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A Letter To My Grandchildren

Dear Girls:

I’m so sorry your mom and dad are splitting up.  It’s a hard time in your life and will kick off other hard times to follow.  I’m sorry for that.  I know at four and five you don’t really understand what’s going on.  You just know that for some reason Daddy is sleeping at our house and for the most part, you’re not.  I’m glad Daddy is trying as hard as he is to stay connected to you.  I know he misses tucking you in at night, but I also know it’s making the nights he does get to tuck you in that much more precious.  And I know Mommy is doing her best to keep things together.

But enough about them…this is about you and the lessons I learned when I wasn’t much older than you.

#1 – This is not your fault.  I know Mommy and Daddy have told you this already, but listen to your MaeMae because I know.  Your job in life is to learn and grow and play and be kids.  Grown-ups have other things to do and sometimes this means you get hurt in the process.  I’m sorry.  There’s really no way around that.  But I know they’re trying to do the best they can to be better people and right now that means they need to not be together.  There was nothing I could have done to keep my Mommy and Daddy from divorcing.  There was nothing Daddy could have done to keep Grumpy and BeBe from divorcing.

#2 – Even though it’s not your fault and you did absolutely nothing wrong…it still hurts.  And you’re going to get mad and get sad and miss Daddy and have a whole bunch of other feelings.  It’s okay.  Tell Mommy and Daddy about it.  Tell me and Grumpy.  Tell Nana and Papa.  We’ll listen.  We’ll hug you.  And we’ll love you no matter what you’re feeling.

#3 – This is especially for you N.  It’s not your job to help Mommy.  It’s not your job to help her figure out what to do.  It’s not your job to worry.  You’re 5 years old.  Your job is Kindergarten.  Your job is practicing tying your shoes and figuring out how you want your face painted on Pep Rally day.  Enjoy being 5.  It’s a fun age.  You still get to take naps at school.  Trust me, when you get to be 25 like you so want to do and you have kids and a job and a husband and bills and taxes and all of the stuff grownups have….you’ll wish you were 5 again.  So please stop trying to be a grown-up and go play with your sister and have fun.

#4 – K, you just keep being you.  With your smiles and giggles and scribbles.  I know Mommy really wants you to practice your letters, but scribbles are important too.  And I know that your smiles and giggles and hugs make everybody you know feel better.  But it’s okay to be sad, too.  We love you no matter what.  And don’t stop playing games with your Grumpy.  He loves every minute of it.

And most importantly of all.  No matter what happens between Mommy and Daddy.  When they tell you they love you, they mean it.  When they tell you it’s not your fault, they mean it.  And please know, they’ve always done the best they could with the tools they had.

Because Kids Can’t Fight Cancer Alone

*Of course, no one can fight cancer alone. Or should. But that doesn’t mean that you don’t sometimes feel alone. Even if you aren’t the one who has the cancer.

I still remember walking with my son on his way to the OR. Trying not to fall to pieces. Wanting to believe that the neurosurgeon I had hardly met more than 24 hours before would fix my son. That his hands would be steady as he worked to remove the tumor that was slowly taking over my son’s brain. That the tumor really was “just” benign as he had thought.

Oh, how I wanted someone to promise me that my son would be okay.

The constant plea in my head… just please let my son be okay. Just please let him live.

Oh, dear God… my son was going to have brain surgery. My two-year old son. Brain surgery.

Then the bright white room, people moving about as if on a mission, my eyes locked onto my son.

“Time out!”

Me wondering, “What the hell?” and “What did we do wrong?” Only to realize that they are trying to verify that they have the correct patient and the correct procedure. I try to regain what little composure I have left. I can’t lose it completely in front of my son.

Then the anesthesiologist telling me to kiss my son as it’s time for me to go.

My son is howling as if betrayed. “How dare you leave me with these people?” scream his eyes. Then the medicine starts to take an effect and the life seems to fade from those same eyes as his body goes limp.

I walk out of the OR. Without my son.

I had never been more terrified in my life.

That was four years ago.

In the last few days, I’ve been teaching that son to Rollerblade. The one who before the diagnosis had problems with balance and motor skills. Now on rollerblades.

It’s one of the most beautiful things ever.

But he didn’t make it to this point alone. Nor did I.

Nearly a year after our son’s surgery, my husband learned of a program called Hero Beads offered by a local childhood cancer support group called Capital Candlelighters (soon to be renamed Badger Cancer Support Network). This string of beads documents the diagnoses, treatments, milestones, etc. along a child’s journey.

It’s almost indescribable seeing your child’s medical history as a string of beads. And regardless of outcome, there are always too many beads.

