another in terms of my feelings for them. I knew some of the horrible stories about their behavior during my mom’s childhood, but my parents were cordial to them.

(SIDE NOTE: My dad’s mom was an amazing grandma, and I miss her very much. My mom’s grandparents – my great grandparents – were incredible, too. From these three amazing people, I learned what “good” grandparents were, how loving they could be. What a real grandma and grandpa can and should be.)

When I was an adult I chose to cut off ties to my mom’s parents completely. There were two situations that made me realize that these were not people I wanted in my life:

  • My grandmother spread a horrible lie about Mike and his behavior at my cousin’s wedding. Not only was the situation untrue, but the person who was supposedly the victim of Mike’s outburst was not even at the wedding.
  • My grandmother confronted me at the funeral of my grand grandfather, wagging her finger in my face and screaming, “Who do you think you are?” simply because I went over-and-above to find his favorite flowers. (All of the yellow roses in the area were gone – sent to California for the Rose Bowl. I made a few calls, worked some of my professional contacts, and found yellow roses for the funeral arrangements.) This woman went on to accuse me of performing sexual favors to get an internship at one of the world’s top companies in my field.

That was it. When they sent holiday cards, I marked them “refused, return to sender.” They were not invited to my wedding, not informed when Ethan was born, not invited to any celebrations.

I realized in my twenties that genetics does not make someone worthy of the title “grandma” or “grandpa” (or any other familial title…). Someone genetically linked to you might be a good match for a kidney transplant, but that doesn’t make them a nice, loving person. And you DON’T have to surround yourself with assholes – genetically linked to you or not.

(SIDE NOTE: About three years ago, my parents patched up their relationship with my mom’s parents. I was as polite as necessary when forced to be around them, but I did not go out of my way. I did not attend the funeral of my mom’s mom a few years ago, who was the major source of the drama and conflict. And while I do not have a strong desire to have a close relationship with my mom’s dad, he will be spending Christmas at my house, as she requested. I still do not call him “grandpa” as that is a title he does not deserve – I only refer to him by his first name, even to his face. My kids call him “great grandpa” and when they are older, they can decide for themselves if they want a relationship with him.)

That’s kind of the approach I have with Mike’s family. I won’t proactively reach out – I have no reason to. Hell, I have NOTHING nice to say to them. They know where I am, how to get in touch with me and the kids. Ethan and Lauren will know the stories when they’re older. They can decide for themselves if they want to (try to) have a relationship with them.

Until then, I have a grandparents’ card on my kitchen island.


I’m really looking forward to the holidays this year.

I feel like that’s weird and that many widows dread the holidays, especially the first – I’ve seen it on an online forum for widows that I regularly visit, I’ve read it on other widows’ blogs, the peer grief group handed out a 12 page document on dealing with the holidays.

But I can’t wait.

Last year, the kids, my mom, the dog and I were in a tiny corporate-housing apartment. We had Thanksgiving dinner at Cracker Barrel. We didn’t have any of our baking stuff, so there were no homemade holiday cookies or breads. Our Christmas decorations were in storage so we had a cheap fake tree with cheap, meaningless ball ornaments.

It wasn’t the same. It didn’t feel like the holidays.

The year before, Mike was in bad shape. He didn’t have Thanksgiving dinner with us, and he and I spent Christmas Eve and Christmas Day fighting. He didn’t even help bring the kids’ presents down and put them under the tree. The tension was incredible and it wasn’t fun for anyone. THAT was a sucky holiday season.

Thinking back even further, and knowing that Mike’s alcoholism started LONG before I knew about it, most of our holidays as a family were not good. Not the way I wanted them to be. Not the memories I want for my kids.

I have AMAZING memories of holidays with my parents. The holidays were my favorite time of the year. Both my parents had rough childhoods, and they made sure that the holiday season was over-the-top for us. Feeling the love of family. Creating incredible memories. Telling stories of holidays past. And, of course, the presents – every one picked with love and care, specially selected for the recipient. There’s only one word for the seasons’ memories that I have: love.

I always wanted to instill these kind of happy memories in my kids, but Mike and his family never did much for the holidays. There were no stockings. No big dinners (unless you count the men-eat-first-thing). No stories about each and every ornament on the tree. Presents weren’t meaningful or personal. I know Mike liked the ideas of my family’s traditions, but he just didn’t GET them, didn’t understand how to LIVE them.

This is going to be different. I’m writing the story now. I get to dictate the memories my kids will have.

