Monday, July 2, 2018

Dear Sons: Don't Give Up

Dear Sons:

(Letter #28)

Who do you admire?

Who's the first person you think of?

A lot of people probably turn to celebrities. Those with talent. Those with a lot of money that has come from that talent.

Maybe a scholar? Someone who has spent years learning about their area of interest and working to teach others. Someone who has used much of their time in life becoming more educated.

A philanthropist? Someone who has had the good fortune and blessing of being financially stable and uses that gift to do good where they see a need.

Perhaps someone in your family or community that you look up to because you see that they care about the world around them and are trying to make it a better place.

Today I saw someone who I would put within my top five people that I admire. I'll tell you a little more about him in a minute.

If you ask kids who they admire, a lot of them may name athletes.

As a young kid, I really kind of despised athletics. It was because I was really, really bad at pretty much any sport. I was a short, frail little girl. I had no strength. I had no speed. And really I had no desire to try because I didn't think I'd ever be good at anything related to sports. I was envious and jealous of those who were good athletes because it looked so effortless and I didn't think they even had to work at all to be good.

I was literally the worst athlete in my class in school. I mean that. I was pretty much ALWAYS the last kid picked to be on a team in gym class. Sometimes I was next to last. And when I was I actually had a little confidence and did work a little harder. But 9 times out of 10, I was the the last kid picked. No one wanted me on their team. I would drag the team down and make them less likely to win. Gym class was such a dreaded part of my day. I'd get full of such anxiety before gym. I'd try my hardest to find a way to get out of it. Offer to help a teacher put books on shelf instead of going to gym. I'd ask for a pass to the bathroom or the library and waste as much time as I could. I'd conveniently forget my gym uniform or "accidentally" soak my shoes in mud at recess so that I couldn't use them on the shiny gym floor. I would do anything to avoid gym class.

I grew up wondering what the heck was wrong with me. How could I be such a terrible athlete? I had siblings who were athletic. My brothers were great athletes - no matter what the sport was. Basketball. Golf. Tennis. Baseball. Track. One brother was an outstanding baseball player who was scouted to play in the minor leagues. Another helped lead his high school relay team to state and they broke a national record. My dad talked about playing football and basketball and baseball as a youth and in high school.

To me, as I was in elementary school and junior high being a good athlete equated to popularity. All the popular kids were good athletes. They were the ones who always got those presidential fitness awards while I struggled just to finish the mile or whatever we were being evaluated on. That handful of kids that were always picked last for the teams in gym class - not popular. I hated being born with such poor athletic skills. And I really believed that 99% of my problems would disappear if I got picked first instead of last.

In my 7, 9, 12-year old mind I really resented people who got athletic scholarships. I thought that it was good genes that made you a good athlete and not that it had anything to do with work. They were just lucky, I thought. Why would someone get rewarded for being lucky.

Finally once I got into adulthood, I realized how much good athletes push themselves and work toward their goals. They sacrifice their time to improve. They sometimes sacrifice their health in pushing too much or in playing a dangerous sport. They may have been born with good genes and had an advantage over others because of their build, but they didn't get to where they are because of luck.

Today, I look at athletes and see the hard work and structure and grit that it takes to be a good athlete. I admire those who aren't natural athletes, but do it anyway and have the discipline to go for that run or swim that lap or do that workout. I know how now how essential physical activity is to good health, whether you are good at exercise or sports or not. And I've felt satisfaction of setting a physical goal and reaching it - or at least making yourself work toward it. When you grow up and it doesn't feel like competition all the time and you're not afraid of being ridiculed of for striking out or missing a basket or dropping a ball, it can be really enjoyable. I know now that I was so wrong in thinking athletes had it easy and I'm ashamed of thinking the way I did as a kid.

One of my most admired people today is Anthony Rizzo. He is from my very favorite baseball team, but that's not why I like him so much. Obviously he is a star player as a first baseman for the Chicago Cubs. His dedication to the game and his hard work toward improving himself is admirable. But there's much more to him. He's a good teammate and a good person off the field. He had cancer in his teens and from that experience he has played a big role in raising funds for cancer research and cancer-related charities, he visits sick kids in hospitals and he listens to stories of those who have been in his shoes and offers them words of encouragement and support. He's totally worthy of admiration for what he does in many parts of his professional and personal life.