And while I treasure those beads, Capital Candlelighters offers kids and their families so many more concrete means of support. From financial aid to support groups to sharing information… anything that they can do to make the hell that is childhood cancer easier for children and their families.

Over time my family has begun to participate in events either sponsored by or to benefit Capital Candlelighters. We recently walked in our second Suzy’s Run. It’s a highly emotional experience. Seeing the families and kids who are still fighting or have beaten cancer. Seeing the families whose kids have lost.

So it’s time for me to do more, to give back. Because doing good feels good. But I’m not done yet.

“…because kids can’t fight cancer alone!” (Capital Candlelighters motto)

(I’ll be damned if I don’t tear up every time I read that motto.)

I Lost So Much And Still Feel The Shame

signed up with a fake name, but I am Stephanie.

In 1995, when I was 15, there was an attempted sexual assault on me by some 20-something-ish guy who was a bouncer at a local bar. At the time, my best friend was having sex and knew lots of her older brother’s friends. She was able to get us into the bar. It felt so cool to be doing that at 15.

We were going to hang out with the same bouncer guy, who was friends with her current “boyfriend” the next weekend. I thought it was so neat that a decent looking older guy thought I was pretty and attractive enough to buy drinks for. I was so bloody naive.

It was fall. I remember them picking us up at her house, then driving around to random places (a trailer park somewhere looking for liquor, then someone’s house). We ended up at the local park. It was dark by then. While my friend went off into the dark park to have sex with her boyfriend (just after having an abortion), I was left with this guy who had bought me drinks at the bar the weekend before, who gave me a kiss on the lips, who I thought was cool.

He tried forcefully yanking up my shirt, trying to get my bra off. Kissing me hard. He was scaring the shit out of me and I didn’t know what to do. I think he tried undoing my pants. He kept telling me that I owed it to him. That I was a tease. I remember eventually running a short distance away from the playground equipment to a picnic table, where I told him, terrified, that I was on my period. He was angry and called me a liar. I took an unopened tampon from my pocket and threw it in his direction.

He proceeded to tell me he would hurt my family if I said anything. I had to tell him everyone’s names and where I lived and my phone number. I sat in terror, unsure if he was going to rape me, until I finally heard my friend coming back to where we were. He told me to “walk like you’ve just been fucked.”

I’ll never forget those words. I wish I had stood up to him and told him off. But I was afraid. And had no phone. Wasn’t within walking distance even to a pay phone. I had no ride home. I had no idea what I would say to my parents.

I was a virgin and didn’t even know what that was, so I tried to walk slowly and limp a little while he and his friend snickered on the way back to the truck. I felt humiliated, stupid, foolish, scared. My father was a cop. Why the fuck did I allow myself to be left alone in a dark park at night with a guy I had met once before? I was so stupid. And I felt so exposed, having told him all kinds of details about my family when we were sitting in the park.

I didn’t tell anyone until I told my mother, many months later. I made her promise not to tell my father. I was put on anti-depressants that summer.

On the anniversary of the day, I honestly cut myself to shreds with a razor blade in the shower. I don’t remember what I said, but I remember my father being on duty and having to take me to the emergency room at the hospital in the back of his squad car. I was destroyed. I was a mess. And I managed to humiliate my poor father (and mother) by being taken to the small town hospital like that.

I ended up being admitted and evaluated in the psych. ward for 2 weeks. My first true love, my first real boyfriend, came to visit me. We got caught fooling around in the hospital by my mom. Yet another reason to feel humiliated, dirty and wrong. I was 16.

My boyfriend’s parents were upstanding PTA-type parents who were very cognizant of appearances and perceptions and wanted him to have nothing to do with me. I remember a counselor at the hospital telling me I should break up with him (but I have no idea why… if anything, I was the bad influence). But being in the mental hospital doesn’t make you look that great at 16. I lost the first love of my life because some asshole tried to steal something from me. He didn’t get my virginity, but he took my pride and the majority of my self-worth. I lost my first love, my sense of security, my sense of self-worth, and I humiliated my parents.

Every time I hear “Glycerine”, by the band Bush, I think of my first love, and how I lost him despite pleading on the phone. His parents wouldn’t let me talk to him after that. And “Don’t Speak” by No Doubt. It still makes me tear up now.

While in the hospital, the counselors strongly urged me to press charges. It had been a year since the incident had occurred. My own father was a cop on the force. How ridiculously stupid would I look if I admitted to being in a bar underage the weekend before, then intentionally walking into a dark park with someone who was essentially a stranger? I wasn’t even sure of his last name.

