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Archive for November, 2007

December, 1976

Christmastime-1976.jpg

I really couldn’t think of much to write today, so I decided to post this picture of my brother and me from a Christmas season way, way back when. I’m five years old here and Sean is two.

I have a lot of fond memories of the Christmases I had with my family when I was a kid. We would spend Christmas Eve with my mom’s side of the family and Christmas day with my dad’s. The gathering with my mom’s side was always loud and fun. I don’t have any cousins on my dad’s side, so I always had the most fun on Christmas Eve. Sean and I were the youngest of my grandparents’ five grandchildren.

When I think about it, we’ve somehow created the same family dynamic for Autumn; she’s the youngest of five cousins who are all concentrated on one side of the family. The holidays spent with the Noahs are always more entertaining while the gatherings with my side of the family are more subdued because we’re a smaller bunch.

Last Christmas was terrific. It was the best Christmas I’d had in a long time, and I felt warm and secure, having no idea in a few short months everything would change. I don’t know what the holidays hold for us this year, but I know they won’t be the same without Nathan’s mom.

I don’t like the new wife. I don’t know if I’ll ever like her, but if I hope to give Autumn the gift of fond holiday memories, I’m going to have to figure out a way to just deal with it. I’d really like for her to be able to look at a picture of herself in front of a Christmas tree and smile.

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This morning I was standing in front of the fridge with the door open, pulling out things for lunch, when Autumn came by and tried to push the door closed on me. She has this thing about closing all the doors in our house; bedroom, bathroom, refrigerator, whatever. She’s always been obsessed with closing the refrigerator door and on multiple occasions Nathan and I have found ourselves pinned between the condiments and the vegetable bin.

I asked her to stop, lest she damage the deli bin I had open, but she continued to push. I pushed back and ordered her to cease immediately. We struggled against each other for about 30 seconds, my voice getting louder, my blood pressure rising, until I finally just reached around the door, grabbed her arm and spun her around for a whack on the butt.

I’ve said before I don’t like corporal punishment and didn’t want to use it on Autumn. Lately though, Nathan and I have found we’ve needed to incorporate a little smack on the bottom here and there as a means to get our point across. As with all toddlers, Autumn can be obstinate and bull-headed, and there are times when it seems we’re not operating on the same frequency. We’re all FM where everything is loud and clear and makes sense and she’s on the AM dial where you might be able to get a good reception if you rig a wire coat hanger to the antenna (and no, that is not a Joan Crawford reference). This is very irritating because sometimes, no matter what we do or say to correct her, the bad behaviors don’t cease.

I hugged Autumn afterward and apologized, explaining why I did what I did. We were on good terms when I dropped her off at daycare, but my conscience kept nagging at me because I had lost control. I could have just let her shut the door or pulled her away without spanking her. I didn’t though, and even though a smack on the butt might work in ways a verbal warning can’t, I don’t think it’s at all ok to hit her out of anger and frustration.

To make matters worse, I visited CNN’s website today and was treated to the horrific account of the death of Riley Sawyers, a.k.a. “Baby Grace.” If you haven’t read about it yet, I urge you not to. You’ll have a better day if you don’t. What happened to her is the worst thing that can happen to a child, and up to the end she probably had no idea what she had done to deserve such treatment. Someone who was supposed to take care of her had lost control and didn’t know when to stop. In the picture that accompanied the story of Riley’s death, she’s wearing a flowered shirt, the duplicate of which I had put on Autumn a few times this summer.

Oy, the guilt. It’s like a stiff, scratchy tag attached to a wool sweater.

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A great yarn

This is what I’ve been doing this month when I haven’t been blogging:

It’s for Nathan’s cousin who’s getting married next weekend. I’m so ready to finish this thing. My mother’s been making these for over 30 years and I asked her to teach me the technique a couple of years ago. I’ve mostly made baby afghans, which are much smaller, and most of the afghans I’ve made so far have been a lot more colorful than this one. Nathan’s aunt said the bride and groom like neutral, natural colors, so here you go. I have to make enough blooms for three more rows and two pillows and then I can get started on the one I’m making for our daycare provider’s Christmas gift. I’m really excited about that one because hers is going to look like this:

I made this one for another of Nathan’s cousins who got married last year. I loved it so much I wanted to make one for us and bought a few skeins of yarn to get started. I made one row and stopped, probably for some Autumn related reason, and left the project in my yarn bin. I just pulled it all out and am ready to get going. Hopefully I’ll be able to finish by Christmas.

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After we got home from our dinner out last night, Nathan made the round of calls to friends and relatives to assure everyone he was still employed. While on the phone with his sister-in-law Lisa, he was told what happened after we left his dad’s house Sunday night.

The wife was actually offended that we didn’t like what she’d done to the house. She couldn’t understand why we’d had such an emotional reaction when we walked through the door.

“For real?” I asked Nathan when he relayed the story to me. “Is she really that dense?”

Apparently Lisa had to finally lay it all on the line and explain to the wife why we were upset; because she and Nathan’s dad had erased his mom completely from the house so that the only thing left of her was the curio clock on the wall.

