Posts Tagged ‘working together’

Walking in shadow

Another  November 11.

It is a day we honor our veterans.

I revere this day. My flag is out early. Beautiful. As I am having coffee, I begin my calls. It does not take long. Many of my veteran relatives have passed. We are losing such an important generation.

My granddaddy served in WWI. He was always so proud of his service. He was a very soft-spoken man. I have his casket flag in a case, on my wall; with a commemorative, ‘plate’ that was evidently popular at the time.

My step-dad, James Wells, passed last year. He served in the Philippines. I had always called him to thank him for his service. He was always embarrassed that I would even mention it. His brother, my uncle also served. Horace Wells was a diver, tasked with finding explosives around our boats, ships, and subs. He passed away 2 months ago.

My father, Frank Conway served in Germany, in the occupation and in Korea when the war was hot. He was an aerial gunner for a time. They had a very short life expectancy. The Army sent him to OCS (officer’s candidate school) and his entire platoon shipped to Korea without him. Enemy forces killed the entire platoon the day they landed. He has never come to terms with that.

He is proud of his military service. His very large family also had veterans. They were all Navy. Dad went Army. His father missed the civil war by less than 10 years.

When I look at this history, I feel awe and pride.

My brother, Larry Conway served 2 terms in Viet Nam. He came home wounded. He is proud of his service, but he will never be the young man we said good-by to in Jacksonville when he was 19. Larry holds himself responsible for a young man who did not come home from an air mission. The 2 crew -members were shot down, KIA and Larry felt responsible. My opinion was that a wonderful angel pushed my brother out of the way. I am grateful. He is ashamed.

Our wounded are coming home in record numbers. Now they include more women than our system is accustomed to accommodating. With that in mind, I now take ‘women magazines’ to the VA centers. I take them books that I have enjoyed, gardening and fashion magazines, anything I think they might have been missing during the last year or two. It is no longer a man’s world. It is our world. Everyone’s’ world.

We owe honor to so many.

Can I help?

The winter Olympics made me sick. I remember vividly that they made me sick last time. I can watch the summer Olympics but the winter Olympics just make me sick. Maybe I make myself sick.

I lean, move, and try to jump. I am helping. I am doing my very best to help them bobsled, short-track, race, do moguls. I cannot help myself. I have tried not to lean and move to no avail. Then, I get sick.

I recognize it is a mind/brain issue. I know my eyes have something to do with it too but I get so sick trying to lean into the necessities. Boy it makes me sick. I talked to my brother about it. Turns out he is doing the same thing. Made me wonder how many people in the world are leaning, trying to help, leaning without meaning to help. We just cannot stop leaning, helping. However, for me: it makes me sick. I get nauseous. This time was bad. I’m wondering if it’s my brain injury. It really doesn’t matter. I just know that I get sick to my stomach now. Consequently, I had to stop the program repeatedly, giving myself time to recover. I really did get sick.

My dad’s brain is not working too well all of a sudden. He has no injury. Yet, many people are older and they function fine. He does not. He has good days and he has horrible days. His brain is not working well.

My brother is somewhat ill. Cancer keeps stabbing at his body. He continues to fight it off. He is not as he was, but who of us is? I want to help. I need to help.

One of my dearest friends will not eat. She has been too thin for years and refuses to recognize it. Many of us are not doing as well as we had imagined we would at our respective ages. Illnesses and such were for the old.

We watch these incredible athletes every four years. We remember when we used to ski, to skate, to dare. It’s wonderful. Nevertheless, it really makes me sick. I just cannot continue helping them. I try not to lean. It does not work.

Where I live, my birds have begun to return. I have a wildlife habitat in my back yard and the birdhouses are already filling. It seems early but I am not in charge of the schedule. I had a large hawk here yesterday, hunting. Anytime I walk up on that huge bird, we are both startled. It flies, I watch in awe. Such grace and such deadly ability to take out little animals I am helping hatch.

One of the birds makes a sloppy mess of the birdhouse. I believe this is a Hammond’s Fly Catcher. The nest sticks and straw protrude from the opening in the birdhouse. The first year they were with me, I noticed the ‘mess’ and pulled those strands out, making the opening more tidy. It was only for me. I did not give a thought to the bird. I did not want it to look unkempt. The next morning, the sticks and straw were again sticking out of the opening. I got the point. A friend of mine mentioned the very same thing in one of her houses. We both realized that this is a trait and we need to stay out of the nesting ritual. I know the birds are back because suddenly I have sticks and straw making obvious notice in the birdhouse. I walk past, refusing to touch anything. I barely glance.

They don’t need my help. Neither do those golden athletes. Sometimes I have to sit on myself to leave things alone. This is not my job, is not my business, and is not my niche.

