Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Really Long One About Aunt Betty

I don’t know where to start this post. Yeah, I know, that line is a cliché all by itself. But I really mean it. I haven’t blogged in forever because I don’t know where to start writing about something I really need to write about, and I don’t feel like it’s okay to keep writing about day to day minutia without first addressing this other thing first. Please bear with me while I finally try to get this out.

It’s funny (and also not funny at all) how you start to get older and you start being aware of mortality, both your own and that of other people. You might lose your grandparents or some distant relatives you didn’t really know. Your friends might start losing their loved ones and you might even lose one of your friends. In that process, everything in your mind seems to shift. Another part of your own… innocence (or naivete?) is lost, never to return. It’s something you learn and endure that you can never un-learn or un-endure. Every time it happens it’s both not quite as bad as the last time, and so much worse, and completely different from anything else you’ve been through.

One year and twenty-six days ago, I lost a good size chunk of my heart. And while I probably appear fully recovered, or close, I don’t feel that way at all. I’m starting to believe that I really will never be the same.

When I was 15 years old, I lost the first of three of the women in my extended family who had the biggest impacts on me when I was a kid. Of course I had lots of great people around me, but these three particularly stood out as exceptional human beings and to this day I feel so extremely fortunate that I had them in my life. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I would not be who I am now if I had not learned what I learned from these three women.

My paternal grandmother died when I was 15 years old. She was one of the most amazing women I knew. I lived next door to her from barely-walking age until middle school. She took me on bike rides and to the park and imparted her wisdom about cooking, cross stitch, birds of Alaska, and how to laugh often, love deeply and unconditionally, and stay positive and genuinely kind in the face of any person or event to the contrary that I may encounter in my travels through life.

I remember going through the few months after her death on auto-pilot. It took me a long time to feel happy again. This was my first significant loss and I took it very hard. It was the first time I can remember my dad really crying. I remember feeling so angry that so many bad people were allowed to stick around with their families while someone like my grandma, who had a smile for everyone she ever met, had to get so sick, suffer and die. With guidance from my family I put one foot in front of the other and I got through that, though I still think of her so much. Every time I see or hear a little songbird, every time I see an old Schwinn bicycle, every time I hiccup (and that’s a lot!), and even when I laugh and begin to cackle.

At the time I don’t think I could fathom anything that would hurt that badly, except maybe losing my parents, which I will never ever be ready to do.  Since then, I’ve been through infertility and three disrupted adoptions.  Old friends and classmates have passed away. I’ve lost and had to cut off relationships with people I love, for my own best interest and/or for the best interest of my son or family. Those all hurt, too, but they are a different hurt.

I’m sad to say that I found that pain again.

My Aunt Betty, my mom’s big sister, was another truly amazing, exceptional human being. The kind you don’t encounter very often in this world. She was a bit like my grandma in some ways; always kind and positive. In fact, I distinctly remember a conversation with family members after her passing in which none of us could think of a single time she’d bad-mouthed anyone else. Ever. How many people on this planet can say that, or have that said about them in total honesty?

My mom completely idolized Aunt Betty, who was thirteen years her senior, from when she was as young as she can remember.  Aunt Betty was always so full of goodness and grace, so pretty, and so sophisticated (but completely unpretentious).  When she married my Uncle Jack – another fine human being by the way – they proceeded to have four children in about a six year span… all boys! Aunt Betty loved her boys more than life itself, and even more so loved being their mother. She was so fantastic at it, and anyone in her presence could tell.

Aunt Betty’s four boys were roughly 8-14 years old when I was born.  Because she and my mom were so close, Aunt Betty’s house was a favorite destination for long weekends or even short vacations.  We would drive or fly the 350 miles to Aunt Betty’s house quite frequently when I was a kid. She frequently told me that I was the ‘little girl she never had.’ She was so kind to me, even when I was a whiny annoying little kid. I don’t remember her ever being stern with me because she didn’t need to. It would have devastated me to upset or disappoint her, so I don’t remember ever having an issue during a visit.

I remember being so excited during the long drive to her house that I’m sure I drove my parents crazy asking if we were there yet. I remember a specific footbridge not far from her house that was a signal to my mom and I to brush our hair and make sure we looked our best for our arrival at Aunt Betty’s house.  (Now that I live in the same town she lived in, I think of her every single time I see that bridge. It makes me smile every time without fail.)

The house Aunt Betty lived in became one of my best childhood memories. It was a happy place where I was always welcome, wanted, and loved like crazy.

I remember the strangest minute details, like the tiny black and white floor tiles in the kitchen that would leave nifty patterns on your feet if you stood in one place too long.

I remember the deck which wrapped around the side of the house and on to the garage roof, where I would sit for much longer than my normal attention span, just enjoying the company of my aunt, uncle and cousins. I remember Aunt Betty sitting on that deck, closing her eyes, and soaking up that warm Alaskan sunshine – but not too long, because she was so careful not to encourage wrinkles.

Speaking of wrinkles, I remember her nighttime ritual which included slathering at least two or three different creams and lotions on her face to stave off aging. She wore her bathrobe and a towel on her head. She compulsively tugged at the neck of her robe, making sure she never revealed anything inappropriate although that would have been virtually impossible because of how tightly it was wrapped around her.

I remember that they always had Aqua Fresh toothpaste at Aunt Betty’s house. I thought the stripes were nifty.

I remember the little food pantry under the stairs. She’d send me down there for whatever she needed while she was making dinner. I would cautiously venture down those stairs to the dark and scary bottom floor (which consisted of a bar/rec room area, two bedrooms, an office and a bathroom – nothing scary at all), sprint to the pantry, hastily procure whatever I was asked to, and sprint back up to the landing. Then I’d slow back down and walk up the rest of the stairs normally so Aunt Betty wouldn’t know I was such a chicken.

I remember that Aunt Betty kept boxes of cereal inside Ziploc bags. To this day I’m not sure why, but I’m sure it was a good reason. I also remember that she always – ALWAYS – had the most delicious orange juice at her house and she would pour it automatically for anyone who was hanging around in the morning. She always served it in cute little glasses.

I remember that she taught me that waffles are much tastier with peanut butter – a belief I still hold today, and that I have already passed on to my son. I think of her and smile every time I put peanut butter on a waffle for him.

I remember going somewhere with Aunt Betty in her car one day and the both of us having the biggest laugh of our lives because she was wearing heels and therefore having trouble with the pedals. She kept pretending to scream as if she was going to crash the car. I thought this was the funniest thing in the whole world.

I remember Aunt Betty not complaining. Ever. She raised 4 boys and contributed significantly to raising many of their friends and half the neighborhood children. No matter what happened, she would look at the bright side or point out whatever positive she could find. She never spoke ill of anyone, or at least not that I can remember. Ever.

I remember her teaching me to play Chopsticks on the piano in the living room. She delighted in that, maybe even more than I did. “Great job, Amber Namber!” she would say as (I’m sure) I messed up every other key.

I remember that she opened her home to hubby and I when we were asked to adopt a baby girl in early 2010, far from home. We brought that baby from the hospital straight to her house and for the first three days I was a mother, she was such a huge help, but never overbearing. Just her presence made me feel more at ease with that tiny baby. Of course we would end up having to give that baby back two weeks later; Aunt Betty and I talked at length about it. I felt like somehow she understood, though not many other people could. We talked about God’s plan and how she would be thinking about and praying for Allie’s birthmom as well as for us.

I could continue this for hours.  I have hundreds of memories of spending time with my Aunt Betty and every one of them is happy. I’m sure she had hard times in her life, but you never would have known it. She made everyone she encountered feel happy and special. I’m probably not much like her, generally speaking, but if I ever become even half the woman she was, I will know I have done something right in my life.

Almost four years ago, we got a phone call that devastated all of us. After visiting her doctor with some confusion and headaches, Aunt Betty was diagnosed with brain cancer. They whisked her immediately into surgery. While it was a successful operation, we learned that brain cancer surgery is unlike other surgeries in that the doctors cannot remove additional tissue around the cancer to prevent spreading. Brain tissue is obviously extremely important and not something they are able to remove in most cases and still preserve quality of life.

Somewhere along the way, she was told she could expect to survive roughly a year. I don’t remember hearing that. Either the word never made it to me, or people just didn’t really spread that tidbit, or I chose to ignore it.