So let me get back to that person I saw today that is right at the top of my list of people I admire.

I was dropping one of you off this morning for cross country practice and saw a kid that I watched during the last season. He doesn't happen to have an athletic build and natural strength or endurance that makes running easier for him than a lot of others. He struggles at it. You can see it as you watch him.

He didn't win any of the races last year. He didn't come in as one of the top 3. Or the top 10. He didn't place in the top half of the runners. He was always in that last bunch. He actually came in last in many of the races. I remember being at meets where the course was laid out in a loop and because it's a 3-mile race, you'd run the loop three times. Sometimes the top runner would be coming in for a finish and this young man was still on lap 2. Sometimes the flags were being taken down and the course was being dismantled as he still had a mile to go.

If I was in a race and on lap 2 of 3 and people were rushing by me at the finish line, I wouldn't even bother doing the last lap. I'd most likely quit right there. But this kid never did. He knew he was going to be one of the last runners to finish.

He never gave up. He knew he would probably be the last one on the team to finish the race, but he always kept going and finished the race. I don't think I would have. I would have given up and not even finished the race. I probably would have given up and not finished the season. I would have gotten discouraged and not seen a point in continuing to run and continuing to race and continuing to come in last or close to it every time.

I left some of those meets and sat in my car and cried because I was just in awe of this kid.

The team is made up some really wonderful kids. Some have natural athletic talent and they look like they are breezing by without trying, even though you know it is a HUGE effort to run a race even if it's a little easier for you than for the next guy. They are all to be admired in my book. But you know what? I left a lot of meets where I couldn't tell you who had come in first. But I could tell you who came in last. Because I always watched until the end and rooted for him and was ecstatic to see him finish. And it was cool to watch how he improved from he start of the season to the end. His teammates cheered him on as he continued. They gave high-fives and fist bumps after he finished. I held back tears when he'd cross the finish line.

So, this kid is at the top of my list of people I admire. There's so many lessons in what he does and how he carries himself and how the team and the coach support him. My biggest take away from it all is how he doesn't give up. He knows he'll never be the best runner on the team and he runs anyway. He knows it will always be hard, but he does it anyway. He's resilient. He keeps going. He pushes through when it's tough and it's raining and it's cold and he's the only one left on the course. He never gives up. I don't know many things more admirable that that.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Dear Sons: Surround Yourself With Good People

Dear sons,

(Letter #27)

It's been a while since I shared a letter on the blog to you, but I wanted to do so this week as we have an extra teenage kid in the house. I really like him. He's a sweet kid with a good heart, a surprisingly wise and mature outlook on a lot of things and he's polite and always has my back. "Just listen to your mom." "Yeah, she's kind of right." Moms like kids like that. The ones that display behavior they like to see. He's a good influence.

Although he moved out of the area over a year ago, I love that you've stayed in touch. Back in my day, it may not have happened. You had to write a letter on paper. Put a stamp on it and put it in the mail. Or make a long distance phone call and talk on your kitchen phone with a cord that only stretched as far as the basement stairway. That's one benefit of social media. It enables people to better keep in touch.

Over the years you've had some great friends who have hung out to play video games, stayed for dinner, spent the night or hitched a ride. Nearly all were kids we were happy to welcome into our home, to our dinner table or into the car. Another thing, besides social media, that I didn't have growing up that you do is a diversity in your community that is reflected in your friendships. Collectively between all five of you, you've probably had as many or more Hispanic friends as caucasian friends. You've had several African-American friends hang out here. A feisty Asian friend. And I couldn't be more in love with the Indian friend who was way smarter than me when he was in elementary school and looked the part. At 10 years old in a suit and tie, he seriously carried himself like he could be running a Fortune 500 company.

Now that you're getting older (I can't believe I have been a mom for almost a quarter century) your friends are too. I've even become a an adopted grandmother to a little girl who enjoys visiting our house and it's nice to have a little girl here on occasion.

Not every kid you've brought home has been a great influence. I remember the one that went in your room and stole your 8th grade graduation money. And I had to go back and forth with his grandmother to try and retrieve it. And I'd be lying to say that all of you were always the best influence of your friends. I can't say that you've never been in any kind of trouble.