My mom has already taken over the dining room and kitchen for holiday baking. She’s planning dozens and dozens of cookie trays for family, friends and neighbors. She’s made a dozen kinds of sweet breads. The kids helped her decorate sugar cookies and press cookies over the weekend. Tiny pies and cookie bars have been made and frozen already. And peanut butter balls and more cookies are on the agenda for this week. It smells like the holidays everyday when I come home. It’s lovely.

We’ve planned the Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner menus. Thanksgiving will be small, just us. And since I don’t eat turkey, we’re not having a “traditional” menu, but it will be grand and festive nevertheless. And we’re inviting my mom’s dad to stay with us for Christmas, which will be nice.

My Christmas shopping is nearly finished. My mom and I are avid Black Friday shoppers, and we couldn’t go together last year. (My previous job was heavily focused on retail, and I had to work. I still hit the stores before going into the office at 5 a.m., but it wasn’t the same going alone, without my mom.) Lauren is going to “baby school” (daycare), and Ethan will be at the tae kwon do studio all day. I’m very excited about spending some one-on-one time with my mom – and finishing my shopping.

I’m planning on decorating over the Thanksgiving break. It’s a week earlier than I normally do, but I just can’t wait. I want my tree, my ornaments, the needlework canvases my grandma made – I want it to look like Christmas exploded in the house.

(SIDENOTE: I knew as soon as I saw my current house that it is the perfect holiday home. The HUGE windows, the two-story entryway. Before I even made an offer, I knew where I’d put the Christmas tree and I pictured evergreen garland on the upstairs railings. I.Can’t.Wait!)

Ethan has already commented that it will be the first holiday without his dad (which technically isn’t true since Mike was living with his parents last holiday, and he kept canceling plans to see the kids). So there will be some tough times, I’m sure.

But it’s time to start creating memories for these kiddos. Something good. Something positive. Something happy. Something they can take forward to their kids and their grandkids.

It’s time to celebrate.

Depression and hairy legs

I was having such a good morning on Friday that I forgot why I was there.

It wasn’t until the nurse asked if I could be pregnant, that I suddenly remembered. My eyes started watering. “No,” I said. “I’ve been widowed for 10 months. Pregnancy would be… well, it’s not even remotely possible.”

I scheduled a physical with a new doc a few weeks ago. I’m training for the mini (which is going SLOWLY, much like my running time…) and it’s been a few years since I’ve been to a doc for anything beside than needing meds for strep throat or vertigo. Best to establish a relationship with a doctor now, before I NEED one.

When the nurse asked about pregnancy, I suddenly remembered that I wanted to talk to the doctor about depression. Then I started crying.

For months now, I’ve been crying – a lot. I’m fine when I need to be “on” like while I’m teaching or meeting with students, but otherwise I’m crying for no reason. Sitting in my office. Tears. Driving to work. Tears. Going through the Starbucks drive thru. Tears. Reading FB updates from friends. Tears.

I hold my shit together really well when I’m in public (usually) and for the most part, people probably don’t know that I’ve been depressed. I’m a ray of fucking sunshine when people are around (unless they bring up the subjects of my kids, Mike’s death, my dad’s death, blah blah blah – then… TEARS).

(I write a lot about my grief and some sad/negative things on this blog, but that’s so I can be completely functional IRL. This blog is my therapy, my relief, my outlet for the stuff I need “to get out.” In real life, I think I portray an illusion of being pretty positive, pretty happy. I get stuff out here, then I try to move on.)

These tears remind me of when Ethan was born. About four months after E was born, I was crying all the time. For no reason. I was diagnosed with postpartum depression, and I was prescribed a medication, which I took for about a year. It was just enough to get me over the hump. Then I felt fine and was weaned off.

I’m feeling the same way as I did seven years ago. Same tears. Same feelings. Deja vu.

The nurse finished my health history then I waited for the doc.  After going through the normal stuff (health issues my mom and dad face/faced), I brought up the subject of depression.

“Are you seeing anyone about that?” the new doc asked.

“Like a therapist? No.”


“Because I’ve been focused on the well-being of my kids, especially my son,” I responded, eyes tearing. “That’s my priority. I have outlets – I blog, I visit an online widow forum/website-y thing, I participate in a parent grief group. But I think I need… something more.”

The doc stared at me for an uncomfortable amount of time. Then she took some notes in her computer and explained where the opening in the hospital gown should go (in the back). It wasn’t until I was stripping down that I realized I asked for a well-woman exam during this appointment.

“Shit,” I thought. “Totally forgot to shave.”

