February 15, 2017

Figuring out family and asking for support

When helping family turns into a thorny mess The story of my money and my family goes back to the very start of this blog. I wanted to be independent for my own sake, but also wanted to take care of them as they had me. I wanted to support them until they got back on their feet.

More than ten long years of striving later, the truth of today is hard to swallow. My dad isn’t who he once was. He’s not the person I dedicated half my life to helping. He’s become, maybe as a result of my taking on so much responsibility, someone who lies to me, and takes from me. Because he’s not working with me, for his own benefit, but rather working against me, I have to step away from this relationship even more. He’s not just undermining my efforts, he’s damaging my ability to trust people, all over again.

This truth has lain heavy on my heart for months, for years. It hasn’t set me free, I didn’t know what I could do with this revelation.

In all these years, I’ve kept this a secret from the rest of the family. I didn’t share my challenges, or discuss Dad’s actions, I just took care of business. It was my other way of protecting them – I didn’t want them to look bad in front of their siblings. It wasn’t something they asked me to do but it felt, much like writing anonymously, it was just the right thing to do. Take care of your business and don’t share that with people outside the family. Heck, I barely learned to let PiC in on the secret, in no small part, due to the scars it left.

Walking Seamus in the dusk, ground wet from the (drought-breaking?) rain last week, I finally felt overwhelmed. After all the struggle, when confronted with a need to move, I find that honoring my responsibilities has left us with the choice of no choice at all. To change living situations, we have to make financial commitments that eliminate even the possibility of asking whether I want more kids. We can’t afford to have that answer be yes. We can’t afford to take on foster kids, we can’t adopt more dogs, we can’t afford to add to our family in any way.

With that frustrating realization, something in me dissolved. That last bit of pride fell right out of me and I called my aunt.

Not my rich aunt, I don’t have one of those. My poor aunt, the one who still knows what it’s like to struggle because she still works every day plus weekends to provide for her family, putting off retirement for another couple of years so she can be sure her kids make it through their internship years.

I asked her if she had a minute. I asked if she might talk to my dad about his housing situation, and convince him to apply for housing assistance. He should be eligible. For more than five years, he’d been telling me that he always intended to move out now that Mom’s gone but he’s done nothing. We think that he doesn’t want to move to a more affordable place because he’s tied to Mom’s memories there. It’s the only way I can see us squeezing any more money out of our budget – we’re currently footing the bill for his rent and utilities, all of which add up to well over a thousand dollars a month but I can’t very well push him again without coming off like a total jerk.

What she had to say shocked me.

Not only did she already know what I’ve been doing all this time, she’s talked to (at) Dad in the past already. She and the other aunts have always helped a bit as they can – bringing by food, or clothes when they spot a great bargain, but they can’t tackle his living expenses. This I knew.

What I didn’t know was that while doing so, she’s told him that grieving Mom is one thing, and his right, but he has to attend to the living as well. If he loves me, as he should, he shouldn’t let his grief for someone who is gone override his love for the person who’s still here working her tuchus off. He should be looking for ways to ease the burden on me. She and her family love me, unconditionally, and it’s clear to them that he needs to be making better choices, my support notwithstanding. He’s not, she says, “realistic.” That’s a very accurate assessment. He’s never had to learn to live with our poverty, not really. He’s always had me to cushion the financial hits, to pinch the pennies, and Mom did it before me. It’s past time that he starts making better choices, and nothing I’ve said has ever made a difference. She’s agreed to try to talk to him about it.

I don’t expect results immediately, maybe not at all, but the confession, and hearing someone in the family agree with me and offer to support me, was unexpectedly hard. You’d think it’d be harder to go solo – but I’m used to that. I’m NOT used to being vulnerable enough for someone to offer help.

Choked up, I confessed, I’m not sure that he loves me, judging by his choices. It’s a hard thing to say out loud and I thought it didn’t matter, but it does. The knowledge makes it much harder to continue to give and sacrifice freely, even if money wasn’t an issue.

While I can’t (won’t) put him out on the street, I must pull back on some of the bills we pay. With someone, another elder, willing to push him to live more prudently, and make changes, I can take steps to minimize the financial harm. He’s more likely to give into that pressure.

Whether it’s because of the shaming fact of my going to his sibling, or that he’s more willing to listen to her, it appears that he already has given in.

For 5 years, he’s said my sibling refused to apply for disability assistance which would include housing support to pay for the rent that I’ve been footing. I don’t disbelieve that, but I don’t necessarily believe he’d done all he could, either. Mere days after my aunt said she would step in, they started the application and approval process. I can’t know if the magic was my aunt stepping in, for certain, but the timing is certainly telling.

