(Not quite) A Picture Perfect Holiday Recap


It’s doesn’t always resemble a movie even if you live in a movie town

“It’s [not always] A Wonderful Life”

Well it’s over. You survived. Santa came and went. The savior you were waiting for arrived. But was it everything you expected it to be?It was another picture perfect holiday scenescape here in beautiful Los Angeles, California. The weather showed a delightful eighty one degree high in the forecast.

photo courtesy of Steven Swimmer

photo courtesy of Steven Swimmer

I awoke to the sunshine. It’s not something out of the ordinary here. It’s appreciated but…

It wasn’t as picturesque inside as it was outside. For living in a fairy tale, it wasn’t exactly a fairy tale.

And I wasn’t the only one experiencing that unfortunately.

I saw update after update on social networks with happiness and cheer. It’s the holiday season and I live in a picturesque movie town amongst the most brilliantly spectacular people in the country.

Or at least I’d like to believe that.

How could anyone feel anything but festive on this most joyous day? Well unfortunately there were the other messages. The messages that reading a piece of your heart broke with them a little bit.

Of friends and family apart.

Of lovers lost.

Of abandonment.

Of “Ebenezer Scrooges.”

Hardened hearts in the most spectacularly vibrant people on the planet. Obliterated but doing their best to just get through the day.

This year I took the path of a single mother. And, while I wasn’t alone entirely and I had plenty of offers to do things with friends just as I did that day I had him, I was… very alone.

Remember when I told you in my last post about the separation that happened back in February of 2008? According to the “*current order” it’s not my year to have my children for this holiday. (Yes, holiday. I’m not particularly religious despite/because of years of Catholic schooling and teachings.) Nonetheless I was supposed to have a Skype call with my children to celebrate the day together. I planned the entire day around it -turning down several offers to go out that would potentially interfere.

So I waited with great anticipation… it was my version of waiting for Santa to come on Christmas morning.

It didn’t happen…

broken-heart

You would think I might be used to this stuff by now..

Reel back to a few days prior when I posted to my private social network about my eldest son not behaving the greatest enough to make me question giving him coal.  

(I didn't by the way.)

(I didn’t by the way.)

And I thought about my ex husband and my children.  

And why the call likely didn’t happen.

And why I wasn’t there with my eldest as he opened gifts earlier that morning.

About the fighting with my father on Christmas Eve because of differences in parenting styles.

About how my eldest believes the world revolves around gifts.

About how my other children believe the same.

About the comments calling me “negative” and picking at my lack of religion or beliefs in Santa and the otherwise commercial version of this so called picturesque holiday of “goodwill towards your fellow man” and “cheer.”

dontbelieveinsantagrinchmas

I had a couple of friends offer to have a few drinks with me in celebration and “bah humbug’ing” this abysmal reality of a day.

That didn’t happen either.

Thousands of miles away two of my children were living a lie.  Sure there were likely tons of gifts and warm home made cooking to go with the “Leave it to Beaver” Christian lifestyle my ex believes he is currently giving my children.  A similar smaller version could be said with my oldest son at my father’s.

 

The posts kept coming.

Presents and joy.

Happy families gathered around piles and piles of presents and food.

The friends who were also “orphans” drinking their cares away.

The friends without children going to dedicated “orphan” outtings.

The friend who ended up at the beach.

The friend who joined another family of friends for their meal.

The friends who went to the movies together.

And then there was me.

I could have gone and done a bunch of things.

So why didn’t I?

This isn’t a completely sad movie.  Earlier that day I had some very positive conversations.  My oldest son called me and told me he’d missed me that morning.  We talked about the differences in how his grandfather and I parent and about his newest little brother.  And while it wasn’t perfect, it made me smile.  My children are my heart.  This year has been all about reuniting with them.  Little by little there have been some major steps of progression towards this this year.

And then there was something else entirely.

My grandparents aren’t doing very well.  There are several health issues going on that… will likely lead me back to Illinois very soon to see them.  My family fears these may be their last days.

On the last phone calls I have not been able to speak with my grandmother.  Her health and the timing of the calls has prevented it.

I got to talk to her yesterday however.

not taken yesterday

It snowed.  The house was full of visiting family- my sister and her daughter and my uncle and his daughters.  I laughed as she scolded my grandfather and told him he couldn’t drink wine (an Italian must at the table) because it would not be good with his current pills.

I listened as I could tell her face was glowing as she regaled about how my cousins closer in proximity were picking up art.  And she asked me about my newborn.

“Does he look like you?”

“I’ll send you a picture.  He’s little like me.  We’d like to visit soon.  I’m worried about you.  Will you even have the strength to hold him when we get there?”