Aunt Betty fought cancer with all the strength and grace she’d always shown in everything she ever did. When her hair fell out, she wore pretty hats and fussed over whether she looked okay, while simultaneously refusing to let anyone else fuss over her. I would call to check in with her and she would practically dismiss my requests for an update on her health. She would make a general statement about doing okay and then ask me a million questions about my life and how I was doing.

Before I knew it, a year and a half had passed by. Aunt Betty was spending a lot of time in bed, but still had her faculties about her and could move around reasonably well. We went to visit her – a privilege we only had once or twice a year. It was a wonderful visit. Aidan was big enough to be more interactive with her, and they adored each other as I always knew they would. We took some very precious pictures that day.

It would be another year before I could get to Aunt Betty’s house again. In April of 2013, I had discussions with my cousin (Aunt Betty’s son) and my uncle (her brother), both of whom were very in-the-know about her medical status. They both indicated, without necessarily saying so, that things were beginning to deteriorate. A sense of urgency struck me and I modified our existing road trip plans so that I could take my mom to see Aunt Betty a few days earlier than originally planned.

We had a wonderful visit. She was still somewhat coherent, though sleeping most of the time. She knew who we were and her eyes danced with joy when we arrived next to her bed, or told stories of happier times gone by. We spent a lot of time sitting with her in silence as she dozed off and on. We would each hold one of her hands and just be with her. The pain in my mom’s eyes when she left the room for a break mirrored my own. We knew what was going to happen, but we didn’t know when. We were overjoyed to be there with her while she still knew us, but we wished we didn’t have to see her that way and we dreaded what was to come. There was no ‘right’ thing to say to her at that point, but there was no wrong thing either.

A couple of days later, I put my mom on a plane back home and the next day my husband and kiddo flew in for our regularly scheduled trip. On our way for our first visit with Aunt Betty, I spoke to my (then) 2-1/2 year old about how Aunt Betty was sick and sleeping a lot, and how we were going to sit with her quietly and talk to her and be very gentle with her. Though in a ‘stranger danger’ stage at the time and having not seen her for a year, he held her hand, kissed it, and whispered to her.

In that moment, I realized he would never know her the way I did. I had to leave the room so that neither of them would see me cry.

We had a lovely visit. We spent time with Aunt Betty for a little while each morning and did several afternoon visits, too. The last day of our trip eventually crept up on me. I walked into the house that morning with a toddler on my hip, a husband supporting me the best he could, and a ton of emotions, not the least of which was dread over saying goodbye. We climbed the stairs and took my seat next to Aunt Betty’s bed. Aidan climbed onto my lap and whispered hello to his great aunt before kissing her hand again. We visited for as long as a 2-year-old’s attention span would allow, then I sent him and hubby downstairs to play with toys (that she always kept on hand for visiting kiddos) while I spent some time with her alone.

I knew it was my last chance to say things I needed to say. I didn’t know if I could do it without breaking down and possibly upsetting her. I took a chance and did it anyway, knowing that I would have devastating regret after she was gone if I didn’t.

I told her that she was one of the most positive influences in my whole life. I told her that she taught me so much about being a strong, dignified, faithful, positive woman. I told her that when I faced struggles in parenting, I thought of her and how she would handle whatever situation I was dealing with. I told her that I was in awe of her patience and grace as a mother and that I aspired to it. I told her that I was a far better adult because she was around me as a child. I told her that her house was, to me, a place where I was loved so much that I’d never be loved more anywhere else. I told her that I appreciated her in a million different ways. And I told her that I didn’t want to ever lose her. I must have said I love you a dozen times. She was somewhat unaware that she was close to the end, so I didn’t talk about that.

Because she wasn’t generally talking much, there weren’t many replies. She closed her eyes at times as I was talking and her face would relax between frequent smiles. She may have been asleep, but I believe she was still very much hearing and understanding me. She squeezed my hand with every sentence. She didn’t cry, and I did my best to hide the fact that I did. She asked when we would be coming to visit again.  I told her, “as soon as we possibly can.”

After my monologue, I sat quietly. She knew I was getting ready to go. Her last words to me were, “I love you, Amber Namber. See you next trip.”

I still wonder if she knew what that really meant, despite not letting on.

I made the lonely trip back down the stairs where my husband, cousin and uncle were waiting for me, I’m sure fully expecting me to be a wreck. They were not wrong. My heart was crushed. I wanted to stay longer, to have more time. I was already having such deep regrets about not calling more, not visiting more, not being there for her more while she was sick. She was still alive, but I was as shattered as if she were already gone. All I wanted was to race back up those stairs and sit there for weeks, to be there for anything she could possibly need. To brush her hair and help her put on her chapstick and help her with her drinking straw. To just be there. But I couldn’t. It wouldn’t change anything.

Almost five months later, I heard the phone ring as I put my son to bed. I thought nothing of it. When I came downstairs half an hour later, I knew something was wrong. I still didn’t expect this. Dave made me sit down and he put his arms deliberately and tightly around me. I was confused.

“Your uncle Kenny called.”

Uncle Kenny never calls me.

Instantly I knew. And just as instantly, I fell completely apart. It is a good thing I had a couple of strong arms around me, or I may have flailed about uncontrollably. Instead, my body-wrenching sobs went into my husband’s shoulder. I didn’t care if I woke the baby. All I knew was that my world had just changed for the worse. So, so much worse. I feel sure he told me that she was free from her pain and restored to her previous strength and beauty, and I’m sure I knew he was right, but I don’t remember any of that. I only remember the heartache. The regrets. The selfish sadness for myself, my son and my mother, who I worry about far more than I probably am supposed to.

Speaking of my mother, I had told Uncle Kenny that I would be willing to call her and break the news. After I hung up with him, I wondered why I did that. I’ve had to deliver several pieces of bad news to her in the past few years and every time it breaks my heart. Yet I feel uniquely equipped to be able to communicate tough things to her in such a way that I feel comfortable she’ll be okay. I remember her deep sobs on the phone. I remember her saying (despite a stroke taking away most of her speech years ago), “my big sister, I lost my big sister.”

All the stories she’d told me about time they spent together raced through my mind, and I’m sure hers too. They had been through some childhood traumas together and Aunt Betty, being thirteen years older, had helped my mom learn to cope. I really don’t know that my mom would have been okay without that influence.

I wanted more than anything to travel to Aunt Betty’s memorial service. I wanted to be with my family, in the comfort of the only other people on the planet who could possibly understand the gravity of the loss the world had just experienced. Unfortunately, because of our impending move to the very city where she had lived, I had just given notice at work. The company was already breaking policy by allowing me to work through my 3-week notice instead of walking me to the door (which is standard procedure if you are leaving to work for a competitor). Even if I did manage to convince them to let me go, it would have been unpaid… and the primary reason we were moving was financial. There were no reserves with which to cover the trip and the time off. My heart broke all over again when I realized I really could not go.

Just 19 days after Aunt Betty’s passing, we executed our previously-planned move to the city where Aunt Betty lived. The city that was, because of her, synonymous with love and joy and family and pure goodness for me. It just felt cold and empty without her. During all the weeks we’d spent planning this move, I’d been thinking that I could visit her every day if I wanted to. I could sit with her and brush her hair and just talk about mundane things. I could hopefully feel her squeeze my hand and maybe see the occasional smile. But it was not to be. She had made it almost three years on a prognosis of "12 months at most," and she was ready to go. I could never blame her for that.

That was one year and twenty-six days ago. I have felt the loss every one of those days. I still burst into tears at the most random things. I still think to call her at least once a week and have to catch myself before reaching for my phone. If something exceptionally good or bad happens, I want to tell her about it. I so badly wish I could sit and watch her and my son play together. I try to be a good example for him in all the ways she was for me, but I feel like I could never measure up.

