Thursday Tidbits: Generosity, Crushing, Reflection, Reconnecting

A few completely unrelated, totally random thoughts:

  • Yesterday’s mail included an envelope addressed to Ethan and Lauren. Inside was a ridiculously nice gesture from a college friend (he also practiced the same kind of law that Mike did so they saw each other often “on the circuit”). He sent a beautiful note to the kids about starting the holiday season early with the enclosed gift cards to Toys R Us. Ethan went bonkers – he even graciously offered to “help” Lauren spend her gift card. It was a tremendously nice and completely unexpected surprise. And it should be noted, that this friend is also one-half of the college friends who sent me flowers for Mother’s Day earlier this year. Heart melting.
  • I have a tiny crush on Ethan’s TKD instructor. Not an actionable crush (1. He’s Ethan’s instructor = deal breaker, 2. He’s 10 years younger than I am = WTF am I thinking?), but it definitely makes it more fun to sit through an hour of watching E during practice! In related news, Ethan successfully tested for his yellow belt. He was incredibly nervous and I thought he was going to cry a few times, but he hung in there and nailed it!
  • I’ve been reflecting on my professional life quite a bit since the semester is winding down. I really feel like making this career change was the RIGHT thing to do. The last 15 weeks have been amazing – tough sometimes, challenging sometimes, and often harder than I thought. But I really feel good. – and I think I’m pretty good at it. It also helps that the fall 2013 schedule has been drafted and I’M ON IT (meaning my contract will most likely be renewed)!
  • I reached out to a FB friend who called out my former sister-in-law in a FB post. My SIL is not on FB anymore, has gotten remarried (and changed her name), and left her former job (and the only email address I had for her). I recognized her maiden name in our mutual friend’s post. When SIL divorced Mike’s brother, things got (understandably) weird. But I think about her often and I really miss her. I’ve asked our mutual friend to share my email address with SIL. I hope to connect with her again.

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.

Hot peppers and saying goodbye

When Mike and I started dating, it was a big deal with his family because he hadn’t brought a girl home before. It was a REALLY big deal when I was asked to go to a family function at his grandparents’ house.

Of course, I was warned about “things” in advance. Things like women did not eat with the “men-folk” and women stayed in the house, preferably the kitchen, all day. Women served the men first, who eat in order of seniority/age with the elder men sitting down first. Then, the women served the kids. THEN, the women got to eat the meal. After everything was picked over and cold (no microwave). Whatever was left was okay for women to eat – EVEN THOUGH THE WOMEN WERE THE ONES WHO MADE THE MEAL.

I was warned because Mike knew this wasn’t going to fly with me. Turns out, there was nothing to be worried about.

Within minutes of our arrival, Mike’s grandpa wanted to show me his garden. We walked to the back yard and I was extremely polite. I ooh’d and aah’d over his vegetables. Then he walked down a narrow path, bent down, picked something, and came back toward me.

“Try this, girl,” he said. (Every female in the family was “girl,” and I doubt he actually KNEW any of the women’s names.)

“Sure,” I replied, taking a green pepper from his hand and biting three-quarters of it. I chewed it, swallowing whole as much as possible.

Thank goodness I was wearing dark sunglasses. My eyes were watering. My mouth was on fire. But I’d be damned if I’d let him see that.

“Well,” I said. “It’s a little warm, but do you have anything HOT?”

Mike grabbed the pepper from my hand and took a bite. He ran into the house screaming, mouth on fire, for a glass of milk. When he came back with a drink for me, I refused and held my eye contact (from behind my sunglasses) with his grandpa.

Mike’s grandpa clasped his hands, did a bit of a jig, and kind of giggled. He was absolutely tickled.

From that moment on, I had a name – in fact, I was the only woman referred to by my first name, and not called “girl.” I was also invited to eat WITH him IN THE GARAGE. It was monumental for the family. Not everyone was pleased.

For the next 15 years, Mike’s grandpa would ask me about peppers, give me a huge hug, and call me by my first name. I was also the only woman invited to eat in the garage and watch wrestling (“wraslin’”) with him.

I don’t know why I decided to google his name today. He was near 90 years old and I don’t believe he had ever been on the Internet, let alone have an online presence. I typed his name into the search engine and …

Up came his obituary.

He died on September 20. Ethan and Lauren are mentioned in the obit as his great grandkids. Mike is mentioned as a family member who died before him. There is no reference to peppers (not that there should be).

