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I couldn't call my parents when we got back from the airport to say we'd arrived fine, like I usually do, because Andrew had unplugged the computers and router and the phone, which is cordless. (Calling tem from my cellphone would be prohibitively expensive) so I sent an e-mail instead (over 4G, becasu the wi-fi was inexplicably fucked even when I did make sure everything was connected up and plugged in again) to say we were back fine and I got a reply from my dad basically saying good, thanks.

And then the weekend came and went, it was New Year's so I was sort of relieved and we hadn't been gone a whole week yet so it didn't seem like a big deal.

Then last weekeend arrived. I was a lot less busy. And I'd actually...kind of missed my parents. I feel like this isn't a thing I usually get to do. Usually having to talk every Sunday regardless of whether I feel like I have anything to say, I can get resentful. It feels oppressive. It's really a chore. I appreciate the regularity of talking around the same time every week, I know my parents really like that, but I am the ungrateful, ungraceful child.

Sunday wore on and I hadn't heard from them. Eventually I sent them an e-mail asking if they were around to talk, which I don't know has ever happened before? I mean, we don't talk every Sunday and it's become less rigid since Dad retired -- it used to be the only day in the week he was guaranteed not to be working, and now they're as likely as I am not to be around on Sundays, as they're settling into their life of day trips and season tickets to the local am-dram and whatnot -- but usually if they're not going to be around Mom will have already e-mailed me to let me know. She's really good about this stuff, much better than I am.

But this time I went to bed not having heard back, which left me feeling a little unsettled. Not upset or worried or anything, but it was odd.

I got an e-mail from Mom the next day saying sorry and was I around then. I wasn't, I was trying out a yoga class (it was my first time trying yoga and I ended up really liking it). She was busy yesterday having a meeting about the kitcheen renovation they're having done.

So finally we caught up today. She couldn't get the video working on the iPad, which is a ritual that happens probably 50% of the time and she'll probably never learn to hold it in such a way that I'm not looking up her nose. She interrupted my dad lifting weights to get him to talk to me too. They told me my grandma's sight in her right eye is getting better, enough to read her mail and read the newspaper a little it, which seems to have had a pretty awesome effect on her quality of life.

Mom also told me they'd been having prolems with their e-mail: somehow she thinks their e-mail address has been changed to one that's about bikers?...or something... and from her description I have no idea what kind of problem they've managed to make for themselves this time: she says she has to "go out into the e-mail and delete that and put our e-mail address in," and then when she comes back to send another e-mail that one's back so she has to do it again. So she thinks their e-mail has been hacked, but luckily she knows little enough about hacking that she isn't worried abbout this. And their e-mails have looked perfectly normal by the time they've arrived with me. How do parents manage to do these things?

It was just nice to see them again, nice to see my mom's very My-Mom kind of top she was wearing and the bits of the house I could see as she walkd with the iPad down to see my dad. Nice to catch up on all this normal stuff. Nice to miss them.
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...is what I said last year.

If you're going to die, don't die on a holiday that isn't on a fixed date. It means in future years the date of your death and the holiday will be on different days, and it makes two very difficult days. Last year, the twenty-forth of November was almost a week distant from Thanksgiving (which is always on the fourth Thursday of November) and I thought that was worse. But this year they're on the same day, today obviously, and my mom finds that harder.

So I'm glad they're able to do something different from how they usually spend Thanksgiving. My dad's sister and her partner have moved this year, they're fixing up what sounds like a nice house out in the woods in northern Minnesota, it sounds lovely. But it's also lovely because it's something new, because they're not doing what they always did, they're not surrounded by several generations of my mom's family without having their own children there. My aunt and her partner have grown-up children who are scattered around and who I don't think will be around this weekend. And since it's a long enough drive they're not just going for the day like they would if they were going to my mom's sister's, they're staying for the whole long weekend, which will keep them away from the whole holiday palaver, the Black Friday sales and the traffic and everything.