Losing her three weeks before moving away from the only home I’ve ever known – and most of my family – seems to have only compounded the strain on me as far as missing those I love. My grief is so much deeper than I expected, especially around the holidays. I remember last year, feeling as if I might never be the same again. My parents coming to visit for Christmas is likely the only thing that kept me from sinking into a deep depression. They were only here for about three days, but it was enough to keep me away from the edge. I’m doing better this year, but definitely still grieving over so much loss at one time and struggling with just not feeling the same excitement, joy and fulfillment from the holidays as I always did before.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving and if Aunt Betty were here, I feel sure I would be spending part of the day with her and all the family. She would fuss over every single person, making sure everyone always had a full belly and a happy heart. She’d let me help her in the kitchen and we’d talk about old times. She would express great interest in all my goings-on and smile whenever I mentioned my son. She’d talk about how proud she is of my mom and how well she’s doing despite her stroke.

Without any of those things in my future, I will do my best to handle this year’s holidays as Aunt Betty would have told me to. To enjoy what I have, when I have it. To live in the moment. To always be grateful, appreciate the good things and move past the bad. To be kind and loving, patient and graceful. To not focus on losses, but to not ignore them either.

That’s all a bit harder than it sounds. I’m hoping it gets easier with time. Until then, I’ll remember that no matter where I am, she’s with me.

Last weekend, I fought tears through an entire grocery shopping trip because I was just missing her for no specific reason. Thanks to a lengthy hiatus from my usual frequent baking, I haven’t been into that aisle in the store in a while. This time, though, I needed chocolate chips. As I turned the corner, I saw this.


Got it.  Loud and clear.

I love and miss you, too, Aunt Betty.

And I always, always will.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Purging

I just archived my entire blog (again) and purged over half the posts.  I use this system because I still have the posts and comments in an XML file and can (and do) re-import them to a super secret location to be stored forever.

I also do it because I like to keep the publicly-visible blog tidied up in case weirdos wander through.  I don't keep a lot of pictures of us up long-term.  It just makes me feel better.  Paranoid?  Perhaps. But I don't regret it.

What a long week.  Work was challenging and the kiddo is not only getting over a cold, but now getting into seasonal allergies AND experiencing some sort of cognitive explosion.  Way cool and way annoying all at once.  I figure by this time next week he'll be doing pre-algebra...

I need to blog about a new adoption case that I am trying to help out with.  Unfortunately, it's almost midnight and I'm literally nodding off at my keyboard.  It'll have to wait for the weekend!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

No One Tells You About Three...

As another weekend full of family bonding time comes to a close, let me tell you something about three year olds.

They are brilliant, adorable, charming, cuddly, energetic, cute as heck, independent, adventurous, inquisitive, sweet, lovable, and hilarious.

They are apparently also part mogwai.

You remember, mogwai, right?  They were the irresistible little creatures in the 1980s movie, Gremlins.  All day they looked like this:


Cute, cuddly little things.  Then, at midnight (actually, I think it was if they were fed after midnight, but whatever), they would transform into this:


I'm willing to bet my next paycheck (except my Starbucks money) that the guy who dreamed up mogwai had most definitely raised a three year old.  Except you don't have to feed them after midnight for this to happen.  Seems the only criteria for transformation is the presence of oxygen.

Bedtime tonight was a perfect example.  The kid behaved well for 95% of the rest of the day, which is really impressive for a three year old.  Then bedtime comes, and his head starts to spin in circles.  I swear.  He did okay through jammies and toothbrushing, but as soon as it was time to - GASP - lie down, all bets were off.  Cute little fuzzy creature becomes scaly, toothy monstrosity in the blink of an eye.

So, I used the system that has been working for us.  I left the room.  I calmly told him that he needed some alone time to think about things, and I left.  I set a timer for three minutes, which doesn't sound like very long, but for him it is.  Much sobbing ensued.  And the kid was upset, too.  Ha!  Okay, I didn't cry this time, but sometimes I do.  I hate this whole process and I won't miss it when it's gone.  (Please tell me it will be gone someday?!)

When I went back in, we continued our routine of singing bedtime songs together.  He started getting edgy again and just as I was about to give him a second period of alone time, he lunged out of bed and said, "I wanna huuuuug!"

In that moment, I realized he actually did need me to show him some affection.  Though he can be a difficult little thing at times (and only at times, we are so very fortunate that way), he still needs me to be the person he can always call on for a dose of comfort.  And though I was still a little riled from his previous outburst, and was trying to hide it, I couldn't deny him that.  He asked me to sit down.  He crawled up into my lap and snuggled up to me with every inch of his body that he could.  He sighed contently as I rocked him back and forth in the dark in the middle of his bedroom floor.

And then, the creature who'd been screaming at me minutes before and demanding that Daaaaaaddy do night-nights... whispered to me...

"Mommy?  I love you to the moon and back."

He'd never said that to me before.  Hubby and I both tell him that all the time, but this was not a reply to a statement from me.  It was completely organic and quite obviously genuine.  And in that second, I was confused, because I was completely melted by his sweetness, and also feeling like it must be a trick.  I rocked him a while later, set him gently in his bed, covered him up, told him I loved him, and was delighted at the lack of protest as I left the room.

In fifteen minutes, we'd run the full gamut of funny, cute, hyper, sweet, furious, devastated, and back to content again.

And that, in a nutshell, is what it's like to parent a three year old.

Monday, March 10, 2014

They Should Call it Murphy Day...

Yes, this.  This day right here.  The Monday after Daylight Savings Time.  They really should call it Murphy Day.  As in Murphy's Law.  As in, whatever can go wrong, will, and so will twenty other things.

Seriously!

Daylight Savings is difficult enough with a toddler.  Here you have a creature who lives and breathes by structure and routine.  Suddenly and for no apparent reason, you change his clock and just expect him to automatically be ready to nap, eat, bathe, play, or throw his normal tantrum... an hour earlier than normal.  No explanation and no transition, just BAM.  You're going to bed an hour early.

This all goes over like a turd in the punch bowl, people.

Naptime and bedtime were both a fight yesterday, but we got through it, as we always do.  Fast forward to this morning.  I normally get up entirely too early (by my standards), which is 5:15, but today was basically 4:15.  That should be a crime.

And the day sort of went downhill from there.

I started to write a lengthy and detailed account of my day, but then I changed my mind.  Who wants to read every painful detail of a crappy day?  Not even me.  So here are the highlights.

  • The dryer guy didn't call as promised, and the lady at the office was completely rude to me when I called to check on things.  
  • She insisted they called me twice.  They did not.  This same company fed me the exact same line two months ago with regard to a dishwasher repair appointment.
  • I had computer problems at work.
  • I ended up taking a 2-1/2 hour lunch break because of the poor organization of the repair company.
  • I accidentally sat on a banana.  (Who does that?)  Baby food, anyone?
  • On my way back to work, I noticed the gas gauge in the car was on "E," which just completely agitated me, because I was already absurdly late and I am not the one who usually drives the car.
  • I decided to stop at Costco for gas for the first time, only to be rudely informed by a machine that my PIN was invalid. 
  • (I'd used that pin 10 minutes prior with no problems.)
  • Costco does not take credit cards, so I continued on to work, hoping not to run out of gas.
  • When I got back to work, a co-worker who was in the parking lot and saw me drive by walked over to my car and I watched in my mirror as he put my gas cap on and closed the gas door.
  • SIGH.  
  • Now I'm that idiot woman who drives two miles with her gas cap flapping in the breeze.
  • I almost fell over in the bathroom thanks to my ongoing ear issues.
  • I sped to another gas station after work - by this time the warning light had come on - and once again I was told that my PIN was no good.  Thankfully this time I was at a regular gas station that took credit cards.  Best I can figure, I had a half gallon of gas left.  No bueno.
And then... I made my way to daycare.  I walked out on to the playground where a half dozen rosy-cheeked little people played as snow flurries fell.  My little person spotted me immediately, yelled "MOMMY!" and ran all the way across the playground, arms outstretched, and flung himself around my legs.

Suddenly every one of those bullet points up there was forgotten.  

Sometimes in a total crapfest of day, that's all it takes.

I'm so lucky.


Sunday, March 2, 2014

Things I Miss


When it came to contemplating the move, as we did so intensely for such a prolonged period of time, I really thought that I had anticipated everything.  I thought it all through from start to finish.  Nevermind the fact that I'd never done this before; I was going to think of everything so that there would be no surprises.

I don't like surprises.

Well, except maybe flowers.  Or jewelry.  Or celebrations in my honor?!

Oh... ahem.  Sorry.