We spoke about the argument with my oldest son.  About her son and me differing on our versions of respecting ones elders.  About how because of the argument we were not able to see each other that morning.

“It sounds like you can have some quiet time with the new baby then.  That doesn’t sound like a bad day at all.”

Suddenly the rest of the day didn’t matter.  The other things making me blue didn’t matter.

At least for that moment.

She was right.  In the simplest of all things she was ever so right.

Our phone call got cut short due to some technical difficulty.  I thought I would end up calling her back and telling her that the line had dropped.  I never ended up doing so.  I had the Skype call coming up and needed to tend to that.

But even after that phone call no show, and the blue that I felt with that, I know that maybe that little bit was all she was supposed to have done.  It was just enough to push me through the rest of the day.

I spoke to friends here and there but essentially kept to myself on Christmas.  To me and my newborn, it was just another Wednesday.  It wasn’t the most perfect day in our most perfect movie town but, it was real, and that’s ok.

In the real world life, and holidays doesn’t always resemble a movie.  That’s just how it is.  And you know something?  That’s alright.  Even if you live in a movie town.  It’s alright.

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The Gift of Not Gifting

Over the course of time I have become enamored with the idea and action of gifting.  There are so many rewards to the heart with the act of giving.  What people tend to forget is that there are also so many potential setbacks.

Here’s an  image you are likely familiar with if you have been on the internet longer than five seconds.  It is a silly but accurate reminder of what I will be alluding to with this post.

free_candy_van

When my children were here with me over the summer, I wanted to do so much for them.  Any parent should understand how hard it is to be apart from their children even for a short time.  So, when the time came that they were finally here, I wanted more than anything to give them the world.  To get them here in the first place meant the world to me.  In that regard, I am thankful that I was privileged with the company of good friends to facilitate that visit happening including getting them here (despite my ex husband moving cross country without any notice so he could be with the newest woman he met in a video game) and even getting them to Disneyland.

While the material things themselves were wonderful, especially as I was beyond broke and having to tell my children that unfortunately I could not buy them everything, the act of it was far more meaningful to all of us.  Or… at least at that moment.

As more moments passed where my children have been distanced, I have began to abhor giving.  Not because I don’t want to… but because I see the little acts of bribery and compensating techniques that are actually happening.  Giving, especially to children, gives less when it is done all the time.

Both of my sons have had birthdays since my last postings.  I have found myself taken back with disgust for the reactions to giving and lack of giving done to them.

A little bit of a super personal background:

My oldest son is currently living with my father.  It was a decision made years ago as a temporary solution to my ex husband essentially leaving me in a very desolate space.  So desolate, in fact, that I am finally gaining the momentum to…

My younger son and daughter are living with their father.  That situation is extremely delicate and frustrating.  The man stole my children and ran off with them after emotionally and physically abusing me.  My last visit was the first one I had been able to get in YEARS as the man had: told them someone else was their mother, refused to take phone calls, and jumped states and cities several times while he leeched off some woman.  I have been working on this- without assistance- for a long time now.  As you may know, however, Los Angeles (and most of California in general) is a very difficult place to get on your feet.  I have suffered and learned so much from this grand place.

Since that visit, things have been progressively different.   My children know again that I am their mother.  They are very young and are starting to question the world around them.  This is something I have been encouraging and my ex has been discouraging.

(No guy like that wants to hear: Why did you keep me from a mommy that loves me so much and wants to be in my life?)

As the years and bits of time have passed, I have seen first hand how damaging both of the environments are for them.  One of the biggest reasons?  It’s the one thing that I haven’t been able to do a ton due to the lack of free flowing finances… as I have been working to recover from the financial shackles I allowed my ex husband.  Giving has been a cross to bear actually.

My younger son, when here, showed a major addiction to video games.  This is not completely surprising.  I met his father at a gaming company I worked for years ago.  His father has met two women in online gaming since me.  He is clearly focused on gaming…  it is… at a frightening level.  I fear that my son might…

A friend of mine loaned me a Game Boy for the plane ride and while they were here.  As my son didn’t have a portable gaming device, he was enamored with it and didn’t want to let go.  Combined with his learning and developmental problems, this only made me more nervous.  Near the end of the visit, I didn’t want him to have anything to do with the device.  He couldn’t handle the responsibility on even a sharing level and would break down when it was taken away.

As his birthday approached, he voiced to me on a webcam visit that he wanted a portable gaming device for his birthday.  I told him no.  I explained that he had not been able to handle it and, when and if he could show me differently, I would reconsider it.  At this point, he broke down.

“I don’t like you Mom.”