New wife didn’t like this. She didn’t like arguing with Lisa and clammed up. She eventually retreated to the bedroom so she wouldn’t have to be subjected to such abuse.

“Lisa said she doesn’t like confrontation,” said Nathan.

“Then why the hell did she marry into our family?” I asked.

I called my mom and relayed the story to her, asking her opinion of the wife’s reaction.

“It sounds like she’s not really aware of other people’s feelings,” she said.

“It sounds to me like she can only see as far as her own feelings,” I added.

We talked at length about the wife and about difficult people in general. Near the end of the call I said, “It’s funny how a year ago our side of the family was more dysfunctional. A lot has changed.”

I called Lisa after talking to my mother because I wanted to hear directly from her what had happened. We were on the phone for nearly an hour, which was probably the longest conversation the two of us ever had. I told her how I really wanted to like the wife but her behavior was making it very difficult. Lisa said she’s liking the woman less and less the more she gets to know her.

“Are we going to have to tiptoe around this woman now? Is she going to take offense any time we try to mention Mom in her presence?” I asked.

“I don’t care what the woman likes or dislikes,” said Lisa, “I’m not changing a damn thing. She can take me or leave me.” Classic Lisa. You gotta love her.

We wrapped up the call by making plans to meet at her and Dirk’s house on Christmas Eve. The Noah gathering is supposed to happen sometime that day, but the wife wants to schedule it at 7:00 PM so she can attend the candlelight service at church. The time is rather inconvenient for us and Nathan explained to the wife that Autumn is usually in bed by 8:00 at the latest. I’m not really anal about Autumn’s schedule, but it’s a 2-hour round trip drive to his dad’s house and there’s no way a 7:00 party would allow us time to spend with the family and get our daughter to bed at a decent hour. I’d really like to present a happy, well-rested child to my family on Christmas Day.

And this whole church thing? That’s also something new. I was raised a Christian and more or less consider myself an absentee Christian at present, but Nathan’s parents were never churchgoers and it’s strange to see the wife leading us in prayer before dinner and to hear how Nathan’s dad is now going to church every Sunday. I understand a person’s faith is important, but if the wife wants to build a solid relationship with our family, she’s going to have to make concessions of her own.

Oh Meg, I’m thinking of you, girl, because I have the feeling I’m going to be able to tell some whopper MIL stories of my own (not that I would ever consider this woman to be my MIL).

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A stay of execution

Nathan didn’t lose his job yesterday. The company laid off 150 people, 23 of which came from IT. The guy he switched jobs with earlier this year was let go, so we were left wondering what would have happened had he not transferred to a different department.

After work he took us out for a celebratory “I didn’t get canned” dinner at a Mexican restaurant, where he ordered a beer and a burrito advertised to be as big as his head. I had a chicken chimi which is still a heavy lump in my stomach.

So he’s safe. For now.

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Chapter two

My mother’s birthday was Sunday, but since we were due to dine with Nathan’s “family” we wound up meeting my parents and grandma at my mom’s favorite Chinese buffet near the lakeshore Saturday night. If you want to see something funny, take a couple of old dutch folks to a Chinese buffet and see what they bring back to the table. My father headed straight to the “build your own taco/salad” bar and my grandmother brought back steak and potatoes and neither of them touched much of the Chinese part of the Chinese buffet. Since my mother only married into Dutch, she enjoys battered and sauced pieces of meat and recommended the Kingdom chicken, which I tried and which managed to stain my shirt along with a few errant strands of lo mein noodles.

After we left the buffet, we headed north for a bit to drive by the old chair plant where we used to work. I hadn’t been down that stretch of road in years, probably not since I worked at the plant. Along the way we pointed out various landmarks and argued about the location of a particular bar where I once inadvertently started a fight between two Laotian women I worked with. If you can imagine Hillary Duff and Lindsay Lohan as two Asian girls, you can imagine the kind of rivalry those two had and I chose the worst time and the worst location to tell one what the other had said about her. Not one of my finer moments, and yet I can’t help but look back on that night with a little fondness now that I’m able to recognize how silly it all was.

As we drove towards the entrance to the old plant, I asked Nathan to pull into the drive. The company no longer builds chairs there. They sold it quite a few years ago, but I wanted to see what it looked like. As we traveled down the drive towards the plant, I was amazed at how foreign it all felt. I used to drive into the plant that way for nearly six years, but I’m now six years removed from the last time I was there. It could have easily have been a hundred years.

We drove around the parking lot for a bit with Autumn contentedly watching “Sesame Street” in the back seat. The new owners had built a huge addition to the plant and Nathan said they build airplanes there now. All the trees that used to line the front walk into the building were gone. The awning under which we took our breaks and lunches in the summer was also gone. I wanted so much to go inside to see if there was any part of that plant that looked the same as it did the last time I was there.

An intense feeling of sadness and longing overwhelmed me as I looked at the building. The job was rough at times; I was on my feet for eight, sometimes ten, hours a day. The summers were brutal since the building had no air conditioning. I was an unskilled laborer, and while I was there I had always hoped I’d move on to better things.