Apparently, my thinking-of-everything didn't work worth a hoot at all.  Look what happened with the house, and the daycare, and a bunch of other little stuff.  Overall though, I think we rolled with the punches pretty well.  And as much as I know it's obnoxious to pat one on one's own back, I am actually really proud of how I handled most of this move.  I am a creature of stability and routine and I don't like surprises (except, well, you know)... and I tend to get really off-kilter fairly easily when those things get disturbed.  For the most part, I think I held it together fairly well, with the exception of a few brief dark periods that I now realize were just little fits of "I hate change" oozing out.

Now that we've been here for several months, new routines are developing nicely, and a level of comfort is returning, I'm starting to realize that there are things that I miss that I never could have anticipated.

For example, I miss my favorite radio station from back home!  Sure, I can hear the same music anywhere, but I miss the DJ's so much, particularly the morning ones.  I guess I took them for granted before, with their perfect mix of news, weather, and funny banter.  The DJ's on the two similar genre stations here are... meh.  You know, whatever, they're fine, but they aren't the ones I'm used to.  Thankfully I have an iHeartRadio app on my phone that allows me to listen in, but it's just not practical to do it every morning.

I've also learned that for the past thirty-(mumble) years, I have taken for granted the fact that everywhere I would go back home, I would see at least one familiar face, and often a whole bunch of familiar faces.  Because I'd always had that, it never occurred to me that I might miss it.  In fact, it used to irritate me.  I remember telling hubby during the pre-move frenzy, "won't it be nice to go grocery shopping and not see a single person we know?!"

And as much as I do enjoy that sometimes, other times it kinda bums me out.  Everything is new for me lately.  New job, new company, new house, new city, new school for the boy, new traffic patterns, new neighbors, new routines, new schedule, new doctors, new grocery store... and it turns out I really miss... familiarity.  A few times I've seen people from back home at work (some people in our industry tend to travel between here and there a lot to work), I've been so excited to see them.  I'm embarrassed to admit that I've apparently taken to hugging people I normally would not randomly hug.  One guy I've known for 15 years, but have never been friends with per se, rather just a customer of mine, surprised me at work the other day and before I knew what happened, I had actually thrown an arm around him.  Oops.

I miss our coffee ladies back home.  I miss the cashiers at my favorite grocery store.  (Heck, I miss knowing where everything is!)  I miss the comfort of knowing that if I needed help with something, even just some company, I could call any one of dozens of people and they'd be there in ten minutes or less.  I do have some awesome relatives in the new city and I know they'd do the same, but even they seem... new.  I miss Aidan's pediatrician and the comfort of knowing she's there if I need her.

I miss places with special meanings from my past.  Like the house I grew up in, the hospital where Aidan was born and my friends and relatives had their babies, the place hubby and I had our first kiss, even the place where I whacked a sea gull with my 1985 Toyota Camry when I was 21.  (Long and funny story... I am an animal lover for sure, but I still maintain I was just cleansing the gene pool of a terribly idiotic bird.)

Most of all, I miss my friends and family.  Especially my parents.  I hate feeling like I ditched them.  They were supportive - they always are - but they were also honest that they were sad.  I hate that.  I remember calling my dad one night shortly before the decision was made.  I was fighting tears and told him I didn't know if I could leave them like that (as they don't really have anyone else nearby to help with things, or if something happens).  The self-inflicted guilt was pretty intense.

You know what my dad said to me?

"Honey, if you stay here because of us, then we are keeping you here, and that's not okay.  You have your own life and your own family and you need to do what is best for you now.  We'll be just fine."

I lost the fight with the tears!  That is typical of them - encouraging me even when it could be to their own detriment in some way.  That made me feel both better about our decision and worse for taking Aidan away from them (and them from him).

But the decision was made shortly thereafter and we've tried not to look back.  I once heard that your car has a big windshield and a small rear view mirror because you are supposed to spend most of your time looking forward, not back.  I've never been extremely good at that, but I'm working on it.

I think what's keeping me going through the rest of this time frame full of realizing what I miss... is making plans to go back to visit all those people, places and things.  In less than three months I should be back home for a few days.  I'm a little nervous that it will make me more homesick, but mostly I'm really excited to get back to that familiarity, even if only briefly.

Maybe I'll go grocery shopping while I'm there, just so I can bump into a half dozen old friends.

Monday, February 24, 2014

My Second Favorite Holiday?!

I have a confession to make.  

I spent today in bed instead of earning my keep.


Don't worry, I won't leave you hanging like that.  If you've been reading for a long time, you may remember that I have extremely sensitive ears.  Yes, in terms of hearing, but even more so in terms of the other functions of ears, like balance and equilibrium and not feeling like you're falling off a flat surface all the time.  My balance issues come and go, swinging wildly from no problems at all to landing in the ICU a decade ago with atrial fibrillation brought on by acute labyrinthitis.  Good stuff.

One of the things that worried me about the move was what would happen to my ears.  I was moving from a very dry climate several hundred miles from any sizeable bodies of water, to a town right on the ocean.  I wondered what the humidity and elevation changes might do to my ears.  Much to my delight, I had almost no issues for the first couple of months after the move. 

Unfortunately, that didn't last.  I've had several bouts of vertigo lately and have been generally wobbly, bumping into things here and there and feeling a little unsteady.  I've just been riding it out, because eventually it always goes away.  Sometimes it takes hours.  Sometimes it takes weeks.  This morning, though, I woke up to a severe bout of it, and I just could not force myself to try to stay upright.  So as much as I hate to do it, I called in sick, which is something I hate to do and that I haven't done in many months.

I'm not at liberty to discuss the day's activities (*cough* naps, Lifetime movies and HGTV *cough*) except to say that for the first time in a long while, I hopped on to Pinterest.  Ohhhh, Pinterest.  You know, the place where we all pin outfits we love, recipes we can't wait to try, and craft ideas we have no intention of ever actually doing anything with?  Yeah.  That.  I only made it through the first half dozen pins in my feed before I ran across something that made me grin...

So we made it through Thanksgiving and Christmas (which I should blog about - since they were my first holidays away from home, ever) and Valentine's Day... which means that my second favorite holiday of the year is coming up.  I didn't even think of it until Pinterest pointed it out.  

EASTER!

Okay, yes, it's two months away.  (Who decided it should be so late this year?!  I'm going to write to the committee.)  I can start getting excited now.  Executive decision.

I love Easter!  I love the meaning of the holiday, the explosion of pastel everything in the stores leading up to it, coloring eggs, picking out goodies for baskets, having excuses to bake and eat adorable things... I love it all.  And this year will be exceptionally fun for our family, for reasons I will blog about later.


So when I saw this picture of Bunny Bum Pancakes on Pinterest, I nearly squealed in delight.  Quietly, you know, so as to not upset my ears.  But still.  I'm thinking Aidan will need to have these soon.  He'd love them!  You should go grab the recipe from The Chick'n Coop and make some too.

What's your favorite thing about Easter?

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Dun Dun Dunnnnn... (The Daycare Saga)

One of the biggest reasons I was hesitant to commit to the move is because Aidan was in an incredible daycare/preschool back home.  He'd been in the same place since he first entered daycare at four months old.  The teachers knew him, the administrators knew him, and a bunch of the other parents did too.  This school had the perfect mix of structure and freedom for him.  His teacher (from when he turned two until we moved) absolutely adored him and obviously loved her job, too.  It showed.  She pretty much potty trained him for us.  I trusted her implicitly with my child - and the number of people on that list is very small.

I battled with this, constantly, for a long time.  What if we moved and didn't find another good school for him?  What if uprooting him from this school damaged him or set him back in some way?  Sure, he's only three, but you just never know.  There was so much around the corner, beyond where I could see, that I began to wonder if I could be sure of anything at all anymore.

But what was the alternative?  To stay where it was familiar and predictable and stable... and where we were hemorrhaging money each month, with our reserves rapidly disappearing?  Where he could only play outside for half the year?  Where we'd be choosing to stay in the rut we were in, with no opportunities to better ourselves on the horizon?

Ultimately I had to take the plunge, but the anxiety and guilt involved was immense.  I had a friend tour a couple of daycares for me ahead of time.  I also learned that an old friend from high school had her kids at one of those two centers, and absolutely loved it.  She gave me details about the place, the teachers, the atmosphere, and it all sounded perfect for us.  Between those two very strong recommendations, I went ahead and paid a deposit to save a spot for him.