No one called to tell me he passed. Of course, I don’t have a relationship with his family, but I honestly thought his parents would call when Mike’s grandpa died. I even mentioned this to my mom a few weeks ago, that I thought Mike’s parents would reach out when his grandpa died. I told my mom that I’d send a pepper plant to his funeral service.

But, I didn’t know he had already died.

God bless you, Charles. I guess I’ll let you know now that the pepper was the hottest damn thing I ever tasted. But, you probably already knew that. Thanks for referring me by my name and letting me dine with you in the garage at family functions. I have very good memories of you. XOXO

Anniversary, part four (The End)

If you’re just joining the story, you might want to start with parts one, two, and three.


“Come on,” I said to Mike’s parents as the ambulance drove away. “You can follow me to the hospital.”

His parents looked shell-shocked. Mike’s dad just kept repeating that they couldn’t care for Mike when he was discharged from the hospital and couldn’t he come live at the house? “But where will he go after the hospital?” his dad kept asking, to no one in particular.

I drove to the hospital and walked into the emergency room. “My husband was just delivered here by ambulance,” I told the check in person in the waiting room.

“He’s probably getting checked now, it’ll be a while before you can go back,” she replied.

“Oh, I’m not going back there. Just wanted to get his parents here,” I gestured to Mike’s parents standing behind me. “And to make sure you have our insurance information.”

I handed over the insurance card. I didn’t want to get saddled with medical bills later, so wanted to make sure the hospital had what they needed. Then I walked out and drove home. In a strange way, I felt relieved, almost peaceful.

I called the hospital later that night and talked to Mike’s nurse. His blood alcohol level was five times the legal limit. (SIDENOTE: I will wonder, for the rest of my life, what in the hell Mike’s parents were DOING when they were at my house. They claim they never saw him drink, yet his BAL was FIVE TIMES the legal limit and alcohol bottles were thrown around the basement.)

Mike would spend a week in the hospital, shuffling from a rehab unit to the cardiology unit (his heart was showing signs of distress – even then). Over the course of the week, his parents came by the house a few times to get Mike’s belongings, but they never expressed interest in seeing the kids or having a conversation. And they would always come when the kids were in bed.


When I picked Ethan up from school that day, I didn’t know what to say. His dad was gone and so were his grandparents (opting to stay in a hotel as opposed to staying at the house).

Of everything that’s happened over the last year, it’s how I handled it with my son that I regret. I should have thought that through better, but how could I have anticipated the ambulance, going to the hospital or getting the court order so quickly? I was prepared to tell Ethan about the separation, but now it was so complicated.

I told Ethan that his dad was sick. “It’s the alcohol, isn’t it?” he asked. He was way too wise for his own good – and he had seen and heard too much in his young years.

“Yeah,” was all I could say.

I stayed on the dad-is-sick message for weeks. When he told his therapist that he was worried his dad was going to die, I knew I had to be more forthcoming. Originally, I thought Mike and I could co-present the separation to him. Display a united front to show that we had Ethan’s and Lauren’s best interests in mind. I believed that we could act as adults and have a productive, loving co-parenting relationship.

That wasn’t going to happen. I was on my own. I shouldn’t have waited as long as I did, but I can’t change time. I was as honest as possible with Ethan, telling him that daddy was dealing with his drinking and that he was going to live with his parents in Indiana, but that Ethan and Lauren would have two houses someday. “So, two Christmases?” he asked. I guess that is all that matters to a six-year-old.


When Mike was discharged, his parents took him back to Indiana. The kids and I saw him in-person only two more times between when he was taken by ambulance and when he died.

After the second court date a few weeks after the first (in which a second judge upheld the court order), he Skyped with the kids on occasion, and, at first, called every night to talk to Ethan. In November, the calls became fewer and fewer with more and more time in between. Skyping became even more rare.


That’s the story of this anniversary. I’ve been meaning to write this for a while, but, well, as you know now, it’s a long story. It’s been a bittersweet time (man, using that word a lot lately) and it seemed the right time to get these thoughts out since I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately.

There’s more to write, but not today. Today, I’m going to wrap up some work stuff and go play with the kids.

Anniversary, part three

Today I remember 9-11. I plan to write more about that day another time, but for now, I want to thank the firefighters, police, EMTs, and other emergency workers who made sacrifices that day (and everyday). I want to thank the men and women in the military who continue to fight to keep us free. 9-11 is a day we will never forget.