We need to save every bit that we can now, and he needs to make ends meet on his own eventually, with or without sibling. It’ll take months for the process to be completed. Then we’ll see if I see a penny of that housing assistance without becoming a bill collector but this is the first step toward that goal.

Wish me luck?

:: Have you ever had to make a tough love decision? Tell me about it?

December 14, 2016

Update on JuggerBaby and our health

JuggerBaby has been transformed partly into the Unstoppable JuggerBaby with the addition of a cast. It’s a club that’s bashed about with great vigor, never mind who gets in the way. It’s made zir approximately 15% more reckless. It’d be worse but ze hasn’t discovered the extent to which ze can take advantage yet. Cross your fingers that ze doesn’t catch on before it comes off.

We just hope that amid all zir fun, ze is also healing up well.

The really annoying thing is that ze has been congested for about two months now, and so have I, and I don’t know what it’ll take to kick this dratted thing. Ze is taking Zarbee’s for the resulting cough because there’s nothing you can really safely give a kid zir age, but it’s not that effective. We still have reports from daycare that ze is coughing a lot during zir naps, and every night, it wrenches my heart to hear the hacking cough issuing from zir crib.

Since the cold set in, I’ve been doing remarkably well. I was pretty sure I’d adjusted to San Francisco type weather. Then I wasn’t. This Sunday’s temps were exactly the same as they had been for the last two weeks but this chill went straight to my bones, then from there zapped my muscles so that nothing from neck to toe didn’t ache. Literally down to my very toes and the tiny bones in there – ache ache ache ACHE.

It was a point of pride that I’d only had to bundle up to endure the ever-so-frigid days and nights that drop as low as (horror! gasp!) the 40s and 50s. I know, I know. But look, I’m from the tropics, genetically, this is unnatural for my people. I’d adjusted mostly but my fibro gets eccentric at times. All this wind-up means we had to run the heater for more than ten minutes. We had taken to running it for a little while to take the chill off since JuggerBaby can’t wear sleeves, and then leaving it off for the night, and it makes me grumpy to know that we had to run it longer just so that I could feel mostly human again. I know it’s not a big deal really in the grand scheme of things but there’s that knee-jerk frugal reaction of no! don’t waste money like that!

Meanwhile, PiC’s got a thing going on with his back, and his vision (unrelated). I’m hoping that it’s nothing serious, although I think it’s safer to say I hope it’s something that will resolve itself and go far far away soon, because we have trouble enough on our hands. Also he’s not used to being in pain for prolonged periods of time and it makes him grumpy.

Under the mental health column, I hit a glacier of Zen this month. Lots of things could irritate me but with the exception of one Friday, it hasn’t bothered me enough to even shout at the computer. That’s new. Also it’s appreciated by Seamus who is not at all convinced by my “it’s not you” reassurances. He’s a smart dog but I don’t think he quite grasps how the box I stare at all day could be getting itself in trouble.

I don’t know if the weird calm comes from having maxed out my stress receptors after November, or maybe I have gone numb from the three month long series of working more than twice my usual hours, but it’s kind of nice. Bizarre, but nice.

:: How long can you go before you have to run the heater when winter sets in? How’s everyone doing at home?

 

December 7, 2016

Tradition and mourning rituals

Visiting the graves of our loved ones, and honoring their memoryThere’s something about the cold, real cold for a Californian, the kind where you can see your breath, and stop feeling fingers and nose. Whenever that winter feels truly here, my bone deep memories surface.

It’s 40 degrees outside, and I needed socks inside, so I’m remembering other nippy mornings, going way back to when I ventured out into that cold because adults made me. Some memories are of junior high, 50 cent cups of hot chocolate to ward off the chill, shivering in too thin jackets. 

Some are about recalling my ancestors.

My entire extended family, aunts, uncles, cousins, lived by the Lunar calendar. I myself had no idea how it worked. All I knew was that when the cold settled down in California, it would be time. The one day a year that was designated for families to go to the graves of our family with food, symbolic money and clothes.  Each family would bring a dish made potluck-style, and we’d light incense in remembrance of our loved ones, burning paper money and clothing for their use in the afterlife. We’d have one-sided chats with our deceased loved ones, telling Grandma about what we’d been up to that year, who was sick, who was doing well, who had grown three inches. We’d ask them to remember us, too, and send us their blessings.

After the incense burned out, indicating the end of the spirits’ meal, we would eat the meal together as a family, picnic-style.