The plan was to arrive in the new city on Sunday night and to visit the new daycare on Monday to let him get used to it.  In fact, we planned to visit each day that week so he would (hopefully) feel comfortable attending all day on our first day of work, the following Monday.  As you know, that's not how things happened.  I believe it was Wednesday before we got to go visit.  We were invited to come for lunch time and stay with him while he ate.  I loved this idea!

The admins at the new center were very friendly and welcoming.  The classroom was clean and brightly decorated, which made me happy.  The teacher seemed very nice.  But within five minutes of walking in, we both felt uptight.  The room was just in chaos.  Of course, if you put 20 three-year-olds in a room together, you're going to have a lot of activity going on.  But this was beyond that.  They were just sort of running around like crazy people, with no direction at all, and the teacher didn't seem at all bothered by this.

We watched this same sort of thing continue for almost an hour.  I noticed the kids were rough with each other, and there was one kid in particular who was downright violent.  Within 15 minutes of sitting down in the classroom the first time, I saw him pull a little girl's hair, chuck a toy halfway across the room, shove another kid down to the floor, and club a kid over the head with a plastic airplane toy.  My stomach knotted.

Aidan was nervous and didn't feel comfortable jumping in to play.  This was a red flag, of course, but as I always seem to do, I second guessed it.  "We can't compare this to the room back home because that was a two-year-old room and this is a three-year-old room."  "We need to keep an open mind."  "We're just extra anxious because of all that's happened with the housing situation."  "He's just thrown off because of the move."

When it was time for lunch, the kids all scurried to the tables and sat down.  The teachers donned plastic gloves and passed out paper plates and cups.  Then out came the food.  I was excited to see what the food was like.  I found myself displeased with the menu.  That first day, it was bologna sandwiches consisting of white bread, a slice of bologna, a slice of cheese (the Kraft singles, individually wrapped type).  There were also baked beans straight from a can and pineapple rings.

Once again, I forced myself to try to have an open mind.  "It's only one meal a day."  "I grew up on food like this, it's fine."  "We're saving over $150 a month from the old school, they have to cut costs somewhere."  But I just never quite got over that.  At the very least, couldn't they use a whole wheat bread and some sort of real meat?!

I spoke with both the teachers in the classroom as well as both of the center's administrators about the aggressive child's behavior.  The teachers acknowledged there was a problem and said they would talk to the child.  The administrators only offered an explanation of, "well, his mother works here..."  I didn't see how that was relevant, and I also thought it was inappropriate to use that as an excuse.  But again - we were sort of stuck without any other options for a short time at least, so we reluctantly decided to go ahead and enroll him, and see how it went.

The next two days' visits went very much the same as the first... including extremely similar lunch menus.  I noticed that the food being served was not the same as the food on the menu that the school sent home each month.  The menu suggested there were hot meals being served, but I never saw anything like that in the classroom.

We eventually made it to our first day of work.  Much to my shock and relief, Aidan didn't cry when we dropped him off.  He seemed a little nervous, but the teacher was ready to help and he seemed okay.

That would be the very last time he willingly accepted being dropped off at that school.

To make a much longer story short, we started seeing red flags all over the place.  The biggest problem was that the violent kid we had observed in the first visit was actually even worse than we had seen.  Over the next few days, in just the few minutes we spent at the school picking Aidan up, we saw this child:

  • Throw another child on the floor, climb on him to pin him down, and hit him repeatedly in the head
  • Chase another child around the room until that child gave up and stopped, then make a fist, rear back on one foot, and throw his full body weight into a punch to that child’s face
  • Follow a child around the room kicking his legs
  • Grab a child’s wrist and hit the back side of his elbow repeatedly, trying to bend it backwards
  • Throw a child on the floor, place the child in a head lock and hit him repeatedly

That wasn't the worst of it.

We found ourselves particularly disturbed by the fact that the way these incidents were handled – if even seen by teachers – was a simple, distracted, non-emphatic, “don’t do that.”  We never once saw this child engaged in a conversation with a teacher about his behavior, nor in a time out or other disciplinary action.

Once again I expressed concerns to both teachers and administration.  One teacher did inform me that there are problems at home.  She went on to tell me that the child’s father was absent when he was born, then came into the child’s life, then left again recently. While we had sympathy for this child and what he must be going through, the center appeared largely uninterested in actually addressing this very inappropriate and unsafe behavior which, to us, was unacceptable.

Meanwhile, Aidan was in a constant state of agitation and anger that we'd never experienced before.  He stopped sleeping well and cried out in the middle of the night a lot.  One evening during his second week there, our barely three year old told us, "my new friends not nice, my new friends hit me.  I want a new school."  That was much more direct and articulate than he'd ever been before.  We were stunned.  And then I couldn't stop it.  I lost it.  The guilt was ridiculous.  I'd known better, and I'd shoved my gut feeling to the back of my mind instead of listening to it.  And it was having a negative impact on my kid.

Parental guilt is the absolute worst.

The morning after he told me he wanted a new school, I began frantically calling all over town looking for new places.  We drove by three different centers after we picked him up that night.  We both instantly got a good feeling from one of them.  We toured it the next morning and enrolled him that afternoon, a Thursday, for a start date of Monday.  The new place reminded us a lot of the school he attended back home, which was a very good sign!

The guilt struck again as I realized that he would have no transition period at all.  We were both in our second week at our new jobs and I knew that taking time off would not go over well.  So that day and the next, we raced to pick him up after work, then raced to the new school to hang out there for the 15 minutes prior to closing so that he could at least see the place and meet his new teacher ahead of time.

Monday morning came and, once again, I was a ball of nerves and guilt.  I remember repeating to myself, "this cannot possibly be a step down from where he's been for the past two weeks."  I remember reassuring myself that at least NOW I was following my gut, which had to be a good thing.

Right?

Right!!  We dropped him off that morning and he was happy as a clam to be there.  The relief was almost as powerful as the guilt had been.  At pickup, same thing.  Happy boy!  The sleeping problems, attitude issues, hitting, and general difficulties with him vanished almost immediately.  It became really obvious that it wasn't the move that had caused those issues.  (Wouldn't you be pretty cranky if you got the crap kicked out of you at work every day and couldn't tell anyone about it??)

He's been there for three months now.  His language skills have completely exploded and he's learned so much new stuff!  He loves all of his teachers and tells us every night what kind of fun stuff he got to do that day.  And whether he was the line leader or not (that's his favorite!).  I can't quite explain how much easier it is to concentrate on work when I know my kid is happy and well cared for.

Another moving complication bites the dust!

Saturday, February 15, 2014

The New Design is Up!

Well, how do you like the new look?!

First, my hat's off to Ashbee Designs and Custom Blog Designs for the custom characters and blog design, respectively.  I'd never worked with Ashley at Ashbee before, but I was blown away by what a great job she did capturing all of our appearances and personalities!  She was super easy to work with and obviously loves what she does.

And, this is probably the 5th or 6th blog design that Diana at CBD has done for me and she always does such a great job.  Plus, she's a super nice lady who once drove a motorhome all the way to Alaska to meet me.  Okay, maybe that wasn't the purpose of her trip, but we did meet in person while she was here.  So she's extra special to me.

I was actually kind of sad to see my old design go.  I had that basic design for over 3-1/2 years and I kept it that long because I loved it.  However, as the kiddo has gotten older, and some other things have taken place, I have become more concerned about privacy and making sure that I'm not rolling out the red carpet nutjobs on the internet to find my family.  Therefore, I decided that the photos of us in my header image had to go, and that custom characters would be a fun substitute.  And because of their more 'cartoony' appearance, they just wouldn't have looked right with my old header and design.

I also abandoned my old tagline, which was "enjoying the gift of parenthood through open adoption."  This also wasn't a decision I took lightly, because in a way it's accurate.  In another way, though, it's not entirely true.  We do still have an open adoption (and would never change that) but it doesn't look like I had hoped it would.  We don't have as much contact as I'd like and... well, to respect everyone's privacy I suppose I shouldn't say much more.  I also found myself feeling pigeon-holed into only writing about parenthood or adoption, while also feeling awkward and sort of guilty about writing about nothing else.  And that's a big part of the reason I haven't blogged much the last year or more.  