But I miss them. I didn't get to talk to them last week before they went, which is a shame. Thanks to Skype I should be able to talk to them at some point while they're at my aunt's, but still. I worry that they think I'm somehow unaffected by this because I'm not there, and we don't have the holiday. But I am, and I'm affected differently precisely because of those things.

Peak Dad

Mar. 26th, 2016 09:26 pm
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I thought my dad telling me that they'd been to see Zootopia last week and really liked it was going to be the most surprising news of that phone call, but then he told me he'd gotten an iPad (they went to look at new phones and a contract that better suited them, and I know he's been vaguely interested in smartphones but not in a hurry to get one for years now, having seen co-workers looking at YouTube and Facebook and whatnot; I actually think whoever in the Verizon store steered him towards a tablet rather than a smartphone did the right thing for him) and hey there's this thing called Skype that means we can call you for free...

This after we got webcams as a wedding present from a friend of my parents', who already had offspring halfway across the country and was Skyping to see her grandchildren and whatnot. I set up one camera for them, installed the drivers, installed Skype, wrote down very hand-holdy instructions for how to use it...and then nothing happened. They never ever used the sweet, clever, thoughtful present. Ten years later, I get asked if I've heard of Skype. Bless them. I still can't convince him he doesn't need my phone number to use it. And he still can't use it, he's going to take it back to the store because it sounds like he has some very old-person problem with using the app.

But in the meantime he seems to be using his iPad for two of his favorite things: weather and geography.

He told me that Middlewich, where Andrew's family live, is south of Manchester which I didn't know I'd needed telling (it's in Cheshire) but apparently he'd been thinking it was west of here. I know he's always said, since his first visit, that he can never get his cardinal directions the right way round here, he has trouble visualizing the relative positions of things, and that really disorients him.

I've always been meaning to get him a map, but finding one with the right kind of detail and not so much irrelevant stuff as to be confusing to him has proved basically impossible. Sounds like now he's got it anyway. "And then I saw the airport, and then Didsbury [where we lived the first couple of times they came to visit] and Levenshulme [where we've lived since]..."

He was clearly delighted, and I was impressed he remembered the names, even though he's actually pretty awesome at that. Hence being disoriented bothering him so much: my mom couldn't tell you most of the cities she's been to here, much less what number bus we get into town, what parts of Manchester we've lived in, or the name of a coffee shop chain, but she's happy like that and has no interest in knowing more detail than she does. My dad knows all that stuff and still feels a bit adrift, bless him.

And yes I know all of this has been freely available on the internet forever but my dad basically never uses the internet, doesn't even use the computer for much, so I don't think it'd either have occurred to him or been enjoyable to him to look at Google Maps or similar this way. Whereas he's just the kind of person who'll love being able to sit in his comfy armchair and drag his fingers in what he probably actually thinks is an intuitive way across a map, zooming in and out.

If he ever finds out about Street View, he'll be showing my house off at family get-togethers, I can just picture it.

In today's phone call I'd forgotten all about the iPad until he asked me if it was "still" raining, which baffled me, but then he told me it'd been raining in Ireland for two days straight now and he'd figured it'd get over , Manchester at some point (he has a very "lived in the middle of a continent his whole life" faith that whatever weather's off to the west of you I what you're going to have next; I figure in this instance the more likely explanation is that it rains in Ireland a lot, it rains in Manchester a lot, and any apparent cause-and-effect relationship between these two facts is probably coincidental...but hey, if it makes him happy there's no reason to argue).

He knows the temperature and precipitation where I am better than I do now, because his local TV meteorologists have to satisfy old-cranky-man needs for weather precision (especially when some of the old cranky men, and others, are farmers whose livelihoods really do depend on the weather and how accurately it's predicted), and I don't even have a TV to watch the news on and consume only national radio which seems to think the likes of "sunny spells" and "dry except in the northwest of England where it'll rain" (I have heard that way too many times) are sufficient weather data.

If I could find him an app that tracks (and converts!) local-to-me petrol prices, he'll be able to have all the Dad conversations with me. It'd be almost like I never left home! Or at least, not for anywhere actually very different, anyway.
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My parents are aging.