A friend of mine cannot let her garden be natural. Anyone who knows me, realizes I am a fan of cottage gardening. My flowers and grasses are sprouting hither and yon. I love the carefree idea. She cannot live with that. She could not let foliage die. She had to cut it so it would look better. Cutting tulip leaves and daffodil leaves will cause less growth for the next season. Soon she had no flowers. Remember that ad: “don’t fool with mother nature”? It’s true. We need to learn to leave things alone. Sometimes that is too much for many of us.

So, as my dad’s brain continues to misfire and my brother has his battles, the birds and the deer and everything wild will do pretty well. They don’t concern themselves with much of anything except survival. They will eat as needed to fuel themselves. In their world, you are not too fat. You just ARE.

In the world of flowers and grasses, they will overgrow and the weaker will not. In my world of the Olympics, the summer is good; the winter is difficult. I still try to help.

It makes me sick.

here’s to good health!

Don’t you hate it when your child is sick? They whine and complain, they ‘hurt’ but cannot explain exactly where or how, they cry, wanting more ‘mom’ time but refuse to do as you plead with them to do. They cannot understand the meds they dislike. They don’t want to be ordered about. They are not quite honest about what is at stake and how they really are dealing with the day-to-day.

You want to scream. You want to run away. You want them to grow up or let you parent. Either side would work better than what you have in the here and now.

I just visited such a household. It was difficult. Who raised this jerk? I’m sorry. I know he cannot help it. I know his mom is almost ashamed, as is the sister who had to take on the task of raising this child. However, if he will not admit something is wrong when the TV show comes on, he should not be allowed to suddenly be at death’s door when it’s time to help with the dishes or the laundry. You cannot have it both ways. Neither can a sick kid, but that’s just my opinion.

What I know is I spent a horribly frustrating time with family, some overindulgent and some just plain angry and frustrated with the attention needed by one member being under the weather. What is the solution?

The obvious one is that you wait until the illness is past. That always helps. Everyone can relax. But, what if your child is brain-injured? That child will never really ‘recover’ from this illness. Those parents don’t get the opportunity to ‘wait it out’. They live this 24×7, and have no outlet unless they are fortunate enough to have a huge support group. A huge support group. Huge.

I am seeing commercials about health care. Morgan Freeman is a spokesperson for ‘something’. I get the message. We need to help each other more often than we do. I understand that volunteers are needed. I know we should be doing more for our own. What I do not have the answer to is: how?

How does the normal family get the much-needed help when someone in their household is not going to improve but takes a majority of your time and energy? We are all so busy now. We have so many needs to fulfill.

I came home a crying fool. Afraid I had not done enough for my family unit. Sleep-deprived, angry, upset, scared. What I left behind is the mom who still has to deal with this while I fly away. I did laundry, cooked meals, cleaned the house, made beds, pushed meds on a kid who refused to take them, ran errands, and did medical appointments so that she could finally get a break. It completely wore me out. I am spent. Finally, home, I have no energy left. I have a full week ahead of me and don’t know how I’ll manage it. Tomorrow she starts with more doctor appointments, meal prep, housework, and laundry. Taking the medicine we need is not easy. He needs medicine. She needs rest, medicine, and they both refuse it because they are not capable. He needs to be fed and clothed, not simple. He wants things his way; she wants him to wear his underwear UNDER his clothes, not on top. She wants him to eat and is exhausted with the work that entails. He will not drink his juice, wants specific foods and because he is not well, she wants to provide but is close to illness herself as a result.

When I left, we all cried. I promised to come back soon. I always make that fruitless promise. I cannot afford to keep flying there but these people are so important to me. My family is so scattered. Travel is expensive and of course. I have to pay someone to care for my pet, my home, my routine, in my absence. Money. Medical. Misery. What in the world is happening in our lives? Who should be taking care of this, of us, of lives in illness when something has prevented us from having family members to do it? Moreover, with those family members, where do you draw the line? They cannot do everything. We cannot expect anyone to do anything. What is the solution?

Forgive my soapbox here, but why is our country continually working on a new health care program instead of making the program that our elected officials have, the national norm? Shouldn’t everyone have the same option at the same price? It certainly makes sense to me.

So, my stepmother will continue. I know she is exhausted. And the recalcitrant sick boy is my father. How does something like this happen? Until we find solutions for our family members whose mind has eroded, we are all sick.

Can you do this?

I find myself surrounded lately by people who ‘enable’. What is happening here?

My hairdresser is enabling her son and his family. My younger cousins and nieces, nephews are enabling their children. My great attorney friend enables his kids, who have their own families. And if you ever watch something like ‘super nanny’,  or ‘wife swap’ you see constantly that families are afraid of their own kids, when it comes to discipline.

When that generation matures, who is going to give them this leeway?

I have a tendency to view these things in terms of pets. If you die, who will take care of your pet(s)? Just think for a moment. If you have pets, who will they go to if you are hit by a bus tomorrow? You had better make those plans. We never know what is coming around the next corner.