Can you guess what happened after that?  Yep his father and his latest girlfriend bought him one.  They had overheard the conversation.

It was one instance of many with regards to gifts that has bothered me.

When the calls were to initially start, and the kids had left here, the gifts and things I gave them were mysteriously lost.  I sent two cameras out to even get the visits.  They never arrived and there was an excuse for several weeks paired with talking down to me and telling me that my confirmation slips and testing of equipment were simply not true.

Something important given to my daughter also went missing.  One of my grandparents sends jewelry found at thrifts every so often. I found two butterfly pins in a bag of jewelry and decided to do something special for the two of us.

I gave my daughter a pink butterfly pin and I kept a green one. I told her where the butterfly came from. That it was from her great grandmother.  It would be a reminder of each other no matter how far away we were each time we wore it.  I told my daughter:

“No matter how far away we are, when we have these on especially, remember how much your mother loves you and that you are always with me, even if you’re not physically there.”

“You’re not just my mommy.  You’re my friend.”

It was a way to remember the love we shared no matter how much distance was between us.  It was nothing fancy material wise but it was a special bond between the two of us.

In addition to the butterfly pin, I gave her a jewelry box with other little costume jewelry. I told her to make sure she kept the pin safe in the box.

For a couple of weeks after the visit, it was a wonderful and special shared moment. She told me that she had worn the butterfly to her first day at the new school.  I wore it en route to a prospective client.  It was the magic and love of giving.

Not too long after she returned she told me that her father lost the pin.  We had talked about it on our phone calls prior.  He had to have known how special it was to us.  But there it was, coincidentally missing.

Another instance with my kids has been that the kids are always showing me gifts on my weekly webcam visits.  They then ask me when and if I will be sending them things.  It happens every single week.  Items are shoved in front of the camera.

“Mom look at what Tuffles got me.”

“Mom look at this [thing given by my ex husband & his girlfriend]”

It’s always something.  And it was always followed by:

“Mom when are you going to send us more things?”

I found myself responding more and more:

“Gifts are not the measurement of love.  I show you how I love you in ways beyond gifts.  Material things are  great but they’re not important.  Hearts and genuine love are what matters.  Those are the real gifts.”

My ex husband and his girlfriend didn’t like this very much… and the consistency has not faltered.  I await tomorrow’s gift.

Now back to California and my oldest son.  My oldest son knows I have an affinity for fish.  After some casualties, I found myself with an extra small tank.  I wanted to give him this tank and get him some betas.  There had been a whole economical discussion about it and some comical adventures with his siblings (to be written about in a future piece).  He told me that he couldn’t have fish because his grandfather said no.  The tank topic stopped and we went to birthday requests.

My son’s birthday present came from some great timing as I assisted my friends over at Loot Crate.  The box included a Ninja Turtle action figure amongst other geeky treats.  Since this son was named after one of these figures, it was absolutely perfect.  To add to it more, there was a blind box key chain from Futurama in there as well.  There is a very embarrassing story of when my son was a toddler that revolved around the character Bender.  We didn’t know it at the time, but Bender was in that blind box.

For several weeks leading up to his birthday I tried to coordinate something to assist with it.  I wanted to have a pizza party and make decorations with my Preval vFan Airbrush System and center the experience around that (albeit small) gift.  It didn’t happen.  My father wanted to do everything and spared no expense to get the biggest, most unnecessary amount of tokens and gaming for my son and his friends.   Oh and about the fish?  I arrived at my father’s house to find that my son now had a goldfish… and that my father had bought a big tank specifically him now.

My father gloated about all of it.  My son was happy, but ungrateful.  It was frustrating.  I couldn’t say anything until after the fact.  I wanted my son to have an enjoyable time with his friends.  I watched, but kept my distance.  I wanted to allow for some independence and freedom.

When I was to go back to Los Angeles, my son had an attitude about him.  He was unappreciative and showing it.  I explained to my father that this was part of the reason I didn’t want things to be so extravagant.  He didn’t agree.  He just kept gloating about how much he’d spent.

My son and I discussed his gifts when we got back to Los Angeles.  There had been talk of me taking things away as a form of discipline for him being ungrateful.  The talk helped a lot.  I saw my growing little boy in there.  After our talk, he apologized and went back to tell his grandfather that he didn’t like how he was treating his mother.  He remembered that gifts, while great, were not everything.

I have a stack of material things I wanted to give the kids.  I wanted to share some small things with them to show them that I think of them constantly.  But now?  I am now in a position where the act of giving has soured me from wanting to do it… at least in one way.