Of course, I'm also both far further away and completely lacking in sibling support compared to what I expected. These things are responsible for many of my tears.

My mom had a hospital consultation today that seemed to leave her feeling better, but me worse. So there's nothing to worry about (well, nothing much anyway and possibly less than there was before?). I think my being inconsolable this evening says a lot more about me right now than it does about anyone or anything else.
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So my mom has something wrong...something something temples something probably arteries?...that if left untreated could make her go blind. Of course it's being treated, but with something that could affect the functioning of her one remaining kidney. She's having a biopsy today and will let me know the results of that when she does herself.

Until then, my parents seemed cheerful enough on the phone yesterday (my dad thought I didn't know what Super Tuesday was, bless him; my mom was talking about my cousin's family; all seemed pretty normal).

But, and perhaps because today I've got no plans and not enough to distract myself, and maybe because a friend is having I-don't-live-in-the-same-country-as-my-aging-parents issues, perhaps because my life lately seems full of worries about the health of people I love...I'm utterly exhausted and not coping fantastically.

That's it

Jan. 18th, 2016 08:19 am
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I've given up hoping this will ever change and am now resigned to the fact.

I will never be done reassuring my parents that I am always going to be a U.S. citizen.
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My dad is fixated on telling me, when I'm in Minnesota, what time it is in the UK at any given point. Only he doesn't say it like that, he says: "For you, it's..."

If I yawn at 8:30pm, I know "For you it's two-thirty in the morning" will follow (even though I yawn at 8:30 in the evening here, too!). If I look bored in the afternoon, he'll say "For you, it's bedtime!"

I don't think he has any conception of how crazy this drives me.

I can't convince him to stop, that I don't find this interesting or helpful because I just really don't feel like it's the time he's telling me it is for me. If he just said "In Manchester it's [whatever] right now," I don't think I'd care. But being told what I think about something, even if it's something so impersonal as what time it is, sends me absolutely bonkers.

I usually do okay at coping with the time zone change: I tend to fly local-early-morning and get there around local-evening-meal-time, which after some food and a bit of unpacking and winding down, means I go to bed at an acceptable-if-early local-bedtime. If I can do that, and have a longish sleep, I wake up around the same time as my parents, and then I'm probably all right.

Last night I went to bed to read at about 7:30. I couldn't stay awake past 8:30. I woke up, as I knew I would for going to sleep so early, at 1:30 in the morning. So far so normal, but this time I was completely unable to get to sleep after that.

Going by the xkcd time zone sleep descriptions, I'm even further from Minnesota than I am from Manchester. Somewhere around Russia, probably.
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As I was digging into my pancakes last evening, all of a sudden Mom started talking about one of her best friend's little granddaughters, who broke her arm.

Apparently the girl told the doctor "You've got to fix me up, because I'm all my mom and dad've got."

Yeah, little girl. I know that feeling.
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Remember how Mom told Andrew the other week she was worried about me because my eyesight had gotten so much worse I was depressed about it?

This is already so full of however you say "I can tell you don't get it" in NT-ese that no further refutation is really necessary.

But, in case it were, I was just at the optician's this morning (all by myself! what used to induce panic in me and require [personal profile] mother_bones's presence so I didn't run away now seems like a piece of cake after all the eye hospital hoops I've jumped through, and it helps that I know this optician and what the tests will be like) and my prescription has hardly changed at all! I don't even need to get new glasses.

And this meant I finally could get the prescription swimming goggles I'd decided on as a "hooray, I'm getting PIP now!" celebration once my first payment arrived a week or so ago. That should help a lot with both anxiety and of course blindness when I'm swimming, and hopefully help me do it more.
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My mom left the gold hard hat as the centerpiece of the dining room table until I got home to see it. For once it's my dad who thinks something's silly and her who's sticking up for it.

I'm so glad I got to see it; it's awesome. Not just spray-painted gold, but bedecked with stickers too.

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A song came on the radio while we were eating breakfast and all of a sudden my dad said, "Who's this singing, is it Katy Perry?"