“Why do I miss this place so much?” I asked Nathan.

“The people,” he said.

I nodded. The people I worked with really made the difference. Never before had I worked with such a warm, diverse group and thinking of them has made me realize how very alone I am at work now. While my salary is quite a bit more than it was then, the dividends of good relationships amongst coworkers made up for whatever was lacking in my paycheck. I cared about them and they cared about me. I haven’t had that kind of relationship with anyone I worked with since I left the factory.

Back then my work life and my personal life were intertwined. Nathan and I worked at the same factory and drove to work together. My friends at work were my friends outside of work and it all came together rather seamlessly. Now? Not so much. Work is work and I’ve chosen to look at the workplace as where I make my money, not my friends. Sometimes it sucks, but in this office I’ve found that mentality to be a necessity.

As we turned back onto the long driveway to head out, I took one last look at the building. “I can’t go back,” I said. “Even if I could handle a job like that now, I know I can’t go back.”

I have a good job with great benefits and make a decent salary, and yet I can’t stop thinking about upholstering chair cushions to the beat of god-awful repetitive dance music while the most adorable Vietnamese man I’d ever met taught me how to count in his native language.

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Yesterday was the first time we visited Nathan’s dad’s house since Father’s Day. We’ve been avoiding the place because we’ve not wanted to face the fact his father has remarried.

We were invited to a post-Thanksgiving dinner. Only after we accepted the invitation were we told the new wife’s family would be there also. We didn’t want to go, but his dad and the wife had traveled to our place for Autumn’s birthday party so we thought it only fair we made the effort to go to their place.

We were the last ones there. We stopped at the cemetery before arriving at the house because we hadn’t yet seen the stone his dad had chosen to mark the grave site. Nathan started crying at the sight of it and Autumn started crying at the sight of her daddy crying.

It got worse when we arrived at the house. We knew they had been working on it, knew there would be changes and that the house looked totally different, but that did not prepare us for what we saw. We stepped inside and it was as if we were walking into an entirely different house. It has been remodeled from top to bottom; kitchen, living room, dining room and bathroom. There was nothing left of the house we used to know.

Everyone was already seated and eating. There were strangers at the table, people who I’d never seen before in my life who were now supposedly our “family.” Someone, I can’t remember who, took Autumn over to the table but I couldn’t budge. I turned around, walked into the front room where Nathan’s grandma used to live and started crying.

Nathan followed. “That’s not the same house anymore!” I cried. He agreed and we sat down together, neither of us wanting to eat.

A few minutes later Nathan’s dad stepped into the room and sat down beside me. I was finally able to ask him why he had to get married so soon and turn our lives upside down with all this change. He can’t be alone, he said, and he told Nathan’s mom that years ago. As for the house, he thought it would have been harder for us to walk into the old house with the new wife there. New wife, new house. Should be easy, right?

I felt silly being the emotional one. I was the one who had known Nathan’s mom the least amount of time out of everyone. I wanted Nathan to ask questions, too. I even said to him, “As long as we’re being honest here, is there something you want to say?” But he didn’t say much. Later on he admitted didn’t know what to say. And yet he shed tear after tear while decorating our Christmas tree this weekend because every ornament reminded him that his mother won’t be there this year.

We eventually returned to the main house and were introduced to the wife’s family. They were all very nice and very understanding. Dirk and Lisa were still at the table. Lisa was feeding Autumn and drinking a Bud Light. She pointed to the bottle and said, “This is how I’m coping with all this.”

After dinner I sat in the living room and looked at my surroundings; the new kitchen, the flat screen HDTV mounted to the wall and the painted drywall that has replaced the wood paneling that used to cover the walls. There’s very little of Nathan’s mother left in that house. There’s very little of his father either. Everything there screams “NEW WIFE” with her stuffed bears and oozing country charm.

The china cabinet is gone.

The curio is gone.

The roosters Mom collected for her kitchen are gone. They’re actually in the front room waiting for someone to take them home. Nathan’s dad asked us if we wanted any of it. I said no.

His dad continues to purge himself of Mom’s belongings. Yesterday we took home some delicate flower figurines and two ceramic statues she had painted and fired. His dad wanted us to take home more, but we said no. It’s as though he’s desperate to rid himself of the stink of her memory. I know that’s not true, but that’s how it feels.

Oh, and they forgot my birthday. I wasn’t going to say something to his dad, but as we were leaving I turned to him and asked, “So where’s my birthday gift?”

“Huh?” he asked.

“My birthday gift?”

A look of surprise and horror crossed his face. He had forgotten. Entirely. “I’m so sorry,” he said. “Pam kept track of all those dates on a calendar and I have no idea where it went.”

So yesterday was a bit of a downer for us. It tainted the entire long weekend, actually. But I guess we knew it was going to be bad.

On our way home I mentioned to Nathan how nice the house looked and that his mom would have loved everything that was done to it.

“She would have, dammit!” he said. “Why couldn’t he have done that when she was alive?”

I guess that’s a question we’ll have to save for our next visit.

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