The new tagline, seen in the header above, makes me feel much more free to write about a variety of other subjects, which makes me really happy.  I wanted badly to write about my involvement in the Baby Veronica case, for instance.  And I'm excited to feel like I can write about something in the news, or something I saw on TV, or whatever.  Writing is enjoyable for me and it's cathartic, but for a while now I haven't felt like this was the right place to do it.  So I changed that.  

Which brings me to a quick comment on our Valentine's Day. We're not huge Valentine's Day people anyway, but this year we didn't even go to dinner or anything.  We had to work all day and then decided to spend the evening as a family, playing trains and eating take & bake pizza.  Romantic?  No. My favorite way to spend an evening?  Pretty much.  Besides, nothing could have outdone the gift I received the day before.  Aidan (who is 3, for any new readers I may have) was standing at the bathroom mirror brushing his hair.  When he was done, I asked him how he looked.  He said, "happy!" So I flashed a cheesy grin in the mirror myself and asked, "how does Mommy look?"

"Pretty!!"

Cue the melting.  That's not a word we use a lot, so I'm not sure where it came from, but it hit me hard!  Just the other day, he told me that he got hurt and went to the doctor (we are big on making up stories lately) and that the doctor gave him a big bandaid, and then I kissed the owie and that made him all better.

My little boy thinks I'm pretty and that my kisses can fix him up better than a doctor can.

Hate to say, no amount of flowers or candy can top that.

Happy belated Valentine's Day!

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Have I Ever Mentioned I Don't Love Change? (Part 3)

If you haven't yet, read parts one and two of this story first.

We arrived in our new city on a Sunday evening.  We were mentally, physically and emotionally drained after the flurry of chaos over the previous five weeks.  We couldn't wait to get our hands on the keys of our new rental townhouse, procure some dinner and crash for the night so we could start fresh in the morning.

We had the entire week planned and scheduled.  Visits to the new daycare.  Unloading and unpacking all our possessions.  Shopping for (required) new wardrobes for our new jobs.  Getting keys to our new PO box and changing our address everywhere.  Signing up for phone and cable service.  You know the drill.  It was to be a very busy and exciting week!

When we pulled up to the house we had rented, the property manager was waiting there for us.  We were so excited.

Then we went inside.  Everything changed.

Looooooong story short, between the time we had friends do a walk-through on this place and the day we arrived, it had... changed condition.  Before we even walked in we were concerned by this:


Those are 2+ inch gaps at the bottom of the garage door.  Aidan could stick his hand all the way into the garage through these gaps, and the door was bowed out in the center.  It looked as if someone had backed into the door from inside the garage and never finished fixing the damage.  Obviously this is a security concern, but also, we were to be paying for heat!  There's a lot of room there for heat to escape and that raised some concerns right off the bat.

The first room we went into was the garage, where we found that someone had dumped or spilled a gallon of deck stain or something.  It went across the floor and into the floor drain, presumably clogging it.


This could be a problem, because in Alaska, we get a ton of snow on our cars and if a floor drain is clogged, you could potentially end up with a lake in your garage that might not go away.  Also, the garage had a ton of furniture and building materials in it.  You can see a bookshelf, some sheetrock and a shop vac just in this one picture.  We started to wonder if the place was actually intended to be rented or not.

Okay, whatever, we'll figure something out.  Then hubby noticed that the garage door opener was attached to the mounting brackets by one bolt.  ONE BOLT.  Those things vibrate in normal use.  I asked what's to keep the thing from falling on my car or on my head?  The property manager's answer was that we just shouldn't use it.  Oh, and did I mention the absolutely disgusting extra refrigerator in the garage?  Not only was it filthy inside and smelled like a dumpster, it was situated directly in front of the breaker panel for the house, so you couldn't shut off a breaker in case of an emergency.  Code violation!

Then we saw the rest of the downstairs, including these gems:


It's sort of hard to see there, but when our friends did the walk through, this wall had a nice big shelf on it which would've been totally acceptable.  But by the time we attempted to take occupancy, they had ripped the shelves off the walls - MANY of them - and hadn't bothered to patch, paint or even clean where the shelves had been.  Every room in this place had at least one wall that looked something like this.


Yeah, that would be an electrical outlet with no plate on it.  And that wasn't the only one.  Serious code violations!  Just above that was a window.  We soon learned that it was not operational and could not be opened in case of a fire.  So we went to the only other downstairs window and it was the same way.  It could not be opened.  Another code violation.  Three or more code violations on the first floor, good start??

Other issues downstairs included a filthy washing machine and a shower head that was hanging loose, though by this time I was in too much shock to have the presence of mind to take pictures of those.

We hadn't even been upstairs yet and we were both horrified.  I think the biggest thing getting to me was, "if there's all this neglected stuff that we can see, what on earth can we not see?!"  We brought each and every one of these issues up with the property manager as he filled out the move-in inspection.  For each one he had a handy dandy fix - for US to do.  "Oh, you can just put some weather stripping around that garage door."  "If you guys want to paint I can ask the owner for permission but you'll have to buy the paint."

By this time, we had both become incredibly anxious and filled with dread.  I kept second guessing myself.  I'm just tired.  I'm just scared because of the move.  I'm used to being a homeowner and forgot how to be a renter.  I'm being too picky.  I'm being unreasonable.  But I could not stop the feeling of dread.  Hubby was even more upset than I was.

We made our way upstairs.  On first glance, the kitchen looked better than the downstairs.  Good sign, right?  Wrong.  Upon closer inspection we found dust and dirt all over and damage as well.


That's a broken door on the microwave which had been half-heartedly glued back together.  Because who doesn't want stray microwave... waves... bouncing around in their kitchen?

I peeked in the dishwasher and found it was dirty and the drain at the bottom was full of debris.  Here's what the property manager pulled out of there in just the first couple of minutes.


"I'm sure the drain is fine," he said.  "I don't know how that got in there but I'm sure it's just fine.  If you're that worried about it, we can start it and see what happens."  Continuously downplaying everything that was wrong.  I expressed concern once again about the condition of this house.  His response was, "well, the rental market is so tight here that owners don't make any money on their rentals, so there's no money to fix things or paint between tenants."

For a minute, I believed him, despite the totally backwards logic.  But a little voice in my head kept telling me I was right to be worried and that I should start running and not look back at this trash heap.  But where would we go?  Now it was 7pm on a Sunday night and we were - technically - homeless except for this trash heap.

We wandered into the living room where we found:


Exceptionally dirty walls - not even a basic wipe-down after the previous tenants vacated...


And burned, stained, broken doors on a fireplace.  The knob on the right fell off in my hand when I tried to pull on it.  Super safe especially with a toddler and two dogs in the house, right?  There was also a bizarre piece of furniture left in the living room.  It was wood and yellow and a big square (with rounded corners) and about two feet tall.  A ghetto coffee table, maybe?  Who knows.  But it was just left there as if no one felt like carrying it downstairs and out the door.  And a random bookshelf.  Because I definitely want someone else's furniture in my house.

In my mind I was frantically trying to think of alternatives to staying there for even one more minute.  We could go to a hotel... but what hotel will have room for us at this hour especially with dogs in tow?  We have family here but again, it would be one thing if it were just hubby and I. The toddler and two dogs kind of change things especially on short notice.

I walked into the master bedroom to check that out.  There were 20+ holes in the walls, but it was a nice size and, bonus, the window was functional!  Finally, I thought.  One room with some redeeming qualities.  Then I made the mistake of walking into the master bathroom.

Just when I thought I couldn't possibly see anything worse in this dump... I did.


Now, let me explain.  This picture was actually taken the next day, after it was flushed once by the property manager (I'll get to that in a minute).  I did not take a picture of the condition I found this toilet in when we first saw it because I was completely horrified by it.  The bowl was full - FULL - of some sort of black furry substance.  I have never seen anything like it in my life and I darn near lost my cookies when I saw and smelled it.

I don't know if it was mold or a gorilla shaved and dumped the hair in there or WHAT, but it was the most disgusting thing I've ever seen in person.  And I used to work in operating rooms, so that's saying something.  The property manager's response to seeing the toilet (not in that improved condition you see in the picture but in its original state when we saw it) was, literally, "W. T. F."  Not the expletive words, just the letters.  It was the first time he'd seemed to think anything was wrong with the place.