This was part of the Buddhist culture I was raised in, though it wasn’t really shared as a religion or a belief system. It was a familial custom to honor and respect our loved ones’ memory, much as others might leave flowers at the cemetery, keeping them alive in our hearts and teaching the next generation the wisdom that would have been passed down from the deceased elders.

I remember this from when I was very young, too young to know that running around the graveyard playing wasn’t respectful, and I remember a cousin jokingly restraining us by saying that if we ran over people’s resting places, they would reach up and grab our ankles to make us stop. It was effective. To this day I still instinctively walk in very specific lines above headstones. He’d probably think that was funny.

We were exposed to the idea of death very early on, making it a normal part of life, without making it rule our daily lives. That distance I learned to be comfortable with became so ingrained that it’s difficult to follow any mourning rituals that dictate weekly and monthly visits to graves or temples or churches. More frequently than once a year is overwhelming.

I think my cousins still carry on the tradition because they’re still local to the graves, but we’re not, and so I can’t share it with JuggerBaby as I would like to. As a poor alternative, I started a journal after ze was born where I share memories of my mom and others whom I would have honored on that day and why I remember and grieve their loss.

:: When did you learn about death? Do you have any family traditions to handle loss?

November 30, 2016

Baby’s first serious injury

JuggerBaby takes a hit (medically) and we do financially, but it's okA More than Minor Injury was sustained by JuggerBaby.

We shared many moments of toddler distress, and equal parental distress for the pain ze was experiencing.  Zir whimpers of pain were pathetic, especially for a kid who shakes off bleeding wounds if there’s something better to pay attention to, and heartrending when it escalated into cries of distress.

After a worried hour of coddling, icing, comforting and feeding but no resolution, we ended up at the ER. They were, despite zir panicked screams and tears, caring and efficient, trying their best to put zir at ease and bribing with many many stickers. Despite their best efforts, we ended up back in the hospital doing follow-ups when that treatment didn’t resolve the issue, and then several more hours picking up medical supplies.

Prognosis? About three weeks of healing.

If that’s all it is, and I’m hoping and praying that’s all it is, then it could have been a lot worse. JuggerBaby left a trail of snot and tears streaked across a few of my shirts so ze might have a different opinion, but I’ve tended to far worse wounds in my day. For now, ze isn’t an unhappy camper, ze is more comfortable and is coping bravely.

There were a lot of moments when I didn’t feel anything in particular. It wasn’t panic numbness or guilt-spacing out, it was knowing that this was painful and inconvenient and difficult, and just plain awful as parents seeing their child in pain. But foremost in my mind was thanks for our good fortune in life right now, because even as we tackled one hurdle after another, it was entirely manageable. Tiring, even exhausting, hauling many pounds of distressed child, trying not to jostle zir, but as long as ze comes out of it fine in the end, that’s all we have to really care about.

We are so fortunate that we have good health care and insurance.

The ER visit copay was $100, our followup copay was $20. Our FSA covers that with ease. The five x-rays were torturous, and the casting was worse, but we didn’t have to ask how much every single test or exam cost. I know exactly how much it costs to take X-rays for dogs and I swallow hard whenever we have to take Seamus back for another $200-400 visit – human medicine is multiple times more expensive. Part of this is because we chose an HMO, part of this is because the level of plan we have in the HMO is really good. Our premiums are relatively high, but the tradeoff was not having to think and worry about the cost of every item.

Intertwined with that lack of worry was the level of care we got. When I wanted an extra x-ray to be absolutely sure there wasn’t a third problem lurking, we had already been surprised twice, the technician got right on the phone to request it, and made sure that we got authorized for exactly what we asked for.

In my decades-long history with medical care, I’ve been seen by grossly incompetent doctors, strings and scads of them, who dismissed my pain as imaginary or in my head. I was prepared to go to war for my child, but I didn’t have to. They accepted that zir pain was legitimate and treated it as such.

We are so fortunate to have money.

We’re not rich, hence my iron-clad rule that we always save first and never spend more than we make. That means that we have reserves in case of emergencies.

That means that cost didn’t determine if we would get the medical supplies and clothing ze needed to be warm and comfortable.

We can afford ten dollars for a cast cover for daycare, since they won’t be able to take the same caution we do to keep zir cast dry. When it became clear that zir arm wouldn’t fit into any sleeves, I had a hoarded gift card to cover the cost of a warm coat – 50% off, a bargain hunter never quits!

We are so fortunate to have the mental space to plan ahead.

I always keep an eye out for clothing 6-12 month sizes larger than ze is currently wearing, gathering them piece by piece so that when ze has a growth spurt, we’re not scrambling to keep zir dressed. Ze needs looser, roomier clothes for a month? No problem, I dug out the little stash of larger clothes. We’ll have enough clothes to last a week.