I had no idea, I'd never heard the song before. But since my dad had been telling me the day before how much he likes Lady Gaga and that he wishes Adele would come out with a new album, I was happy to defer to his expertise.

It always delights me to contemplate -- as I am so often given reason to do -- that I will never be as cool as my dad.
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My dad didn't just get a gold watch when he retired. He got a gold hard hat.


Apr. 30th, 2015 06:52 pm
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Just about now, my dad is finally done with work.


He's retiring today, and the tradition at his place is everyone (it's only a dozen people or so) goes out for a meal, my mom gets invited along too, and then he gets to go home after that, he doesn't have to work the afternoon.

So right now, it's about lunchtime where my dad is, and I'm thinking of him.

He's worked so hard, all his life, with a heavy load of farm chores since he was old enough to do them. He's one of those people who's never sick, never complains, never thinks "no I won't go to work today because there's a blizzard."

He's worked hard his whole life, missed a lot of my brother's and my school concerts and football games when we were growing up and he worked nights. He's done a lot of manual labor jobs, even as his body gets older and slower and a bit more prone to aches and ailments.

He is the ideal I always feel I fall short of, for working so hard and so uncomplainingly, with all life has thrown at him, his whole life.

He's worked so hard, no one could more deserve their retirement. But it's weird, too: I can't imagine him not working. Neither can he. He's already talking about all the stuff that needs doing outside and the places around Minnesota he'd like to visit. I hope he has very much very happy time to do all he wants, now.


Mar. 17th, 2015 06:16 pm
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Mom's tried to call a couple of times when I was asleep or out, so I haven't talked to her yet but I've got an e-mail. Here's what she says about the glories of Hawaii:
It was great over there.  We kept saying it was hard to believe we were there.  The flight is long and you only get water,pop, pretzels or peanuts once.  So we did have crackers and I tried to buy water before we got on the plane.
From that description, I find it hard to believe they were there, too!

I'm gonna call her in a minute, but I just don't know if I can yet handle the deluge of information about the ghastly-sounding Pearl Harbor Experience, the bound-to-be-racist luau they'll have gone to, and a detailed report on the clothes Mom wore while she was there, which she will call "outfits."


Jan. 18th, 2015 09:07 pm
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My mom always says on the phone stuff like "not too exciting around here," and "nothing major."

Both of which she said even today after she just got done telling me about planning their vacation-of-a-lifetime to Hawaii.

I start to wonder what would count as exciting to her.

Another thing that struck me in this conversation: in the middle of telling me about one of the girls I used to babysit, who's a college freshman now, she suddenly said, "And she has a friend who, it's like how you and Seth were, you know."

There was a long pause I utterly failed to fill as my mind raced trying to figure out in what way this girl and her friend were supposed to be like me and Seth. Our freshman year, my roommate and I sort of adopted him because he didn't get along with his roommate very well. We met almost literally running into each other outside a party for the new freshman before classes even started. He and I went on long walks in the middle of the night as an excuse to chat. We did improv together. He told me about calculus and coding and I told him about poetry and astronomy. In which of these or a billion other ways did we remind Mom of this girl and her friend?

"They're just good friends, you know, like you were. He goes with her for her blood tests and stuff, so she has someone there. But it's not like a boyfriend-girlfriend type of thing, her mom told me. And I said, well, it's like that friend you had in college.

Oh. So it's just "mixed-gender friendships" she was thinking of. Right. Is this one of those things my mom thinks only happened to me once, like she thinks I only have one gay friend?
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When I found a link to this article that labeled it merely "A parent’s lessons on living with grief, 10 years after her daughter died", I already knew that clicking on it would be bad for me.

But I did it anyway, of course. Because I'd had a bad day and didn't mind an excuse to cry? Because it's my mom's birthday? Because I was intrigued at that "10 years after." Because I'll read anything on the subject, in the hopes of feeling understood or just feeling less alone. As I said a couple of years ago,
I suppose it's because losing a brother at what we've been lead to believe is such an unnaturally young age is a rare thing now; it doesn't happen to a lot of people, so it's easy to feel lost and bewildered and alone.
I'm always hungry for anything that helps alleviate that loneliness.