But for the most part, the kids you've made part of our lives are ones that I adore and were happy to have around. Sometimes, for some of them, when they were here it was because they needed a place to go that wasn't home. A fight with a sibling. Parents not home. Escaping a violent situation. Our house isn't fancy. Not even all that comfortable. But it was a safe, dry place. I was happy to be able to be there for some of your friends when needed.

Sometimes there were friends who were around because they liked being around our family. And that warms my heart. Many of them didn't have a dad in their life. You did. And they were drawn to that and wanted to hang around a home where there was a fun and funny dad who was grilling and tinkering in the garage and watching corny movies. Or they liked being in a place where there were both a mom and dad who actually liked each other.

There were times you had friends here who I knew were hungry. And feeding one more kid was never a big deal. I never minded it. And was glad to have that opportunity to provide something for a kid that needed it.

And I'm glad for the friends that have been there when you needed them. When you wanted someone to talk to who wasn't related. When you just needed to get away from your brothers. When you needed a ride. Or had a friend who was the key to getting an 'A' on your group project. Or if they just were lucky enough to have the game system you didn't and you wanted to play the Xbox game that just came out.

It is true that it takes a village. Technically, parents may be able to do it on their own. But a child's life is only enriched for the better when intelligent, kind people who can share difference perspectives and experiences are part of it.

As you get older, you might find that friends aren't as easy to come by. While you're in school, you might make new friends throughout the year or when you move on to junior high or high school or college. Once you're out in the real world, you might find yourself in a profession where you meet new people all the time. Or you may find yourself in a cubicle surrounded by the same handful of people day in and day out.

When you find a good friend, hang on to them. Treat them well. Like you would want to be treated. There are a lot of good people in the world. A lot of them are your friends already. Keep yourself among good friends. And look to surround yourself with good people that will become your friends.

Friday, February 23, 2018

There's no one magic solution to mass shootings

I haven't been as productive with work as I should have been this week. My job requires me to spend time on social media and it seemed like each time I was on Facebook or Twitter, I'd get sidetracked reading posts, watching videos, reading articles related to the recent school shooting in Florida. I've been reading and listening to views and opinions on the topic. And there are two big things being blamed for the incident (in addition to the individual who pulled the trigger) - lack of gun control and lack of mental health care. Both probably contributed. Another factor that has been mentioned in mass shootings is the media attention that the killers receive - and crave. And while I agree that less coverage of the shooter is better, I took some time to go and look up those responsible for the Parkland, Florida shooting and many of the other most deadly mass shootings in recent years to see what kinds of similarities there are between them. I compiled a list of 15 shootings and shooters. All have been male. Most committed suicide following the killings. Many, but not all were white. Ages varied. Locations varied. Motives varied. Types of guns varied. Below is a list of those 15 shootings, in descending chronological order, including where they occurred, how many were killed, the year of the incident, the race and age of the shooter and if they died or were arrested after the shooting.

Parkland, Florida school shooting (17 died) - 2018, shooter was white male, age 19, arrested


Sutherland Spring, Texas church shooting (25 died) - 2017, shooter was white male, age 26, suicide


Las Vegas concert shooting (58 died) - 2017, shooter was white male, age 64, suicide


Orlando night club (49 died) - 2016, shooter was Afghani-American male, age 26, shot and killed by police


Sandy Hook (27 died) - 2012, shooter was white male, age 20, suicide


Aurora, Colorado (12 died) - 2012, shooter was white male, age 24, arrested and serving life in prison


Virginia Tech shooting (32 died) - 2007, shooter was Korean-American, age 23, suicide


Red Lake High School (9 died) - 2005, shooter was Native American, age 16, suicide


Columbine High School (13 died) - 1999, shooters were white males, age 17 and 18, suicide


Kileen Texas Luby's Cafeteria (23 died) - 1991, shooter was white male, age 35, suicide


General Motors Jacksonville, FL (9 died) - 1990, shooter was black male, age 42, suicide


Oklahoma postal office (14 died) - 1986 shooter was white male, age 44, suicide


San Ysidro, California McDonald's (21 died) - 1984 shooter was white male, age 41, shot and killed by police


University of Texas (18 died) - 1966, shooter was white male, age 25, shot and killed by police


Camden, NJ (13 died) - 1949, shooter was white male, age 28, died at age 88 in mental institution


This isn't a full list. Not even close. A "mass shooting" is defined by a shooting resulting in at least 4 victims. 146 have been recorded in the past four decades. The average number of victims is 8.