I began to pace angrily.  Furiously.  I try to always be nice to people.  Always.  I fully believe that being rude gets you nowhere (except sometimes pushes you backwards).  But I'd had enough.  I was honest - but civil - with the property manager.  I told him this was not what we had signed up for, I told him I had to wonder if a band of meth heads had been living there for the past three weeks (which was the period that we had paid rent for), and I told him that I didn't feel safe staying there for even one night.  I said the place was disgusting and that his suggestions for us to fix everything weren't going to work for me.  He said he'd talk to management in the morning (which would be a Monday) and see what they could do about fixing all the problems.

Then he finished his move-in inspection sheet and vacated the premises.

Hubby and I paced some more.  We fumed.  We stressed.  We debated.  We hugged.  We may have cried a little.  Or maybe that was just me.  Probably.  We tried to take cues from the kid, who thought a big empty house was a lot of fun to play in!

But we just couldn't get there.  By this time it was after 8pm and we had to figure out where we were to lay our heads for the night.  We'd been on the go for 14 hours and we were all getting loopy.  In a last ditch effort to salvage the rental situation, I called the friend who had walked through and asked her to come look at it with us and tell us if this was the condition she saw it in.  If she said yes, then we'd know we made a huge mistake and we would have to deal with it somehow.  But if she said no, maybe we'd have some recourse.

When she arrived, she was every bit as horrified as we were.  She verified that it did NOT look like that when she saw it.  (I knew it didn't, because we FaceTime'd during her walk through.  The connection was pretty bad, but I saw enough to know it wasn't like this.)  Hubby and I debated what to do.  Both of us felt physically ill over the thought of staying there even one night, mostly because of the kid.  Just the toxic I-don't-even-know-what coming from that master bedroom toilet made me feel like I'd be harming his (traditionally sensitive) lungs by making him breathe that for a night.  Furthermore, with the way the place had been trashed treated in the previous few weeks, I had to wonder who might have keys to it and wouldn't think twice about barging in at 3am and doing... who knows what.

Our friend insisted we come stay at her house.  So by 9pm, less than 2 hours after the property manager left, we departed that dump and headed to her house.  The next morning I had a chat with the property manager's boss, told him what was going on, and why we would not be able to move in to that home.  

He was a complete and total jerk.  He said this was all my fault for signing a lease on a place I hadn't seen in person (lesson learned), that my standards were unreasonable, that they were entitled to a 'few days' to fix the things that were wrong, and that I should 'start acting like an adult.'  My head nearly exploded on that last one.  I had been nothing but completely professional with him, and with his minion as well.  I was mad, but I was still civil, not rude, and certainly not mean or childish.  He eventually agreed to meet us at the 'crack house,' as we had begun affectionately calling it, a couple hours later.  

We met him there.  It was awkward and uncomfortable and he was acting like a cranky teenager. He somewhat begrudgingly made a list of our 'complaints' and at the end of the tour he told us he could have everything cleaned up and ready for us in a 'few days.'  We had already had our entire schedule turned upside down as a result of them thinking this was acceptable in the first place, so we found ourselves unconvinced and unimpressed by his offer.  Truth was, we didn't have a 'few days' to sit around at our friend's house while he put bandaid fixes on things.  And besides, what would happen the first time we needed something fixed down the road?  Would he even address it then?  He also informed me that he could have the place re-rented immediately at the price we were paying for it.  Because of my extensive research into housing prior to our move, I knew this to be untrue.  But I didn't tell him that.

Our friends were so kind and gracious to put us up for two days and two nights while we frantically searched for new housing!  Just over 24 hours after our meeting with the guy from the property management company, we were in the office of a different company across town signing a lease on a new place.  It was built twenty years more recently, is in a better neighborhood, has a better layout, and it's clean and safe!  But I think my favorite part about it is this view:


Yup.  Never gets old!  We took possession of the new place immediately and notified the movers of the new address.  Then, more bad news.  Whereas they had been scheduled to deliver our stuff on Tuesday (remember that we got into town on Sunday evening)... because we had to re-schedule, we were now looking at Saturday.  And our jobs were to start on Monday.  Bummer!

Thankfully things worked out just slightly better than that, logistically, and our stuff was delivered on Thursday afternoon.  In the meantime, an email exchange was taking place between myself and the 'slum lord,' as we began to call the property manager in charge of the crack house.  I was citing parts of the state Landlord-Tenant Act that I (still) believe clearly spelled out that we were entitled to our money back.  I should probably mention here, so that the rest of this makes sense, that between first and last month's rent and the security and pet deposits, we had given this scumball several thousand dollars.  And we desperately needed that back.  We had moved because we were out of money, and that was the last bit of our savings.

Anyway, I was making my case with this jerk that we were owed the majority of that money, if not all of it, back.  There were a few exchanges followed by one lone message from the owner of the property management company himself:
Please stop sending these e mails. Your an adult. You signed a contract and obligated yourself. I think your attorney and court sounds best. My staff has no more time to spend with you on these e mails. Once you fully breach the contract we will file court action against you and the attorneys can present the facts to a judge and we will follow the judges orders.
"You're an adult," really??  Oh, I'm sorry, it was "your an adult."  Oh my goodness!  I remember the moment I first read that email.  My response was not pretty, but it was just hubby and I, so that was okay.  Ha!  I still can't believe the snotty and condescending attitude I got from these people throughout this process.

I'll try to shorten the rest of this obscenely long tale.  We saw an attorney.  The attorney told us we were in the right, but that our best strategy would be to wait until the house was re-rented, so that we would know exactly what our damages were.  Whereas the slum lord had told me he could have the house re-rented immediately, the reality ended up being (as I knew would be the case) that it would take a month and THREE different decreases in the rent amount before someone could convince themselves to move into that dump.  And that is in a city where rentals have a 3% vacancy rate currently.  

Once the house was re-rented, I emailed them back, the first contact since "your an adult."  (Picture me rolling my eyes at that once more, because I am.)  I asked them how this was to be handled financially.  They basically said that they would be sending me a refund for the money they felt they owed me after they took out all they felt entitled to.  By law they had 14 days to do this.  As it turns out, they mailed it on the 12th day.

Can you guess how much of my four thousand dollars they returned?  I'll give you a hint, it was less than $200.  I had expected them to send almost exactly that amount based on what they had said they planned to deduct for, so I wasn't surprised, but I was angry all over again.  I eventually got back in touch with the attorney, who told me that for that amount of money, he just couldn't be sure he could get it back for me without costing about that much in fees.

ARGH.

So, currently, we are tossing around the idea of pursuing this in small claims court.  Part of me wants to, mostly on principle.  Another part of me just wants to be done with all this.  But seriously, I could really use that almost-four-thousand bucks.  It makes me nauseous when I think about these scumbags sitting on piles of our money.  I feel like they pulled one over on us, and I HATE THAT.  I hope we'll have a final decision in the next week or so on whether we're going to pursue it.  If we don't go down the road of legal recourse, then I have other ideas about hitting him back where it hurts.  Don't worry, nothing illegal.  But I know how to get my point across.  (Now picture my best innocent grin.)

In retrospect, it was nothing short of a miracle that we got through the past three months without having to sell a vehicle or something.  Our house back home sat empty (while listed both for sale and rent) for over two months of that, so we were covering our mortgage plus our new rent AND we had lost several grand to the slum lord.  The new income level definitely helped, but some other unexpected things happened, too, that really saved our bacon.  It's funny how that works out, isn't it?

Now, our house back home is rented without issues (so far), we are a few months into our new jobs and learning so much, the weather here is so much better than the weather back home, we have the kid in a great preschool (though we had drama with this too... watch for an upcoming post), we love the shopping here and the views and so much other stuff.  I love that I live three minutes from a Target instead of 8 hours from one!

We have finally been able to relax a little bit here, just in the last month or so, and enjoy some of the things we moved here for.  We took the kid to a cool Christmas event at the zoo.  We don't even have a zoo back home!  We've seen family we rarely got to see before.  Last weekend we spent some time at the museum here which beats the pants off the museum back home.  There's just so much more stuff to see and do!