We are so fortunate that our jobs aren’t run by tyrannical nincompoops.

When we had to drop everything and go back to the hospital, without a question we both got ready to go. We spent the time we needed taking care of our child with a second thought. The nurse asked us if we needed doctor’s notes during one of the visits and we both just looked at her blankly for a couple minutes before realizing why she asked.

What an utterly upper middle class reaction.

It’s been a decade since that was my life but I remember shift work. I remember not being able to make a doctor’s appointment without finding a replacement to cover for me. (My managers never used to find coverage for us so, sick or bleeding, you had to cover your shift. They sucked.)

I remember that I couldn’t afford to lose the wages by being out sick, so I worked through illness, and pain, and without a doubt exacerbated my fibro. I had to suck it up, I didn’t see a doctor.

(And that’s when I was lucky enough to have health insurance. In the year before I was working a full time job, in the early days of my fibro, we couldn’t afford health insurance. I didn’t know what the “oh, self-insured” comments meant for years but opted out of the repeat humiliation of trying to be seen at the local clinic. When I did get an appointment, without fail, a mid-50s male doctor would look at my x-rays and tell me that my pain was in my head. There’s a reason I look at male doctors sideways to this day.)

I hate that this happened but …

Comparing this ordeal with when I had to deal with Mom’s illnesses, the near-hyperventilating math trying to figure out where the money was going to come from, while navigating the near impossible, many hours-long waits in the Medicaid-accepting medical offices – it’s just no comparison at all.

Money and good care makes life a thousand times easier. I cannot be more grateful that while I couldn’t provide the care that Mom deserved, we can now for JuggerBaby.

At this moment in time, even with all the worry, numbness, anxiety, and wondering what the heck is going to happen, we are in an incredibly good place for this and I cannot help being grateful. I cannot let it go without passing on some of our good fortune when there are so many in the world doing without, or suffering terribly.

There are so many, but right now I’m thinking of Aleppo. I’m thinking of the X Clinics and especially the one in Texas serving rural populations who have the least access to reproductive healthcare.

:: Who would you support when your cup runneth over? What are you grateful for today? Have you ever broken a bone?

November 23, 2016

5 lessons from 5 years of marriage

Our 5th wedding anniversary: Lessons learnedOur marriage is half a decade old.

Anniversaries were always a weird thing for me even before we wed, but Mom’s death right on the heels of our wedding day has meant the memory of our wedding has been closely associated with grief. I’ve felt some kinda way about our anniversary for years. That loss, though I never held that “happiest day of your life” mantra, has haunted me.

How odd it is to join hands and pledge “for better or for worse” to one another and almost immediately call that pledge to the test by burying a beloved parent. How odd it is, to start your own, new, family, and a blink later, say good-bye, forever, to part of your own, old, family. Indeed, to say farewell to your old family entirely, when the loss of one pivotal person feels like the loss of everything.

We weathered that as we’ve done most everything else. Sometimes well, sometimes badly, sometimes together, sometimes alone.

Each year, as we celebrated our marriage and toasted the strengthening of our relationship, it felt a little like I was also drinking a glass to the still gaping maw in my heart. This year, after so many years of feeling the pain of her loss far more than the joy of our companionship, this was the first year I had a little hint of peace.

Grief doesn’t play nice, or give you a discount on burdens carried because you just buried your grandma, your best friend’s dad, your dear friend’s mom, and your classmate within months of each other. It’s the same crashing denial, guilt, and mourning, over and over.

But it also gives you remarkable opportunity to learn to trust your new partner, your new family, in ways you’d been terrified to try before.

Truth? I never wanted to be married. I never needed a husband to complete me. A career, couple of dogs, warm comforter, I’m fine. But, given an extraordinary person like PiC, I’d have been a fool to refuse because it “wasn’t in the plans”. And I’m proud to say that there is a limit to my foolery. I’m also proud to say that we’ve learned so much about each other and how to make things work well. Imperfect though we are, we’ve figured a lot out.

Relationships are work

Never doubt that relationships and marriage require work to make them work. The work should not feel like a never-ending slog, but it is work, and both parties have to be committed to doing that work together.

The number of people who have told me they thought they had a fairytale relationship is the same as the number of people I know who were divorcing or were staying in an unhappy marriage because at least one of them didn’t expect to have to compromise, actively communicate, or be self sacrificing in some way. That was always the other person’s job, and I suppose magic was going to do the rest?

I’ve never heard a happily married or strongly committed couple pretend that it didn’t take work, compromise or sacrifice to stay that way. If someone says otherwise, do NOT buy that bridge they’re selling.