The situation I read about in this long, wrenching, beautiful article ended up being eerily similar to my parents': a child in their early 20s dying in a car crash this time of year. It was ten years ago for this writer; it'll be nine for my parents in less than two weeks.

You hear a lot about the immediate aftermath of such a shock, and people kinda know what to expect, but what is there to say as the years go on and on? I was wondering this just today. And here I have an answer to that question.

Maybe that's why this is by far the most resonant and comforting thing I've ever read on the subject of the effects losing a child has on the immediate family.

I poured myself a glass of wine I felt I'd well-deserved as tears dried on my cheeks after I'd finished reading it, but I'm still very glad I did read this article. Because one of my big hang-ups is having to, trying to, failing to find words for my brother and my family now that I'm surrounded with people who didn't know him or what our lives were like then. None of my chosen family (with the exception of Andrew, of course) knew me when he was alive, which means they never knew the person I used to be...because I haven't been able to be that person since. Here at least are some of the words I haven't been able to find for myself.

Of course this writer's situation is very different in many details but surprisingly many of the experiences match. And in seeing familiar but always-unspoken reactions and insights reflected in this way, I feel like a part of myself that is usually hidden -- because neither I nor anyone around me seem to know what to do with it -- is being held up to the light. Reading this, I nodded a lot. I remembered a lot. It's awful to relive these memories but it's a relief to feel understood. It's worth it.

My parents are, by temperament or circumstances or both, not articulate people; they were not educated as this woman was, and they're part of a culture that (to put it mildly!) doesn't encourage or reward such openness. So to read here so many words that remind me of my own mom, particularly, feels like a kind of gift. I'm afforded a glimpse I never thought I could get of how my mom might have thought and felt, thanks to someone in circumstances similar enough that I can see my own parents and I all over her terrible, beautiful words.
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A mock-up of a magazine called Dad, made to look like women's magazines but with headlines like Which free hat with a logo on it works best with your look? and Are you using your backyard to its full potential?

Because the other day, after I talked to my mom about someone who's dying and shouldn't be, my dad just wanted to talk about power tools. I think he wants to get me some for Christmas.
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"Any luck?" my mom says. My mind is still drifting around what she's been telling me about how she's doing: she drove and is happy that she can do it ("it's good to know I can if I absolutely have to," she says repeatedly, and every time I wonder under what circumstances she thinks she'd "absolutely have to," but then I know better than anybody how isolating it is to be stuck in that house reliant on other people to get so much as a gallon of milk, much less see anybody or buy anything or go anywhere). She's struggling with people -- even her good friends -- who expect her to be all better now. I find this kind of judgmentalism bizarre: I've gotten so used to thinking of people as the experts on their own experience that I don't even have an opinion on how my mom "should" be doing -- what on earth would be the point of that? -- I just am always eager to hear how she is doing. But of course I remember that the culture I grew up in is very keen on pointless opinions like this: she should be better, he should see his parents more, you should be ashamed of yourself. As if every person's health and happiness is something that the rest of this rural community is all on the committee for, and they need you to know how they're voting.

So when Mom said "any luck?" I thought only, unhelpfully, of herself and the ways in which she's lucky -- her recovery is progressing as well as can be expected, despite her propensity for complications -- and the ways in which she's not -- she still feels like a burden, she's missing things like a good friend's mother's funeral and even though the friend is kind about it Mom feels like a bad friend to her.

So before my brain can catch up with what she means, my mouth has already said, "...mm? What?"

My mom seems a little slow, too -- I noticed this when I was there, and tried not to think too much of it: she's tired, she's recovering, she's both taking Tramadol and hates Tramadol so is always in as much pain as she can bear without it and all that stuff is bound to affect her concentration and articulation, right? -- but eventually I understand that she's asking if I have a job yet.