A listing of the 20 most deadly mass shootings actually lists 23 as there are some shootings with the same number of deaths. Some of the things about the shootings surprised me. Other things were expected.


From those I looked at the earliest was a World War II veteran, age 28 in 1949 who walked through his neighborhood shooting those he saw. He killed 13. At least two other mass shooters were military veterans. It was a long time before the next mass shooting resulting in at least 10 deaths. It happened in 1966 - 17 years later. There was then a lull of 16 years before there was another mass shooting of that magnitude.


Many people believe that Columbine was the start of mass shootings, but there were a significant amount of mass shootings in the 80s and early 90s. They did, however, happen mostly in places that were not schools.


24 died in a mass shooting in Texas in 1991.

22 people were killed at a McDonald's in 1984.
A post office shooting in 1986 resulted in 15 deaths and common use of the term "going postal" in reference to someone going on a deranged rampage.
A 1982 shooting in Pennsylvania had several shooting victims, including 5 of the shooter's own children. A total of 13 died.
10 died in a 1990 shooting at a GMAC office after the shooter's car was repossessed.
In 1990 and 1991 there were mass shootings where 9 people died. In 1982, 1989 and 1993 there were shootings with 8 deaths.

The decade from 1982 to 1991 was a very deadly one in terms of mass shootings. Then it was quieter for several years - or at least mass shootings did not occur with as great of death tolls. Until 1999. That's when Columbine happened and 15 people died, followed by an Atlanta shooting a couple months later where 10 people died.


Then it was quieter for nearly a decade. Until 2007's Virginia Tech shooting. Then in 2009 11 died in a mass shooting in Alabama, a Fort Hood shooting resulted in 13 deaths and 14 died in a mass shooting in New York.


All of the incidents above rank a s some of the highest in death tolls. However, other shootings happened with far more shooting victims, but ones who fortunately survived their gunshot wounds. One that sticks out for me occurred in 2008. I remember it well because it happened close to home at my sister's alma matter, Northern Illinois University. It, like the recent Florida shooting, happened on Valentine's Day with five people killed and 17 more injured.


After a couple quiet years, we moved into the deadliest period for mass shootings.

9 killed on a college campus in 2015
12 dead in the Aurora theatre shooting in 2012
12 dead in 2013 at Navy Yard.
14 were killed in a shooting by a California couple in 2015
17 just died in the Parkland, Florida shooting
Last year 26 died in a church shooting
27 died at Sandy Hook in 2012
49 died in the Orlando night club shooting in 2016
58 died just a few months ago in the Las Vegas concert shooting

You can look at the numbers so many different ways. And numbers are numbers. You see similarities. You see things that make you wonder...like why so many happened within a certain time frame and then several years went by without large mass shootings.

When you dig deeper and read about the victims it becomes so much more personal and heartbreaking.

Some observations in looking closely at these mass shootings:

Of the 23 deadliest shootings, two of them were executed by a male/female duo. The others were carried out by a single person - a male shooter.
While many were white, there were also shooters that were Asian, Middle Eastern, African-American and Native American. Interestingly, I didn't notice any Hispanic shooters in those with the highest death tolls.
In the vast majority of cases, the shooter committed suicide in the end. A few others showed aggression or did not comply with police commands and were shot and killed by police
Of the 14 deadliest mass shootings since 2000, 6 of them occurred in schools - 2 in colleges, 3 in high schools, 1 in an elementary school. Schools are becoming bigger targets. While mass shootings have happened in a variety of public places, including churches, restaurants, workplaces, post offices and theaters, schools are becoming targets more often.
Ages of the shooters in the most deadly shootings have ranged in age from 16 to 64. While several of the mass shooters in the 80s/90s were males in their 30s and 40s, the shooters of the 2000s, with the exception of the Las Vegas shooter at age 64, have been primarily between 16 and 26. The shooters are getting younger.
A variety of guns have been used in the shootings. From the 20 deadliest shootings, some have used handguns. Others have used multiple weapons. Others have used a semi-automatic rifle. Others have used multiple semi-automatic weapons. 8 of 23 used one or more handguns. 7 used multiple weapons and it does not specify if all weapons were guns. One used a shotgun and handgun. 5 are listed as a semi-automatic weapon. 2 are listed as having multiple semi-automatic weapons (one had two shooters). Six of the ten deadliest mass shootings involved semi-automatic weapons. Four of the five deadliest involved semi-automatic weapons. The two deadliest involved semi-automatic weapons and happened in the past two years.