Mom and Dad never fought in front of us so I didn’t learn from them how to fight civilly. Worse, it was incredibly bizarre to see when they disagreed right out in the open because I had never seen that as a kid. Thankfully, they never pretended that it was all popcorn and roses. Mom also taught me that it’s also not THAT hard. The struggle should have a purpose and a resolution. If you find someone worthy of you, you must approach disagreements with compassion and kindness. Even if you’re angry, you’ll still remember that because you love this person, the goal isn’t to grind them into dust for the win. That’s abusive. No kind of abuse whether it be emotional, mental, verbal or physical, was acceptable, but it was important to differentiate between being mean, snippy, or a plain ole jerk and behavior that rises to the level of abuse.

Patience: learn to have it, learn to use it

These haven’t been the easiest five years, personally or professionally, and as a result we traveled a bumpy road on the way to building patience. Where one or the other might have been snippy over an inconsequential thing going wrong, a misplaced set of keys or forgetting to prepare part of a meal, we’re much better at taking a step back and taking a breather BEFORE letting the snark roll.

It’s one thing to snark your friends mercilessly, without heat. It’s another to snark your spouse over an honest mistake because you’re tired or in a bad mood.

I expect PiC to treat me with respect even when he’s not feeling at his best, as he has the right to expect from me. It doesn’t mean to pretend to make nice all the time, it means that you remember when you feel like crap, you lash out, and then learn not to do that to those closest to you.

Know your fear, learn how to let it go

I’ve always refused to admit weakness. See how I’ve only admitted to chronic illness occasionally on an anonymous blog? Yep, that’s completely indicative of how I’ve dealt with it in offline life. It helped me professionally where fear typically leads to paralysis. It was terrible for our relationship, in the trust department. More specifically, in the Where’s the Trust? department.

My family had, over the years, taught me repeatedly not to trust adults to make good decisions. With PiC, I had to undo all that history and figure out how to trust him.

It starts with understanding that we two are built pretty differently from each other. We respect that isn’t the end of the world, and then find room for compromise.

I’m obsessive about money and sticking to our spending and saving plans. Obviously. PiC is not at all obsessive. But I have accepted his premise that spending is actually good at times, and he’s accepted that I’m going to make That Face when spending happens.

PiC makes some interesting decisions about time management. I’ve learned to nod and say he’s an adult, he can deal with the result. It’s not my job to make him do it my way (even if I’m right) because it’s not me doing the job. He’s learned to live with the consequences of his choices and change if he doesn’t like those consequences.

We don’t just tolerate each other, what a terrible word to use for someone you care about! We accept that we have our differences and work with them instead of insisting that we do everything the same way.

This is the beauty of trusting your partner: their job is not your problem, it’s their job. If you don’t like how it’s done, then debrief for a better next time. Except for PiC in the kitchen, this is why he’s only my sous chef or not allowed in the kitchen at all if I’m Head Chefing. It’s for the greater good.

Communication: it only works if you’re both listening

We have a running joke that we don’t listen to each other. It used to be one-sided. I would repeat information five times, in answer to PiC’s Dory-like questions. It mildly annoyed me but eventually I found myself doing the same. We’ve developed a terrible habit of only half listening, you see. But since being annoyed about it changes nothing, we’ve had to confront that both with humor and the aforementioned patience.

It’s made an enormous difference that we not only talk to each other, we talked to each other about how we talk to each other, and what’s working and what’s not.

Fight with your gloves on

If you must fight, and we all do at some point, do it well. Again, with the respect. Just because you disagree over something to the point of arguing or fighting it out, that doesn’t mean that your basic respect for this person with whom you share your life goes out the window. For me, that means eyerolling is out, and don’t ever use the dismissive “Whatever”. For him, that means hearing him out and not interrupting until he’s finished explaining what’s on his mind.

Here’s to many more…

We don’t have all the answers, but we’ve got enough to keep our marriage running with just a few tweaks now and again, and that makes me feel pretty good about the choices we’ve made. It’s not that we see eye to eye on everything, but that we’re willing to make the effort to understand each other that has made it all work.

Case in point: We didn’t even agree on how to celebrate this anniversary at first. We went around and around trying to find a good compromise, talking over logistics, and what was important to each of us. He wanted to do something more than just dinner together at home. I felt like dinner together at home was perfectly fine, I didn’t want to spend $1000 on a weekend trip.

It could have been several fights. Instead it was several discussions and we eventually landed on a great compromise that felt just right and may become our new way of celebrating. Perfect!

:: What’s a significant anniversary for you? What are your most powerful memories? Who do you miss the most?

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