I have a friend who cooks her own pet food. I used to feed mine a raw diet. I have other friends who hand-feed their pets each meal. Still others sleep with their pets, sometimes to the detriment of their spouse.

Here is my concern: if you die, will anyone do all that? I doubt it. If someone is good enough to take in your pet, they will have done more than enough, giving your beloved pet a warm place to sleep and food when needed. They won’t hand feed, they won’t cook and bake, they won’t chop up raw veggies. Once I began to think of this, I stopped that.

Now, my pets get pet food. Plain and simple. Just like everyone else would give them. If they get a better deal: super. But, if they just get a place to ‘sleep’ and food and water, I don’t want them to have any more agony than they already will, wondering where in the world I am. I think it’s better for my pets. And heaven knows, it  has begun to save me time.  And, not requiring so much from friends who might be kind enough to agree to take my furry babies.

I feel the very same way about kids. If something were to happen to us, who is going to treat your 20 year old as if they were still 6? Who is going to treat your 6 year old as if they were still 2? The world does not revolve around any one of us. It certainly does not revolve around our kids or our pets. I feel as if I am keeping my pets in a low-maintenance  area in their lives, so that if needed, anyone can pick up in my absence. I feel that this is the kind thing, the smart thing, and the right thing to do.

No toleration of yelling, screaming, kicking, complaining, when the world is basically just fine. No refusal to become adults.

My wonderful hairdresser gave her son and his ‘due soon’ baby a place to stay. He brought the wife and the dog. That was 7 years ago. They now have 2 dogs, 2 kids and no money. my hairdresser, in her  60’s is supporting everyone in her retirement home. She has one bedroom, they fill 3. Incredible. She wants them to move. They have said they cannot wait to leave so that they can live life the way THEY choose. But, 7 years and a larger family later, they linger. She is enabling them. why would they leave? They give her 200 bucks a month. The own ¾ of her home. They use everything and she cleans after them. if they get ready to leave, she feels guilty. It’s backwards. She should feel guilty that they have never had to learn to support their own lifestyle. It is heartbreaking.

I used to chop fresh veggies, go to the store daily to get ‘fresh’ meat to add to the food. Nuts. I finally realized one day that if something happened to me, the cats would immediately be on death row or be given a bag of cat food. Unless, of course, I left money in my will for them (I haven’t). I prefer having them get a bag of cat food. Any food will do at that point. Pet  food.

I have a friend whose dog has only slept on the bed it’s entire life. the dog was adorable. Now the dog is huge. I stayed over there once and woke to the dog, on top of me. I was not part of it’s territory. I’m lucky it didn’t tinkle on me to mark territory. I didn’t mind too much. It was only 1 night and I love pets. But, if I inherited that doggie, it would have to learn to sleep on a dog bed or the floor or something. And, if it yelled and screamed for 2 or 3 weeks while it was ‘getting that lesson’, I might not be inclined to bend over backwards for someone’s dog that was not properly raised, doesn’t understand that the humans are alpha and the dogs are not.

Hand feeding? Quit it. Dogs and cats and everything else really CAN take pretty good care of themselves. We get in the way.  and….we are supposed to be teaching our children to interact, to get along, to become self-reliant. Anytime you see a kid blowing up, stop to think just how long a different person would put up with that. nobody does it like enabling parents.

Sleeping with your kid? Nope. I won’t. will your cousin or your brother or sister if they suddenly find themselves with your children because you died? I doubt it. They aren’t used to bending into pretzels because you couldn’t bring yourself to do the right thing.

Why have we found ourselves in a world of people afraid to let kids grow up, become responsible, have pets that understand who is in charge? What in the world happened to the generation that followed one of the greatest?

Ooops. Cat needs cuddles. I hear the screaming. Better go get her.

what are you thinking?

I live in Spokane, WA. The US Figure Skating Championships are here, and I am normally in a front row seat. I have followed skating avidly since the mid 80’s. Fortunately, for me, attending championship contests have been constant. If I were not able to be in a great seat, I would watch it on TV, never missing a second.

Last night a very nice friend of mine took me as her guest to the championships. It was wonderful to see again.

However, what I actually experienced was not what I was accustomed to seeing.

I’ve mentioned before that I suffered a TBI (traumatic brain injury) a couple of years ago. It really has changed my life, my outlook, and my future. Last night I recognized it has also changed my past.

My mom had Alzheimer’s. Horrible disease. She lived in Fla and I lived in Colorado, then Oregon, now Washington. Farther and farther away from her, needing to be with her, hating to see what she was.