I didn't dig back into all 146 mass shootings. I also didn't look at how many total were shot in these incidents that included survivors. I also did not find how the weapons were attained, but several show accompanying reports as being guns that were purchased legally.


Looking at some of the trends in the shootings and at the most recent shooting, some of the actions that could be taken that may have been preventative in these situations are:

- A ban on semi-automatic would still leave a variety of deadly guns available on the market. 16 of the deadliest shootings of 23 did not involve semi-automatic weapons. These are shootings that occurred with less potentially-lethal guns although the death toll may have been smaller due to decreased firing power or ammunition availability.
- A license required for purchasing a gun. The license could have stipulations as to a requirement of a safety course, a waiting period before a gun can be in possession following a purchase, a background check for criminal activity, a background check for mental diagnosis (if HIPPA laws allow), a possible pharmacy data base check if one could be available (if HIPPA laws would allow) of individuals on anti-psychotic medications, a licensing fee that would go toward mental health treatment/school mental health programs/victims' funds.
- A limit of guns that can be purchased by a single licensee
- A raise in minimum age for purchase, possession, conceal carry to 21 or older
- Addition of metal detectors at schools
- National guard personnel assigned to secure school entrances
- Increased security systems in place in schools
- A system of renewal once licensing has been put in place with background checks duplicated at yearly or more often intervals
-  Keeping gun laws as they are but put regulations on ammunition, limits of how much can be obtained, attach fees that make the ammunition cost-prohibitive and use those funds for education, treatment, victims fund
- More thorough contact with students at risk of potentially violent scenarios from school officials

As far as what could have been done to possibly prevent the latest school shooting:


Nearly all shootings are done by males. This is not preventable.


Many of the shootings were done by white males. This is not preventable.


Several recent shootings have been done by teens and those in the early 20s age group. Age is not preventable. However, access to weapons at his age is something that could have been a factor in altering the outcome.


Some classmates are saying that they noticed odd behavior that could have been warning signs of future danger to the public and some reported it. Such reports can't justify arresting or detaining an individual long term. You can have a gut feeling, you may have heard second hand about threats or violent behavior, but law enforcement is very limited on what they can do even with such reports. Further intervention could have been sought by professionals within the school system and family that may have resulted in successful treatment.


He met requirements for purchasing a gun as far as age and background checks. Future restrictions could be placed on age. In some states, guns can be purchased at 18 and in some states they must be 21. Currently, individuals cannot purchase or consume alcohol before age 21. Individuals can not rent a hotel room in many places under the age of 21. Minimum age for car rental is 21 and for some companies, 25. To supervise a driver with a permit, you have to be 21. There is still a state where you cannot get married under age 21 without parental consent and there is a 3-day waiting period for a license in addition. Revising age requirements is a possibility and it would not be something completely new and unusual. The minimum age of 21 for drinking has stood for many years. Restricting gun purchases to those 21 and over is not impossible.


He may have actually had some firearms training at the school where the shooting occurred. According to classmates, the shooter had bee part of a JROTC program that involved shooting weapons (it wass also reported that he was removed from the program.) The program obviously has standards that he was not meeting to be removed. Maybe something could have been seen at that time that would have caused him to not be accepted into that program.


He owned multiple guns. He had been staying with a family that would not allow him to have guns on the property unless they were locked in a gun safe. The owner of the property thought he had the only key to the gun safe.