“I believe more and more in the words I spoke to my children.  Of the importance of the heart and compassion that are far more material than any material possessions.  I struggle daily trying to get to the point where I can give them everything I dream they would want.  But perhaps, especially in this instance it’s for the best.  Perhaps the best gift for them is what I have been doing all along… the real one that they need the most…. and that’s holding back and not giving. 

He knows- My grandfather’s brave struggle with Alzheimer’s

This morning I woke up physically ill to the point where I had to push back a meeting originally scheduled for this morning to tomorrow thereby making tomorrow’s task list.. a doozy to say the least.  But at least a lot got accomplished and is in process.  Life is an ever evolving (hopefully) series of self processes.

After I went back to bed I woke up only a few minutes later to a phone call from my father:

“Do you want to talk to your grandfather?”

At not even 8am I knew that dad must have finally made his vacation to visit them.  Despite the illness, I obliged… always ready and happy to hear anything I can from my grandparents especially at this most delicate time.

“What are you doing right now?” my grandfather said.

“I’m in bed right now..”

“Is the sun shining?”

“I think so.  Pretty sure.  But I’m in bed right now what are you doing?”

“It’s early there huh?  You don’t sound well.  Are you sick?”

“I’ll live.  What are you guys up to?  When did dad get there?”

“We’re at a graveyard visiting people.  I don’t know when your dad got here.  I don’t remember..”

“You’re where?!”

I got frustrated.  What the hell was my father doing taking my dying grandparents to a graveyard?  I understand the desire to pay his respects to those lost and now in their plots back home but…

and my grandparents, as well as my dad, already have their spots waiting for them.  Potentially in that graveyard.  It made me feel more ill and upset when I even attempted to stomach it.

I would have to talk to my dad about it later.  Just another gap in a huge communication issue.  I couldn’t say anything about it to grandpa.    And even if I did, he probably wouldn’t be in a position to really hear it to understand.

“It’s sunny here and it stopped raining.  We’re just visiting people for a few minutes.  Do you remember Pat Cole?  She played the organ at church.  I remember that lady.  I don’t remember much these days but I remember her.  Or I think I do.”

Pat Cole was ancient when I was a kid.  What I remember was her house being a cluttered mess and always smelling of smoke and formaldehyde.  I remember as a kid that I used to joke that she was already a zombie.  I couldn’t tell grandpa that either though.  I didn’t want to come across as being rude.

“Now we’re in the car going to get your cousin some clothes.  She doesn’t have enough.  We’re going to get her some more…”

I could go onto a tangent about this cousin and that part of the family alone but that’s another one “for another blog”.  Let’s just keep things at my grandfather for now.

“How are you enjoying Ethan being there?”

Grandpa laughed.  You could hear his smile through the phone.  Ethan is his first grandson.  You can almost tell he has a special spot for him.

“He’s a really great kid.  Really really great kid.  Smart little bugger.”

“How are you and gram doing?  Is dad taking you to doctors and things?”

He then went down another path.

“My memory isn’t what it used to be.  I can tell.  I know that something just isn’t right.  I can’t remember what I used to remember easily.  I don’t know why but I just know it’s not right.  All I can do right now is try and make the most of what memories I have and hope these ones I’m making stay put.”

I think about the things my grandpa has told me over the past month over the phone.  Of the phone call I had when I was crying because I felt there was no one I could turn to that could get to my dad like they could… and him floating off into another world where he.. knows he’s barely here anymore.

I don’t know if all men or people in general go through that “knowing” period like he is.  There is a part of me that wonders if this will be my fate as well.  If all the magic that I learned about my grandparents was nothing compared to the magic and wisdom and honesty and compassion I am seeing coming from them in these, possibly their last years.

I don’t want to think about the visits to graveyards with end dates now placed on my grandparents’ headstone.  

I think about how much my grandfather seems to know what is happening and… how brave he is being throughout all of it.  Grandpa is known for being a bit of a cry baby at times… like when he was young and his semi truck got stuck going under the underpass and they had to let all the air out of the tires to get it through and he cried like a baby the whole time.

This wasn’t that guy.  This was… someone different.  Hell, maybe it was a guy who actually learned something throughout all of it.

Grandpa’s strength knowing this gives me hope.  Perhaps knowing and being scared isn’t as terrible as one may think.

Perhaps he already knows that he’s going to be immortal anyway…

Perhaps, because, he already is.

Parables: The power in simplicity

There was not a moon hung in the sky that night as the friends made their way to the evening’s festivities.  Blurred wavelengths of color mark the streets as they weave in and out of traffic.  Like a painter gracefully presses their brush along a canvas, this is their dance.  It is their silent impact.  It is their passion and fervor embracing their fast past turning world.