I made a decision about my visits with mom: I would meet her wherever she was. Toward the end, she had no clue who I was. I would watch her before I approached, to get a feel for how she ‘was’ at that moment in time. she would look at me, blankly, smile, and ask how I was. that’s mom. the more ill she became the more she morphed back into her ‘hostess’ mode of making others comfortable. because she did this so well, most people had absolutely no clue she was so ill. she managed to fool people for almost 5 years, with this disease eating away at her memories, her being. Now, visiting her in the lock-down ward was always unsettling. I wanted to scream, I’m ALEXA!! I’m your DAUGHTER!!. that would have done no good. she simply did not know me anymore. so, I decided to try to get her to like me, every time I visited with her. she had always helped everyone, everywhere. huge volunteer, all of her life. I decided that whenever I ‘met’ her, I would try to get her to enjoy my company. for an Alzheimer’s patient, that is no small feat. they are angry, frustrated, isolated, and tired of being bossed around. they have no clue who anyone is and they want ‘out’. I would go to her, smile, call her by her name, and beam at her, “HI”. she always responded favorably.

Sometimes, rarely, she would chat, laugh, and almost manage conversation. Alzheimer’s robs people of their ability to use their words. I learned to listen to her cadence and her tone. Amazingly, I usually could converse with her, on her terms. All I wanted was for her to like me. just for that ‘time’.

A brain, robbed of its use is not pretty. People do not act the way we expect them to or the way we are accustomed to them acting. When I injured my brain, my husband had his hands full. I had outbursts, my language went to the gutter, I was angry, crying, unable to do things and unable to figure out why. The doctors had warned us several times but until you live it, you really don’t ‘get it’. When I was going through this with my mom, I was still intact (almost brilliant, or at least really smart, IMHO). I just wanted her to like me. I loved her enough for both of us. I wanted her to like my company. So, we would chat. Sometimes we would hold hands. She had no idea who I was. I was careful not to intrude. I just wanted to be with my mom, or whoever she was at that time.

Sometimes I would visit her and it would go really well. So, I would stay longer than normal. Those rare times were golden and I didn’t want to miss a second of them. We would talk and laugh, her conversations would make little sense, But she liked me. She was happy in my company and I was thrilled to almost see a piece of her, coming through. If anything or anyone interrupted her, she was lost again. Sitting with a stranger. I would start from the beginning. again.

Brains are pretty interesting. she was ‘there’ in pieces. The pieces weren’t necessarily the good ones. My brain was here but not functioning very well. As a result, I was difficult and unable to care for myself.

Now I have the after-effects. my marriage is in shambles, over essentially. My brain has returned as much as it will manage we believe. If I am tired, I cannot form sentences. My spelling ability has completely vanished. I was an English whiz, math whiz, science whiz. Now, I cannot multiply. Sometimes I cannot add, no matter how hard I try. I spoke 4 languages, I seriously struggle with my English today. It’s just the way the cookie crumbles. I’m mobile, I can drive and run errands and cook and garden. I am just a bit more diminished. That’s life.

Last night I realized I don’t know a damned thing about skating. That was astonishing. My friend had gone with me as my guest years before. she evidently relied on my knowledge to help her understand the competition. It made me remember the first month I was here in Spokane, the championships were here (Skate America, I think) and I took my very best friend to every event all week. She was an athlete but knew absolutely nothing about this sport. So, I explained to keep her appraised. Last night, I could not answer the most basic questions. that was stunning to me. I simply don’t know anything much about this sport I have spent thousands of dollars on for 25 years or so. I’m a newbie.

So, just like my visits with my mom, I decided to just be ‘there’. I decided I don’t need to be in charge, don’t need to know the answers, don’t even need to know the questions. I could just be there, with my dear friend, watching a program of great challenge and superior athletes. I had been here the month I moved to Spokane, and now, 8 years later, as I am making my plans to depart, I was here again, but a different person, in every way.

And it was OK.

get a grip! no gripes.

horrible week. cannot imagine one worse yet I know another is bound to appear.

4 of my dearest friends have experienced huge loss of life. what is worse than that? before that, I was feeling very bereft, left, alone, frightened and sad. now, i recognize again that everyone has ‘something’. as my best friend said today, “you don’t have to look very far to see someone in a horrible position.”. she is so right.

3 of my best friends lost their pets in less than a week. one, is losing her husband. good heavens. I’m upset over my husband’s “stuff” and my pride and my money and divorce.  I need to get a grip.

I always say, ‘everyone has something’. when you are in the midst of it, you don’t remember that. just look around your own corner. someone is dying emotionally, spiritually or physically. someone is. I promise.