The shooter's mental health is in question and hints of violent tendencies may have been noticed many years ago. Further care could have been sought. Even with a diagnosis, permanent mental health facilities are virtually non-existent. Mental institutions as a whole ceased to exist in the 1980s, at least partially connected to the cuts in funding for mental health facilities at that time. That means that outpatient treatment and integration into society is the norm for those exhibiting mental health struggles. Admittance to mental health departments in hospitals is short term. Involuntary admission happens when the person delivers threats and thus, showing they are a danger to themselves and/or others.


The shooter was adopted and I have not found any reports related to his birth parents. Risk for several mental illnesses increases when a family member has a disorder. Long term issues such as depression,  learning disabilities and behavior disorders can result from babies being born addicted to drugs. Information related to birth parents that could have put him more at risk for certain behaviors if revealed could have led to therapies that could have lessened the effects.


Also possible contributing factors or motivations could have been rage caused by expulsion and a desire for revenge on school officials, the recent death of his mother, the uncertainty following her death and disruption to his life. He did have individuals who took him in and attempted to help him. The support may have delayed his inevitable intentions to do harm.


Mental illness has become a big argument/issue as a likely cause. As a country there's a lot to look at. Some of the changes that are being proposed would need to be adjusted at the state level. One possible cause of the buildup to this shooting could have been isolation, exclusion and bullying. Yet there are demands that people like him should be locked up if he had been deemed to have had mental illness and a call to remove anyone with a mental illness from society. Not all who have mental illness shoot people and not all who shoot have a diagnosed mental illness. We've learned from past history about the perils of witch hunts and removing people from society and into facilities to separate them - in inhumane mental institutions, POW detention facilities for Germans and Japanese in the US during WWII, even concentration camps. Locking up those with suspected mental illness or possible dangerous tendencies without diagnosis, proof or a pattern of violent behavior would be regressing as a society.


I also find it interesting that in the majority of mass shootings, the shooter either commits suicide (and plans to do as much damage as he can in the process) or is intentionally killed via police officer, but that this shooter did not attempt suicide or exhibit behavior toward law enforcement that resulted in his death. He carried out a mass shooting, but his death did not result from the situation.


There's a lot of discussion going on. Perhaps at the very least, there can be a temporary sales halt of semi-automatic weapons for say 60 days while politicians and school officials and society in general figures out better ways to keep kids safe. While metal detectors are unsightly, inconvenient and can give a feeling of unease rather than safety, it's a one-time expense that can help ensure that weapons don't get into schools. Kids that show red flags can be monitored more often, checked in on by social workers, school psychologists and staff as a whole can be made aware of who needs more attention. It may be a huge undertaking require more staff and funding.


Guns aren't part of my life. I can only recall 3 times in my life that I've seen a gun a real life. One occurred as a teenager when I was babysitting a toddler and when I leaned onto a pillow found a gun beneath it. It stopped me in my tracks and really freaked me out. Another time was about 8 years ago when I was stopped at a red light on the way to pick up my son from preschool. I watched as a man entered the minivan in front of me from the passenger side. The driver got out and the carjacker started to drive away. It turned out he had just robbed a bank down the street and was on foot and trying to get away. Before he could leave, he was surrounded by police cars and officers came rushing up, a couple of them with long rifles. The window on the minivan was down and an officer put his gun in the window pointing the gun downward toward the floor and directing him to get out of the vehicle. He didn't get out and they didn't shoot. He hit the gas, rammed police cars out of the way, sped through an intersection and lost control and crashed into a garage a couple blocks away and soon the car and garage were engulfed in flames. The third time was outside Wrigley Field last season - which by the way just added metal detectors in 2016 - after a game. An officer holding a large rifle stood at the corner of Clark and Addison. I thought it was a fluke and maybe in response to some large protests that had been taking place or someone important in the area (there happened to be a long line of black limos and SUVs with government plates going through the neighborhood) or to recent incidents of crime. But the next time I attended a game at Wrigley Field at the end of the season, he was there again. It was unnerving and incredibly sad that it's the new normal when you go to a baseball game.