Who the hell forgets to shave her legs before a pap? That would be me. It’s not like anyone is seeing (or feeling) my legs, so I’ve been a little lax in the personal hygiene department. Damn.

I decided to play it off like there was nothing weird about quarter-inch dark stubble from my ankles to mid-thigh. I’ve found that (usually) if you act like there’s nothing going on, nothing weird, most people won’t notice what you’re trying to hide. That’s how I was going to play this off.

The exam was going fine, until the doc couldn’t find my cervix  (so “hi” to my friends who are now totally uncomfortable thinking about my inner girlie parts. Yeah… cervix. I have one, and apparently it’s shy and can hide. Who knew?) The nurse started to rub my calf to calm me down. Up, down, half way up, sudden stop…. HELLO, STUBBLE!!! A few seconds later, she quickly removed her hand from my leg. (She was probably thinking, “WHO DOESN’T SHAVE?!?!?!” Hi, that would be me…)

Cervix was finally found. Pap was finished and the overall exam was complete. The doc wrote me a prescription for an antidepressant – the same one I took when I had postpartum. I need to go back to see her in a month so she can evaluate how I’m doing.

Knowing I was going to my alma mater this weekend for a quick alumni board meeting – and with Mike’s birthday this weekend (and, thus, a few drinks for me) – I’ve put off starting the new meds until Sunday night – I don’t want to mix an antidepressant with alcohol.

Here’s hoping the meds work and I can stop buying tissues (and makeup) by the truckload.

EDITED TO ADD: While I think it’s funny that I forgot to shave, my mom was HORRIFIED when I told her the story. She’s the kind of person who dresses up to go to the doctor (think church clothes, the “good” coat, dress shoes), so forgetting to shave is close to sinning in her mind. Her reaction: “You need to go upstairs and shave RIGHT NOW. What if you get in an accident? Do you want ANOTHER doctor to see your legs?” (My reaction: hysterical laughter to her comments…)

Only parenting

Mike and I were separated when he died, so mentally, I was prepared to be a single mom. I had been thinking about it for months before we the court order that removed him from my home.

I knew it would be difficult. I knew there would be challenges, but being the kind of overplanning-kind-of-person I am, I was ready to be a single mom.

Given his condition, I knew Mike wouldn’t have a dominant role for the first year or two, but he’d be “there” by phone or Skype or the occasional supervised visitation. But, hell, he was GOING to pull his shit together – he was going to get BETTER, or so I believed.

When he was better, he’d have weekends, holidays, summers with the kids. And then I’d have a free weekend, or a kid-less couple of weeks over the summer. I had plans with that “free” time.

Things don’t always go according to plan.

There’s a big difference between being a “single” mom and being an “only” parent. Differences I’m just starting to realize 10 months after Mike’s death.

Being an “only” is exhausting. There is no time away, no time to refresh, no downtime. You’re always “on” no matter how much you just want to be “off” for a while longer. There’s no end in sight, no waiting until the other parent’s weekend. I’m actually jealous of “single” parents.

Before Mike slipped into a bottle of vodka, we were a good team.

  • When I reached the end of my rope, he was still calm and rationale, and vice versa.
  • If he had a bad day at work and needed a break when he came home, I was there to take Ethan (Lauren was born AA – after alcoholism), entertain him, keep him away until Mike found his peace – and vice versa.
  • On weekends, one of us could always sleep in while the other handled breakfast and other morning rituals. For parents of kids who always wake up by 6 a.m., an extra hour or two of sleep can make or break the day.

We tagged-team parented a lot. It worked for us.

Since Mike’s death, I’ve learned to have more patience and that’s good. But patience only goes so far when there’s no parental backup – and I’m still nowhere near as patient as I should be.

I have a few friends who have volunteered to take the kids when I need a break. (One divorced mom friend even really “gets it.” She’s mentioned the “only” parent thing without me ever discussing it. I cried that someone acknowledged it!)

But I don’t like to ask for help. And if I did take my kids to a friend’s house or drop them off for a few hours, I’d probably be so worried about them, and feel so guilty that I NEEDED the break, that I wouldn’t be able to relax. (God, what if Ethan talks about how much beer his dad drank – which is a favorite topic of conversation right now? What if Lauren freaks out? Am I letting the kids down by needing an escape?)

Being an “only” parent isn’t where I thought I’d be, and I often wonder how I got here. But “only parent” is now our normal. I just need to get comfortable with it, figure it out, come to terms with it. I’m not complaining or asking for sympathy, just realizing there’s a big difference between the two distinctions. Being an “only” parent is what I am now.