I have been helping a woman through her chemo. talk about a rude awakening. this is serious stuff. naturally, I keep my stupid stuff to myself.

so many of my friends and family are coping. we just didn’t dream things could become this grim. amazingly, spring will make all of us feel a little better. we will probably be missing someone but we will see more sunlight, watch new flowers bloom and realize that our world will trudge onward.

the most amazing part of this to me is the few people who still don’t ‘get it’. the ones who are completely caught up in their own drama, their own pain, not even seeing everything around them. that is heartache. name calling, bullying, pointing out faults, yelling, screaming, to no avail. we only diminish ourselves. I have been as guilty as the next. I keep trying though. I really do try. knowing that, I cannot discount that others are probably trying as well. we just see things at different times.

let’s pull together. please. let’s just row this boat in the very same direction. our time here is short. shorter than anyone knows. some of us feel we’ve been here, done this. possibly so. doesn’t matter. everyone is struggling with the very same issues and problems. we all deserve a break. we all deserve love. we all deserve a chance to improve.

I’m trying to improve. hard to imagine I could be better, but I’m gonna try!

are you new here?

I used to give presentations to help abused kids. Sometimes these kids were ushered from home to home, house to house, with little grounding ability, then blamed for becoming what we nurtured them to become. These are foster children. The reflection we give them is not pretty or fair.

Have you known any? Yes. You very probably have. Do you kids ever play with foster kids? Probably not.

My speech would be to city organizations. Organizations wanting to make their City and State a better place. They want to show they care.

Think about the life of a foster kid for just one minute.

Your parents are not getting along. They fight. Maybe you’re molested. (It’s difficult for a young woman to reach the age of 18 without being sexually molested in our country.) You might be hit, or punched. You might need to take care of your drug addicted parent, instead of being cared for by them. This is unfair to a minor. This is their world:

One evening, the doorbell rings. People are standing there, strangers, talking to the adult present. In less than 10 minutes, you are being transported ‘somewhere’. You were asked by a stranger what you want to take along. Hopefully, you remember your backpack, your teddy bear, your favorite jammies, your hair and toothbrush. You are a kid. You’ve never had to make these decisions. You have little time and are completely confused. What in the world is happening?

They remove you from your home, from your parents’ care, from your life.

Tomorrow, after no rest and much angst, you find yourself registered into a new school. You know none of the kids or teachers. Your trust is zero. You are frightened and angry. What in hell did YOU do?

You live in a different house. Maybe it has 10 people in it, maybe it has 3. You have new ‘parents’, but they aren’t your parents, and they get to tell you what you can and cannot do. You have a bedroom that you’ve never seen, probably shared with someone you’ve never known. This is your new life. Why? Because your parents were not doing the job they needed to do for you to develop into a productive adult and member of society. What in hell does THAT mean? Why are you in trouble here? Where is your mom or dad? Where is your aunt? Your best friend? Your cousin?

Gone. Everyone familiar is gone. You are in the system. You don’t know where you supposedly live because they want to be certain you cannot run away. New house, new school, new family, new part of town.

Now you live ‘here’, wherever that is. Now you attend this school. Now you need to comply to adjust and live. You become a change-agent. You begin to morph into whatever is required to exist.

This is the life of a foster kid. To add insult to injury, we often prevent our kids from getting to know these kids. Why? Is it because they are not ‘normal’? They have done nothing wrong. They are total victims. They are children. Now, we shun them. Why? Because we teach our kids not to accept different and new. Parents worry that foster kids are going to cause trouble.

So, a child, dragged crying and screaming from their home is shunned by everyone new. People they need. People they must adjust to in order to survive.

Why are we allowing these feelings to continue with abused children? Instead of giving them a wonderful, warm, loving environment, we give them the ‘look-away’ and tell our kids that they are ‘not really our kind’. What kind of future does this portend? Those kids are in the worst possible situation. Can’t we offer more help than this? Will we?

I view every child as my future support. I admit that. If we do not include these kids into our working society, where will my social security come from? When will my family recognize that elderly people have value and education? If we don’t incorporate everyone into our society, how much longer can our society exist? We need everyone. We have no right to discriminate. We created everyone we see. They are the product of our living values and rules. Isn’t it time to bring everyone home?

I worked as CASA (court appointed special advocate) in Colorado for 4 years. It was difficult emotionally. It was time-consuming. It was the most rewarding thing I had done in a very long time. Our generation has the time and energy to put things right for our future generations. More importantly: they deserve and desperately need our input. Should we sit, complaining?

Our future is on our shoulders. Shouldn’t we stay involved? It’s for our kids. Not the ones we gave birth to but the ones who will shape the future with them. Let’s stay involved. For everyone. All of us are foster kids, dependent on strangers to show us the proper path. Start in the mirror.

You deserve to know where you live.

call me anything

I had a great visit with a wonderful woman over the weekend. she is my stepdaughter.

We have been through so much together. When I met her, she was in 2nd grade, now a sophomore in college. the years have been amazing, the changes incredible.

We laughed about her different ‘phases’, the extreme shyness, the necessity of goth, the girly-girl times, the dates and the heartaches. She is slated to be more a friend now than a daughter and I’m fine with any circumstance. I love her dearly.