The deadliest shootings have two things in common - males and guns. Those are the two things that are most important to look at. What is it that is causing males - particularly young white males to snap? Or what is causing so many of those who feel so desperate and in so much despair that they want to end their life to take out so many others with them? What can we do differently in how we raise them, treat them, educate them, love them to yield a different outcome? And guns will always be part of our existence. They aren't going anywhere either. But we do have a choice to create guidelines on who can possess them and what type and how many they can possess - or at least we have a choice to urge our lawmakers to make the choice we desire. Our government decided not long ago to phase out certain light bulbs. Not everyone was happy about it, but it happened. And 60-watt incandescent light bulbs are no more.


Only time will tell what kind of action comes about after this most recent shooting. But I don't see this one going away without action of some kind.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Today I lit up my first cigarette

Today, at age 45, I did something for the first time. I lit up a cigarette. Actually, I lit two.

I went into a gas station and for the first time as an adult, I purchased cigarettes. And that gas station was nearly three hours away, the last hour on two lane rural roads.

I can't say it was the first time I bought them. I did on occasion get sent to the grocery store with a handwritten note from my mom and a dollar and some change in the late 70's to purchase them for my her. I was 6, maybe 7 the first time I ran such an errand.

Anyway, today I lit up a couple cigarettes. But I didn't smoke them. They weren't for me. The one awful puff that I tried in 6th grade was more than enough for me. They were for my mom, who still likes her Kools about four decades later.

For years we nagged her to quit. We told her it was unhealthy and complained about the smoke that we choked on and the smell that we carried on our clothes. Now, she's 82. What's another cigarette going to hurt at this point?

Today, I went to visit her in her new residence - a nursing home. She's been there 10 days. I couldn't stand the thought of hanging out there, so as quickly as I could, I wheeled her to the parking lot, got her in the car and off we went to get lunch. She didn't have much of an appetite for the hamburger and fries I got her. But she wouldn't stop asking for her Kools.

I've never let her smoke in my house or in my car. But there was a gas station next door to the Burger King we were at and it was a sunny day in the 50s in late November. So, I got her the Kools and I got a lighter and I drove across the street to a parking lot overlooking the Illinois River and found a bench. She about blew away when I got her out of the car. I helped her to the bench where she shivered in the cold.  After several attempts I got it lit and she smoked that cigarette until it was gone.

In past days, I never would have given in to such a request. But, in reality, her days are numbered. And why not just let her have a cigarette without grumbling about it?

Honestly, every time I have seen her for a while, I tell myself that it could be the last time I see her. So, I kind of hold my breath and hope all will go smoothly and that she'll be sweet and I'll be patient and we'll part ways with hugs and kisses and "I love you's" so that should it be the last time we see each other, it will be a pleasant memory.

But really, there's not much that is pleasant about nursing homes. If you're lucky, you get some very kind staff members that help make it not so unpleasant. But everything else about it is just - unpleasant. And when it gets to a point where it's the only choice, it leaves you guilt-ridden and sad. It's not a hospital stay. I've visited her many times in hospitals. This time it's permanent and it's a hard pill to swallow.

She didn't enjoy the jailbreak as much as I'd anticipated and hoped. She had an upset stomach. She said her knee hurt. She didn't smile much. She didn't laugh as much as she usually does. She had a very difficult time walking since she now spends her day in a bed or a wheelchair since she's been deemed a "fall risk" not capable of walking on her own anymore (even though she was getting around with a walker at home). My heart broke into a million pieces when she realized I was taking her back there after lunch. I wish so much I could turn back the clock to when she was in better health and didn't need round-the-clock care. But I can't. So here I am. Lighting up a cigarette for the first time - and although I loathe the things, praying that I'll have the chance to light one up for her again.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Yes, I'm a 45-year-old Millennial

One day one of my kids told me I was like a millennial on the inside - even thought I don't look like it on the outside. At first, I took offense a little to the looking my age part, but the "millennial on the inside" stuck with me. I guess it would be the equivalent of being young at heart. I know a lot of people like that. So, I took it as a compliment, not just because of the being young at heart part, but the being compared to a millennial part. Really, I think millennials are pretty cool and admire many of the things they strive to do and I feel like they get an overall bad rap.