Parts one and two of the story can be found here and here.

The drive home from the courthouse seemed long. I called my mom to tell her the order was granted. She said she was going to leave the house with Lauren so I could talk to Mike.

I went into the basement as soon as I got home. His parents were standing next to the couch where Mike was laying. I hadn’t been down there in several days. It was nasty. The room was dark and smelled awful. Garbage was everywhere – plates of dried food, crumpled paper, wrinkled bedding, empty alcohol bottles. The inflatable mattress where his parents had been sleeping was leaning against the wall; the fitted sheet falling off of it. The only light was coming from the TV flickers.

“Mike, I was at the courthouse this morning,” I said. No response. “The judge granted an order of protection, and a sheriff will be serving you the papers in the next 24 hours. I’m giving you the chance to leave with dignity. Get your stuff and get out before Ethan gets home from school.”

He raised his head, “You did WHAT? You fucking bitch! I’m not going anywhere!” Then he collapsed back into the couch, covering his face with a pillow.

I repeated myself and there was no response. Mike’s dad gestured for me to follow him upstairs.

Mike’s parents and I went into the family room. They sat on the couch opposite my chair. “Jackie,” Mike’s mom began. “He needs to go to the hospital.”

“OK,” I said. “Did he tell you that?”

“No,” she said. “We’ve told him that’s what he needs, but he refuses. I think he needs an ambulance.”

“Great,” I said, handing her the house phone. “Call 911.”

“Oh no,” Mike’s dad said. “We can’t do that. YOU need to do it.”

I argued with them for a few minutes about who should dial 9-1-1. I went back downstairs to look at Mike one more time. I kicked the couch in frustration and anger. He probably did need medical attention. It was obvious that even though his mom and dad had been with him in the basement (one of them had been at his side for DAYS), he had continued to drink. They had been unsuccessful at getting him to eat or drink, except for half an apple and a small glass of water an hour before I got home from the courthouse. Basically, Mike had gone almost a week with virtually no food or non-alcoholic drinks.

I dialed the phone and explained the situation to the dispatcher. An ambulance was on its way.

About five minutes later, the EMTs were at the house. I directed them downstairs. One stayed upstairs to ask me some questions. “When and what did he eat last?” he asked.

“Well, Mike’s parents would probably be the best source for anything relating to what’s happened in the last few days,” I said, looking around for them. They were not in the kitchen. They were not in the living room or family room or basement or bathrooms or upstairs or garage. They were gone.

“Just a minute,” I told the EMT as I dialed Mike’s mom’s cell phone. She picked up after about five rings.

“What?” she said.

“Hey, um, where the hell are you?” I asked, trying to keep my tone light. I was panicked and pissed at them.

“We left.”

“What the hell? Where are you? You made me call the ambulance then you BAIL?”

“We’re just around the corner, watching from our car. We’re going back to Indiana when the ambulance takes him,” she said.

“Yeah, couple of things. The EMTs have very specific questions that I can’t answer because I haven’t been with him lately – YOU HAVE. They need you to answer questions about what he’s eaten and drank and what he’s been doing. And two, Mike can’t stay here anymore. I have a court order that ORDERS him out of my house. You need to take him with you.”

They came back to the house and answered the questions. In the meantime, the local police arrived (as is policy when the ambulance is called, apparently). I explained the situation, including having just come from court, to a very nice policewoman.

“You have a copy of the order?” she asked. I handed it over. “We’re not waiting for the sheriff to arrive. I want to serve this,” she said and made a call to the chief of police for the proper paperwork to transfer the power from the county sheriff to her.

The EMTs checked Mike out and argued with him for almost an hour. I was told to stay upstairs, so I could only hear when voices were raised or there was some sort of ruckus coming from the basement.

Mike’s parents stood in a corner of the kitchen. Not moving, not doing much of anything except repeating “we can’t take him” and “where do you expect him to go?” to anyone who would listen. Finally, the EMTs brought Mike upstairs on a stretcher.

His eyes were closed. He was curled up in the fetal position. He looked pathetic, sad. He never opened his eyes or said anything as the EMTs took him outside.

I looked through the front window as they were loading the stretcher. The female officer approached Mike. I saw her mouth move, but couldn’t hear the words. Then she set some papers on his chest – the court order. He was served – he wouldn’t be able to come back to the house or even talk to me or the kids until the next court date. I started to cry, but not tears of sadness – these were tears of “I did the right thing.”

To be continued…