This winter we plan to make some weekend road trips!  We haven't been willing or able to travel outside the city since we moved here, with all that's gone on, and now needing to build our savings back up.  But hopefully we can make a few short trips to what I believe are some of the most beautiful places on this planet!

After all of that drama - and I still haven't told you all of it - I ask myself daily: was the move actually the right decision?

For the first time in five months, I'm finally sure it was.

Our future looks so bright here.  Literally, because there's more daylight.  But figuratively too!  There's some exciting stuff coming up for us and I can't wait to overshare share with you.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Have I Ever Mentioned I Don't Love Change? (Part 2)

In my last post, I told you about what led up to our decision to move away from everything I had ever known.  I promised to tell you about the chaos that ensued.

Somehow two months went by when I wasn't looking.  Oops.  I have something in the works to increase the frequency of my posts.  But you'll just have to wait to find out what it is.

Anyway, we said 'yes' to the job offer at the end of September.  We were to start the new jobs the last week of October.  Bewilderment set in completely and immediately.  How on earth were we to get our house sold, get physically moved, find a new house, find the kid a new daycare, buy whole new wardrobes for the new dress code we were walking into, get completely reestablished in five weeks?!?

First things first; we started liquidating.

The new company was  generous enough to offer us assistance for the moving of our household goods.  I was incredibly grateful, and eventually realized we couldn't have actually pulled off this move without that help.  But after I got a couple of quotes from movers, I also realized we were not going to be able to take all of our possessions with us.  This made me both anxious and incredibly happy, as we had needed a kick in the pants to clean out tons of junk for a long time.  There was so much stuff we just didn't need or use, but we were holding on to it.

Moving mode kicked in full force.  We came home from work every night, played with the kid for a bit, ate some dinner, put him in bed, and started our second jobs.  We were up until midnight or later a lot of nights sorting, packing, stacking, cleaning.  Hubby made countless runs to charities to drop off things we didn't have time to worry about selling.  The things we DID choose to sell went on Craigslist/FB.  (We had to fund the rest of this move somehow and, remember? We were moving because we'd run out of money.)  I quickly learned what a huge lifesaver, and pain in the rear end, selling on CL/FB can be.  Craigslist is definitely the worst, since people don't have to reveal their real identities.  The weird people, the flaky people, the no-shows, the negotiators... ugh!!  I figured out quickly how to minimize those things the best I could and also how to just cope with it and keep trying.  But oh boy, was it frustrating!

The next four weeks were more of the same.  We gave over two weeks' notice at work, even though we knew the boss would more than likely have to escort us immediately to the door.  (That's how it works in our industry when you're leaving to work for a competitor.)  It was very hard.  The boss was very civil about it, but was obviously unhappy that he had tried to work with us the last time around and it turned out not to be enough.  We explained, honestly, why we were doing what we were doing.  I managed not to cry in his office, but once I walked out, I wasn't so lucky.  I felt terrible.  He'd been very good to us.  But the reality was that unless we wanted to sell our house and live in a tiny two bedroom apartment, giving up a garage and privacy and space and cable TV (and a bunch of other stuff), we just really didn't have much choice.

The president of the company, in an email read to me by my boss, said that in this case he'd support an exception to the 'walk them to the door' rule.  There was something in the email about 'because of their demonstrated character' or something which was really nice to hear.  It was an after-school special moment.  (Can't you hear it now?  "Doing the right thing always pays off.")  At any rate, we didn't become instantly jobless, so that was a pretty huge relief.

The flurry of liquidating at home continued.  We were exhausted.  Terrified.  Excited.  Annoyed.  Angry at times.  I remember feeling like a refugee having to leave my home without a real choice.  I still feel like a small part of that is true.  My brain knows it's not; we could have reorganized things, lived in a small apartment, gotten rid of our dogs, our iPhones and cable TV, sold our car and bought an older/cheaper one, and eaten more Top Ramen.  I get it.  But my heart feels like this was a little bit forced.  I can't help it.  I shouldn't have to give up all those things, darn it.

And every time some Craigslist flake no-showed to buy something, I got annoyed all over again.  Such was life for a few weeks as we prepared for our big move.  We were selling so much of our stuff, we were both in shock that we were willing and able to do it.  The feeling was one I can only describe as robotic.  We knew we had to only take a fraction of our stuff, or we wouldn't stay under our moving allowance, and we didn't have the money to pay anything more.  So it became one foot in front of the other.  On the days I thought I might lose it, hubby held me up.  And vice versa.  We work so well that way.

Those last two and a half weeks, after we gave notice, went by so quickly.  I actually don't remember much of it.  I blame the exhaustion and stress!  Before we knew it, we'd worked our last day at the old place, said our goodbyes, and went home for the final stretch of moving prep.

The next day the movers came.  I've never used movers before.  This was a strange experience.  They only insure what they pack, so besides some books and clothes, we really didn't pack anything ourselves ahead of time.  And in marched three total strangers to put their grubby mitts on all my stuff.  (Okay, truth be told, I was incredibly grateful for them, and as the day wore on and I watched them bust their backs to pack everything, it became abundantly clear that we never could've pulled that off ourselves.)  We'd always moved ourselves completely on our own from start to finish.  This time?  No way it would have happened.

But my anxiety was through the roof.  They moved so quickly and although they were completely appropriate in the way they handled our possessions, it still felt like they were being too rough with my things.  "I would put those things in those boxes so much more delicately," I thought a thousand times that day.  But I didn't say anything, not a word, not even one, all day long.  I bought them pizza for lunch and tried to be as gracious and helpful as possible while also staying out of the way.  It is awkward, let me tell you, to sit on your rump while three young men pack up your entire house for you.  You're pretty much not allowed to help, but you have to be there.  So you're sort of stuck.  Nerve wracking.

So after working from 7:45am to 6:10pm, starting with three movers and ending with five, our stuff was locked up in their truck and off they went.  And we were in a bit of shock.  We slept on an air mattress in our bedroom that night and the kiddo slept on a travel cot type thing.  We convinced him we were going on an adventure.  No, kid, we're not about to do something incredibly scary and stressful, I swear!  We're on an adventure.  Thinking back on it, I'm not sure if that line was more for my benefit or his.

The next two days we spent cleaning our house and tying up a million loose ends.  Before we knew it, Sunday morning had arrived, and we were getting into our cars to make the big journey south.  My emotions were everywhere.  I was still having severe guilt over leaving my parents (and feeling like they have no one else nearby to call if they need something), uprooting my kid from a great school and a great house to march him into the unknown, leaving my great job, the knowledge that without us around to host all the family functions, the family would most likely splinter to some degree.  All of this was so very hard.

So I tried not to think about it and I just drove.  I took a picture of the off-ramp sign as I hopped onto the highway.  I'd taken this route a hundred times since I was a little kid.  Most of our 'time away' since hubby and I have been together was in this city we were now moving to.  It was incredibly surreal to know this was a one-way trip this time.

And then less than an hour down the road, reality slapped me in the face.

Guilt? Anger? Sadness? Fear?

Nope.  A three year old who has to pee.


There we were on the side of the road, attempting to convince his highness to pee outside.  (Something, I'm told, most boys love to do.  This one thinks it's weird.)  Didn't help that it was chilly and there was a pretty decent wind blowing.

Anyway.

It was a long but uneventful drive.  I was reminded - as I am every time I make this drive - of what an incredibly beautiful state I live in.


It made me remember that I wasn't leaving Alaska.  I wasn't leaving my home.  Just moving to a different part of it.  A part where utilities wouldn't consume a third of my income.  A part where -60° temperatures are unheard of and even -20° is incredibly unusual.  Where my kid can play outside all year instead of only half or two thirds of it.  Where I'd be working for a Fortune 500 company with a career focus.  Where I could shop at Target and eat at Olive Garden.  (Don't judge!)

I was completely ecstatic when we finally arrived at our destination after that long day of driving.  Turns out having a toddler and two Chihuahuas in the car for eight hours, along with enough possessions crammed in that you don't want to open a door for fear it won't close again, is somewhat tiring.

We pulled up to our new (rented) townhouse a little before 6:00pm.

What we found inside turned a successful day and our hope and excitement for this move into a giant pile of poo.  Quite literally.

But you'll have to wait for my next post for details!  I promise it won't take me two months.

Maybe.