I

was

here.

If only for a moment.

If only for these moments.

Plates and silverware clink amidst the roars and hushes of chatter at a local spot by the beach.  The pair break through the sound and enter.  They are eager for this time of relaxation and the company of friends.

It is like every cliche night in Los Angeles.  Even when business is over for the day, it is still business as usual.  If anything, it is the kind of night where the most business happens just as much as it is about relaxing.

We sat there and ate cake and drank a few rounds.  We smiled.  We laughed.  Everyone was enjoying the company.  Everyone was enjoying the chatter.

A drink sits lonesome by at the end of the table.

“Whose is this?”

“He’s coming to join us.”

A man in black with an apron slung around his waist approaches the table.

“It will be about 15 minutes before I am done with my shift.  I have to do some paperwork.  I’ll be right over.”

“Come have your drink.”  the group insists.

“Not yet.  I’m on the clock and I have my integrity.”

The drink glows in the moonlight and sings its own silent overture to the starless sky above them.

He finished his shift and pulled a chair over.  The party was not complete for the evening.  However, this is the point when it started to get more real.  Every single other person on there was highly involved within a specific scene, even if their places in line were not the same.  The server was the odd person out in the group.

I asked him simple questions.

Icebreakers.

I wanted to make sure he felt fully included.

“Where did you work before this job?  Is this the job that you would like to have or are you an actor?”

It was very cliché.  I was very… rude actually.

“I lived in Vermont.” he said.

“But what did you do there exactly?” I asked him again.

He stated to tell his story.  He was trying so hard to belong to the group.

“I was working in computers.”

“But what in computers?”

The table echoed with questions pertaining to various fields.

“I was working a help desk.”

More questions as to specifics.

In a way, I felt bad.  Not because of his answers.  Not because But because we were so to the T about his responses yet the majority of us are entrepreneurs.  Our work and dreams are similar to this man’s, even if they aren’t always the same.

He turned the discussion to the rest of the table.  One by one, like an AA meeting, we all spoke about our jobs and stated our names.

Entrepreneur.  PR. Consulting. Etcetera.

The flashlight came my way and I failed.  As I have so many hats on currently, what I didn’t say was what I knew the most.  I had spoken a lot about both but also relatively little, even if I had been verbose.  Succinctly there were only two answers that should have been said.

“I  am a writer.  Sometimes it’s for money.  Sometimes it’s not.  But it’s always with heart.”

Transpose the word artist for writer and have the same answer.

Sometimes things shouldn’t have to be so wordy or complex.  There is so much complexity in the purity.  But only if you look inwardly for it and only if you listen.  I have learned that being dynamic is like constantly being on stage.  You have to be bold.  You have to be brazen.  You have to be fully aware of what you are.

You have to…

You have to…

You have to….

“I  am an artist.  Sometimes it’s for money.  Sometimes it’s not.  But it’s always with my heart- fully open and susceptible to being broken and put back together again and again in every single thing that I do.”

Because that is who I am and that’s what I am proud of.  Every.  Single.  Day.

Apologies and aftermaths not quite closed

My take on apologies?
Well they speak volumes of your character.
Believe it or not-
Every one is gonna mess up.
He’s going to make a mistake.
She’s going to go the wrong way.
Someone is going to say something that hurt you.
One day you’re going to wish you never did something that is done already.

And it’s about the way you pick yourself up and acknowledge your error.

And can you apologize for it… no I mean sincerely, say you’re sorry in the most humble and honest way possible— with hope that you’re forgiven, but understanding if you’re not? Have you ever been taught how? Do you know what the premise of “I’m sorry” is?

It means I wish I hadn’t and I won’t do it again.

I found the above note on the tumblr of a girl I met at a party a few weeks ago.  She’s a wonderful girl that I spent a bit of time with at said party.

There is a backstory to the following apology below.  Although it has already been discussed with the person involved, I was moved by her post to add more to it here in the public space.  The rabbit hole goes deep with this tale in which I view the experience to truly be something that I will smile about and forever treasure in my mind, regardless of what happens in the aftermath.

And to you “my” dear sir so & so…

I’m truly sorry I reacted the way that I did.  Hopefully someday you may see to the sincerity.. of moments so pure and beautiful that in the aftermath (I hope it’s a see you later, rather than a goodbye)in my heart of something magical in its own right rather than the tainted disdain it may very well likely (doubtfully) have become.

I realize that if I’ve waited this long for 1 legendary moment, regardless if there’s more after, what a great moment to have to look back at.  Here’s hoping that you will not only remain there.  Here’s hoping you visit me in the realm of… whatever way you desire, if only for another moment once again.