When we met she was going through the demise of her family unit. Her parents had divorced but in her mind hope was always intact. When her dad and I married, she was not pleased. It was very difficult for both of us. I had worked with children all of my life, as a volunteer in various areas. A single professional woman, I had never married so had no children of my own but really loved kids. I was always the favorite aunt, the neat ‘mom’s best friend’, the fun next-door neighbor to kids but never a mom. I proceeded slowly, getting into her life. Her dad wanted to rush us but I knew better. Still, she was rushed and it hurt her. I was unwelcome. For the first time in my adult life, a child did not want a thing to do with me. I was so surprised,  hurt, and confused. I tried everything,  I thought.

What I finally had to relent to was the unvarnished truth. After a particularly bad visit I was finished. I had no thoughts of trying further. By this time she was a freshman in high school. She had done some unforgivable thing and I was shattered by the memory.

When she came back, I invited her to have a talk. I laid my cards on the table. I loved her. I had worked very hard to love her. It was not something that just happened because I married her dad. It was a conscious decision and I had to be certain it took. I loved her. I would do anything in the world for her. I was so sorry about her parents’ divorce and her upheaval but I had nothing to do with any of it. I was also a child of divorce and knew the pain. I simply married a man I had fallen in love with. A divorced man. And she came along with the package.

I asked her to please tell me 3 or 4 things I had done to cause her pain, to hurt her, to make her angry. I wanted to know so that I could try to improve but I was fatigued with being treated badly and being unwelcome in my own home and life. I did not intend to allow any more ill treatment. She cried. She explained that it was nothing I had done. She said I had always been wonderful to her. She knew I loved her. Then she said it was not me, it was what I represented: that her parents were really over.

What a huge statement for a young girl. What a truth.

We both cried, held each other for the loss each of us had suffered and for the mending we were needing .

After that day, we went into sync. Our relationship began to flourish. We had both learned huge lessons. I believed I had known just what to do with my new kids, to help them like me and then maybe love me. Yet, I could not have really understood their feelings. I wasn’t them, they weren’t me. We all had to navigate this together and mostly, we had to be willing. One person in a relationship cannot maintain without the other being engaged.

She is a young woman and I am an older lady. We have 15 years’ history. We have a relationship that will continue in some version even though we will never again live near each other and even though she is now watching her father move out of my life. She is something of a niece to me now. A friend. A daughter of a friend. My daughter. She is important to my life. She needs no label. Neither do I.

We have love, respect and enough history to understand each other. We have continuity. How lucky is that?

A Picture is Forever

The Division of Licensing has been beating me. This has caused me great angst because although they are not as official as many agencies, they DO control my ability to operate a vehicle. Additionally, many businesses require your driver’s license to identify yourself. As we move toward the obvious, a public identity card, some states have already declared that a driver’s license is not an identity card. Interesting. Nor is your social security card.

I just want to drive.

I went to the license office almost 2 months ago, all geared up to take the written test and get a new license. Did not work that way at all. They said I just needed to hand in my old license, prove my identity, get my photo taken and I would be finished. They did not even care if I could see. They did not care if I knew the driving regulations in their state. Seemed excessively easy.

I had looked at their website, learning what I might need to take along for ID. The website examples are to bring a utility bill in applicant name, to the correct home address. A passport not expired longer than a year. A military ID. A federal employee ID. A current driver’s license from another state. They offer many identity choices. Two very long lists of them. I have never had a problem proving who I am so I did not expect a problem here.

This is something with which few men will identify. My name is Dorothy Alexa Marguerite Conway. Society puts women in a spot after they marry. People in quite a few places can actually change a woman’s name, to make their filing system work more easily. When I married, I was 50 years old. I owned several houses in my name, owned my car, was buying another home, in my name, was an officer of the court, in my name, had 4 passports (you know, my name). So, since I already had 4 names, did I want to add a 5th? No, I really did not. My name was so long that no government office or form would accept it as it was. Therefore, someone (a typist) would make a decision to shorten my name. Think about that. Long name. 3 of the names can easily be misspelled. As a result, the typist usually drops a name. so, I have ID that shows me as Dorothy M Conway, as Alexa M Conway, as DA Conway, as (my favorite) DAM Conway, as Dorothy Alexa Conway. There are more, believe me. So many combinations available. I have too many names. I have never had a problem proving who I am, getting licenses in several states and territories.