The millennial generation gets so much flak for some of the perceived negatives - being lazy, entitled, self-absorbed. Really you find those in any age group. Technically, I'm among those in Generation X, sandwiched between the baby boomers and the millennials. Generation X is comprised of those born roughly between 1965 and 1977. The millennial range is from about 1977 to 1995. I was born in 1972 so I am a few years out of the range, but I can identify with so many things of the millennial generation. YOLO. FOMO. I love to follow pop culture. I am drawn to the creatives, side hustlers. I use social media daily in many forms. But when I think about it, I can identify with a lot of baby boom characteristics, too. I'm nostalgic. I'm a historian. I reminisce about the days before cell phones and iPads when we spent Saturday mornings recording the top 40 countdown onto a cassette tape and gathered on Saturday nights to watch Love Boat and Fantasy Island on a huge 19-inch screen in the pre-cable/pre-VHS days. I loved playing Red Rover outside with neighborhood kids, but once we got our first Nintendo, you couldn't drag me a way from Duck Hunt and Mario Karts. I think us generation X-ers kinda got the best of both worlds.

I'm always a glass-half-full kind of gal who looks for the good and there's so much good in that millennial group if you look for it. Really, I hate generalizations. They're never accurate. They're never true of all in a group. Some things can be true for a majority, but it never encompasses them all. And a lot in the millennial group push that concept - that there's no place for stereotypes and generalizations and racism and sexism a lot of other words that end is "ism." The baby boomers that lived through the 60's and and were part of that peace-loving generation should get it as much as anyone.

Like I said, I look for the positives - and I see so much promise and good in millennials. A drive for not just monetary success, but the desire to make a difference. A flexibility and ability to adapt. An ability and conscious effort to embrace those of other walks of life, backgrounds, etc. A live and let live mentality. Finding a way to incorporate their passions into their profession - or find or create a side gig that is fulfilling. An early recognition that life is short and there's no time to waste and that life should be about enjoyment and purpose, not just then grind of making a dollar. That's not to say that other generations don't have such qualities, it's just some I've seen in a lot of millennials that I admire. And it's not to say that there aren't faults or flip-sides to the YOLO way of seeing the world. But, for me, I see enough in the millennials that I really, really like and you can call me one any time you want. I'd be honored.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Feeling like furniture

When having a discussion recently with someone about my kids, we talked about how much little boys need their mothers. You do everything for them. They couldn't survive without you. And then they start growing up and don't need you so much anymore.

As the boys get older, they need me less. I don't have to feed them and change them and bathe them and read to them like I did long ago. They still need me around even as teenagers, but not as the caretaker and safety net I once was. As they get bigger, they gravitate more toward wanting to be around my husband. They want to do guy things, engage in guy talk, bond. I love that relationship between them and try not to be sad about not being the go-to person for almost everything anymore. 

There are days that it really does feel like I barely exist to them. Like I'm a piece of furniture - just something that is here, but that you don't engage with. They don't come to me to play video games with or for help fixing something. They don't come to me that often for advice. They come to me when they are hungry, they need a ride somewhere or they need a solution to something small that I can help them with - like paperwork or making a dentist appointment.

It's a little hard on a mom whose existence for so long has been wrapped around her little boys and then all of a sudden you're a piece of furniture - well a little bit more than a piece of furniture. A piece of furniture that cooks and drives.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Tired of busy

Ah, I'm a person wearing many, many hats. This is one of three blogs I write, but the one that gets the least attention. It's not for lack of content. At least once a week something occurs or comes to mind that I intend to blog about and then, well, life stuff fills up every moment and I never get to it.

Maybe it's my nature, maybe it's the times we live in, maybe it's being inundated by technology, maybe it's my inability to better manage my time and set priorities, but there never seems to be spare time or down town. There's just never a time anymore where I can look around and exhale and think "ok, I have a free afternoon and I'm going to do something I'd like to do." There's always a deadline waiting or something that I need to catch up on or a child to shuffle somewhere. And the constant state of "busy" wears on you.

I am a person who likes to stay busy. I couldn't do a job where I had a lot of idle time. Now every single idle minute is seen as an opportunity to return and email or check social media. It's something I need to work on and train myself to do -- find some time not to be busy. Once in a while when I get really overloaded, I can make myself slow down and take a break, but I need to create those breaks before I get the point of overload. How do you fit in time to slow down?