As if I'll go from "nope, nothing to report" one Sunday-evening phone call to "yep!" the next one. As if there are no such thing as closing dates, or interviews. (The job I really want and applied for a couple of weeks ago doesn't even close until Monday, so who knows when/if I'll hear about that!) "If I had a job, you'd know!" I tell her, as I told my dad last week when he asked me the same thing. (They're so persistent in asking me this that it feels like years I've been unemployed already.)

"All right, I'm only asking," she said in that voice I remember from my teenage years, when it was so difficult to explain to her what was going on in my life, what I cared about. My heart sank. What I'd been trying (and, admittedly, with those few words understandably failing) to convey is that they won't have to wait to ask me; they'll hear from me as soon as I know. Because I know they'll want to know, because they're concerned about me because they love me. And I want them not to worry, because I love them.

What she heard, though, was apparently more secretive-teenager. My whole point was that they won't have to ask, that I'll keep them in the loop, and I'm sad that they don't trust that and feel they have to bring it up every fucking time I speak to them, which I just dread, because it's fucking depressing to have to say "No, I don't have a job yet" all the time. I'm sad they don't see what a high cost this kind of interaction has on me.
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What a week for my parents. Everything from serious illness in close relatives to feeling like old friendships aren't withstanding the hardships in their friends' lives to having to upgrade their computer to Windows 8 (my mom doesn't like the new printer they had to get, my dad resents Quicken 2014 for not being like Quicken 2005, there's no spider solitaire...).

I just want to give them hugs and fix their computer and be a good daughter.
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November isn't going according to plan at all, but the general plan of "not feel so shit at this time of year for once" seems to be going okay.

I measure my success (for once it feels like it's snuck up on me! that's better than it looming like it usually does) by how disconcerted I was that Mom, on the phone yesterday, was talking about...well, I was going to say "about my brother," but she isn't. No one does that any more. I don't do that any more. There are no more stories to tell about him.

So what we talk about is the presence of his absence, something that takes up the same space as him but does not grow or change or give us anything new to talk about.

She asked me if I want to write something for the local paper again this year. Which means she wants me to. So I'll try, but god. I scroll back through the last couple of pages of stuff tagged with his name and I see myself keep saying "what really hurts is that there's nothing to say." Even that is old now. What happens after you get beyond unchanging?

And rather than cluttering up your brains with another depressing entry later, I'll just add that I've also been thinking lately that I need to come up with a better answer to "do you have brothers or sisters?" I met a bunch of new people for work last week and so was innocuously asked this a few times, and I was awkward and it sucked. As David Sedaris said here
Now, though, there weren’t six, only five. “And you can’t really say, ‘There used to be six,’ ” I told my sister Lisa. “It just makes people uncomfortable.”
Plus in a way, it's not entirely true that there only used to be six; there still are six, in their pasts and their heads and their habits of thinking and interacting, as that piece he wrote proves so eloquently. There's only me now, but I'm not an only child.

I don't want to lie because I'm shit at this kind of lying; I'd only say something like "oh yeah my brother and I were like that" later on (I'm bad at compartmentalizing my life like this, which is also why sometimes not being able to be out as bi or poly is stressful), and confuse everyone like my boss does when he goes on about being an orphan and then tells stories about his mum and stepdad. And I hate euphemisms, so I'm not going to say "we lost him," which makes it sound like he's hiding behind the sofa, or "he's gone" which makes it sound like he's just somewhere else (which is especially confusing when all the rest of my family actually are just somewhere else), or whatever. Yet if I just say "I had a brother but he died," people are startled and I don't want anyone to feel bad for asking (less because of any altruistic concern than because it ramps up my anxiety, so it's no good telling me "don't worry about that, they'll be fine;" in my experience, they always are, but I'm not, not least because as I said in some ways it feels inaccurate or incomplete to speak of my having a brother only in the past tense; I don't know what it is but I still have something because I am not an only child). I don't have any other siblings to talk about to deflect attention by providing a bit of change of subject.

Eight fucking years I've had to work on that one, and I still haven't managed to crack it yet.


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