This was easy. I went in with my current driver’s license. It identifies me as Alexa M Conway Smith. Yep. Smith. Why? Well, because a well-intentioned young woman in Oregon added Smith to my last name, without proof of my identity, without a marriage certificate, without any substantiation that I had increased the size of my name. She recognized my husband, and then she just did it. When she handed me my Oregon license, it said smith, behind everything else. I gulped. I was looking for the first time at a name that was foreign to me. My brand new husband was standing next to me, beaming. She was beaming. I was silent, not wanting to hurt him or her. I thanked her and we went on our way. Today I would like to have her take that name off my license. Not just because he is having a very public affair. Not because we are heading toward divorce. Not even because smith is such a common name and it increases the difficulty of my identity. Nope. Just because it was never my choice and because I liked my name just fine and it irks me that a woman is so easily re-identified in this society. She did not change HIS name to conway-smith. Only mine. Uh huh. I am one of those.

So, the license office here did not like it that my name was smith on my license but not on my social security card. Well, duh. I never legally changed my name! But, you know who did? My health insurance company. Someone there decided that I would be easier to find if my last name was the same as my husband’s. Just like that, my records all went to smith. So now, I have to help them find me. Sometimes it is conway-smith, sometimes its smith. We never know. It is an Easter egg hunt. Then, amazingly, my insurance company that handles my auto insurance, my homeowners insurance and my credit card, began to call me conway-smith. Wow. Another ‘somebody’ just decided it was easier. The first time we got our insurance cards, after I added my husband to my accounts, the cards came in my name, with his name listed afterwards. He had a fit. This did not work for him. It was my account. Everything had been mine. I added him to my accounts. Now, he was mad because things came in my name.  I had to call them, asking that they put his name on things equally. The woman I spoke with completely understood. I explained to my husband that women deal with this all the time and he really should put his ego in check. It was not a big deal. He would have none of it. Therefore, when she put his name onto my accounts, she also changed my name. Again, I was stunned. I was also conway-smith.

I am at fault here for not fighting for my identity. However, I married for life. I knew I could handle the little upsets that might come along with the name situation. Now, things are different. I do not like seeing his name on my things. It hurts. I do not like the feeling I get, knowing my husband is living with someone who decided my marriage was not as important as her wants. I want to be rid of the ‘Smith’ stuff. However, that is a personal issue. Right now, I just want my new driver’s license. This is a fight.

I arrived in the licensing office with the following: my current license, an expired passport (the latest one was in an envelope, headed to salt lake city for renewal), a federally issued photo ID, two bills (utility and trash) mailed to me, at my home address, my auto insurance card and policy, in my name, at my address. Armed for anything, I took a number and waited. They would not accept my ID.

I went back 3 days later, better armed. This time I was carrying 3 passports, including the one that had been in the envelope to be renewed. This office caused an urgency I had not experienced in a very long time. I also took my airline ID, federally issued, with my photo. I took my court photo ID, 4 bills, a letter from the IRS written to ME, at my home address, with my social security number, and my full name and they would not accept it.

I went 7 times. By now, the people recognize me by name. Nevertheless, they will not accept my ID. Finally, I won. They took my photo and sent me on my way, promising my new license would arrive by mail w/in a week. I was happy/sad. Happy to accomplish this, sad because I had given up trying to look good in my photo. The first time I had arrived straight from the hairdresser. Looking as good as was possible for my age. As the visits continued, I began doing less and less about my appearance, knowing that today was not going to be my day.

I decided whatever picture I had was fine. It was not. Nevertheless, I still felt good about the achievement. That feeling lasted 3 weeks. By then my license was long overdue. I had travelled to Florida to help my aunt Dot, with a flimsy little temporary license that caused much dismay to the airline screeners. Their dismay caused lots of searching on my personal being.

I had no license waiting when I returned. I began to fret. I started calling the licensing division. That’s fun. It is also fruitless. I scoured their website for information and actually found a link that says contact us here if you have not received your license! What foresight! I ‘clicked’ and wrote. I sent my full name, address, date of application, old license number, and state, last 4 digits of my social. 3 days later I got a note back informing me that I needed to send my name, address, last 4 digits, date of application, old license number AND new temp license number. Otherwise, no help for me. Incredible but people NEED jobs and without this time consuming effort on her part, she might not appear to be as employable. I found the last puzzle piece and sent the note back.

She wrote. She did not like my ID. I would not receive my license. Noooooooooooooooooooooo. I wrote again, begging, offering meals, trying to be her friend, trying to learn anything that might help me work through this latest glass ceiling. No good. She finally told me to go to the social security office, change my name, get a new card, then start the process again. Amazing. This is where we live. Amazing. They all know I am really ME. Nobody will make a decision.

Today I went back. I was fully armed. Now I carry things in a large overstuffed envelope. I learned online that the office has an ‘identification specialist’ who has the authority to make a decision.

I went to one of ‘my people’, asking for the identification specialist. She was very nice. Sorry to learn I had not gotten my license. She was also perplexed that I had actually corresponded with someone who could supposedly help. She questioned me about that frequently. I kept explaining exactly where to find it on THEIR website. I was getting nowhere. Then, I began to cry. Really cry. One year ago, my dad passed away. It has been on my mind. Maybe that spurred the tears but my frustration level over them refusing something so basic, simply because the person making the decision can ‘choose’ to ignore the obvious, has beaten me down. I need them. They do not need me. I do not want to break the law but I WILL drive. I MUST drive. I am alone. I need things. Driving is the answer.