Most of the process was blocked out in my mind, but I will never forget sitting on the witness stand, in front of a room full of people. In front of my mom. And my dad, who looked at the ground the entire time, while the lawyers, officers, and judge all sat there listening to the stupid choices his daughter made, trying to not be a wuss. I remember the female officer who interviewed me was sisters with my co-worker at the mall. I was so afraid people would find out and just assume I was a lying little slut.

When my friend took the stand, she was about 7 months pregnant. When his friend took the stand, he swore under oath and confirmed his birth date (that was incorrect). The asshole never took the stand. But he sat there, and I was scared, while his girlfriend and child sat behind him to support him. In the few instances I met her eyes, she gave me hateful glances and made nasty comments. I felt ill.

Despite the lawyers having their jobs to do, the judge personally grilled me with many many more questions as to how I could be so foolish to do what I did. I wanted to curl up and hide. He kept telling me to raise my voice. He threatened me with something that I don’t remember, if I didn’t keep my voice at a reasonable level. The humiliation never stopped.

From the moment the asshole ripped up my shirt, it felt like the intelligent, wise 15 year old started to die inside. I certainly know things could have ended much much worse. And, in fact, as I type this I am thinking that probably a lot of readers will wonder what the big deal was.

I didn’t go to the sentencing, because I knew my legs would give out and I would give up then and there if he got off free and no one believed me. My parents went and said that the judge praised me for my testimony, being articulate and explaining why an otherwise bright girl would make such poor choices. The asshole got 3 months house arrest. The whole thing was written up in the paper and I was made to look a complete fool.

I remember my father being displeased that the asshole’s lawyer even took the case, since my dad knew the lawyer well. I actually remember my sister being very angry at the way the newspaper portrayed me. That was the last time I remember her caring about that kind of thing.

It was a big deal to me. I lost my first love over the trauma. I was broken at 15, humiliated, embarrassed for my parents, deeply anorexic, depressed and a shadow of the girl I once was. I lost her that day. I wonder who she would be now if that night didn’t happen. Instead, I have me.

I longed for my first love for the rest of my high school days. As we got older, if we ever had a chance to spend time, hang out or be near each other, I always went. My best friend dated him our last year of high school. It crushed me.

Once we went on to college, I had no self-esteem and would actually cave to any booty call from my first boyfriend. I needed his “love” and acceptance so badly, I allowed myself to be treated like dirt. And the worst part? I still feel like I am somehow sub-par without his acceptance. That I was never good enough and will never be, 14 years later. Even though I know that is messed up and I am in a wonderful, healthy long-term relationship with a great guy now.

I remember snippets of all these things, images in my mind and sentences here and there, but the emotion and the fear is still so fresh. The stamp of failure feels firmly affixed to my forehead.

This experience changed me for the worse, and left me feeling helpless, stupid and useless. Then, 6 years later, I was raped. It destroyed the little part of me that I had left.

I am working on that post now.

Curve Balls

When I was 18, I miscarried twins.  It still hurts.  It hurts even more that my husband doesn’t seem to understand.  They were his babies too.  I don’t know if he cares and just doesn’t show it or if there’s something wrong with me that I just can’t let it go. Should I still cry at baby product advertisements and while writing these posts?

I wish I knew.

We’ve been married for almost four years now.  We decided early this year, around my husband’s birthday, that after Christmas 2010 we’d start trying for a baby.  We had a house, we were both settled in our jobs and had a stable income, and the time felt ‘right’.  I’ve wanted a baby so badly since the miscarriages that it hurts.

So a few weeks ago, I made an appointment with my doctor (who seems to be perpetually on vacation) for next week, to discuss removing my IUD, going on the pill and to find out if I need to find alternatives for any of my current medication.

Last week I lost my job.  Cutbacks.  Laying off those of us making barely minimum wage while they give the executives five-figure bonuses and hire six-figure middle-managers.  I work – worked – in payroll, I see the numbers.

No job means barely enough money to pay the bills.

No job means no baby.

It feels like my husband doesn’t care.

It feels like my heart is breaking all over again.


Today, my mother would have been 55. She passed away on my 17th birthday. She was very ill and she fought bravely right until the bitter end. That doesn’t mean that I was never angry at her for dying. I needed her at that age. Hell, I still do. I have several aunts and an awesome mother-in-law, but that’s not the same.

As I get closer to becoming the age she was when she died, I notice that I am a lot like her. I am afraid of what happens once I get past the age she was when she died. She was no angel by any means, but she’s irreplaceable. She brought me into this world.

I miss my mother a lot today. I miss her everyday.