Two men began to eves-drop and move in closer. The customer next to me dug out a Kleenex. By now, I was well into the ‘ugly cry’, no stopping me. Two more men, one who had helped me several times, became part of the ‘employee circle’. Everyone is questioning and trying to help. Finally, one man (maybe he was actually the Identification Specialist!) made the decision. I would get a license! I was beyond thrilled. I asked him out for drinks immediately! He had the good sense to ignore me.

Therefore, I am waiting for my new license to appear in the mail. I know what you are thinking: why would this time be any different? What makes me think it is actually going to be sent, when that ‘person’ is lying in wait to refuse me? I will tell you exactly why: because they took my picture again, because I looked like shit, because I had not washed my hair or put on make-up, because I had sobbed, let my nose run, and had a horribly red face. Yes, this license will come. This picture will follow me for years. Forget the name, forget the hassle, and forget the 8 trips to DOL. It is all about the picture. I have never looked worse in my life. One guy offered to take me to a beauty parlor across the street to let them ‘try to fix you up’. One of the male employees actually said “Alexa, (like we’re good friends), do you have any makeup in your car?” when ‘the picture guy’ got ready to take the picture, he looked at me and asked if I needed ‘a minute’. I was crying! I said ‘a minute’ would not do me a bit of good.

This license will arrive. I won!

Duty and Honor, Veterans Day

today is set aside to honor all of our nation’s veterans.

veterans fill my family. my granddaddy served and was very proud to do so. my father served and made it into his chosen career. my brother served, doing two tours in viet nam. he came home a much different man than the one we said good-by to at the airport. he remains proud of his service. I am fortunate to have the coffin flag from granddaddy’s service. I remember very clearly the day it was handed to my grandmother.

my uncles served as well, but not for long. after the war, they all returned home to civilian jobs. my dad is the only one I remember in the immediate family who stayed in. except for my mother.

military families are always in flux. the people who quite often hold the family together are the spouses, the wives. when my father was in the military, women rarely got the opportunity to do more than secretarial work. the wives were sharing the military load at home.

whenever my dad would come in the door to announce we were moving, it meant my mother would have to give notice at her job, immediately and begin to pack, organize and ‘clear quarters’. this is military speak for “be sure there is no evidence that you existed in this home.” there was actually a ‘white glove’ inspection at the home and the wives had best pass it. if not, they had to work until it was exactly as it had been before we moved into the place. the wives bore such a heavy load. the military would immediately relocate the soldier. the wives would pack the whole family, get the kids’ school records, medical records (no computers in those days), find a new house the DAY they arrived at the next city, state, country, register the kids into a new school system and begin unpacking. the dad would come home from work, for dinner. not many women are up to such a task today. they would balk at the system. it’s very one-sided.

we now have women serving in the military, in jobs they actually aspired to and husbands staying home to take care of the children, clear quarters and maintain the home front. interestingly, not many husbands ‘stick’.

it’s hard to have your lives controlled by an agency but that’s what you sign up for and that’s what you are required by law to do. you have to be willing to support your military spouse completely because that spouse is required to honor their contract.

the kids yell, scream, threaten, and cry when new orders come in. we would have it no other way. once grown we came to recognize the value of that life. military kids (brats, we are called) can walk into just about any situation given and fit in immediately. they are friendly, natural leaders, better educated, very well rounded, and easy going. we know how lucky we’ve been. when we were in europe, the junior high and high school teachers were mostly professors. the educational standards were very high. we got smart. when I came back to the US, I spoke German fluently and only needed one class to graduate from high school. I was a junior at the time. the next year, in another state, I was speaking German and French and only needed one semester to graduate from that school. compared to US standards, our educations were pretty advanced… as a result; my last two years of school bored me to pieces. there was no challenge.

as many of us did today, I flew my flag. I think a great house-warming gift for anyone is a nice flag and a bracket from which to hang it. I leave mine on every home I move from, hoping it will inspire the next family to fly a flag as I did. as many of us  did today, I thanked vets everywhere as I came into their paths. we owe them so much. they deserve our respect and our support.

it was just today that I really thought again about the sacrifices that my mother made repeatedly during her life. she was completely controlled by an agency because she married my dad. she honored the tradition and did her part. it cost her in many ways but she never complained. my brother and I revel in the stories of our upbringing in various parts of the world. we know we were lucky.

thank you dad for your service to our country. thank you mom for always making it fun to relocate. thank you everyone who has served and let us not forget the issues it causes at home to have a part-time parent sharing the load. In a way, the veterans are everyone of us. we are all in this together.