Category Archives: Family Fun

A Letter to my Children About Alcoholism

My darlings,

You probably will remember this Christmas as a time of joy over your new kitten as well as confusion over a missing family member.  Someone very special to us was not here this year because of a sickness.  I am sad to say that over the years the sickness had hurt us all, and we were together this Christmas to pick up the pieces as best we could.  Mindless of the adult tension, you played games and built a snowman. Your questions about the circumstances went unanswered, and someday when you are older, we owe you an explanation.  Christmas should be a magical time for children, a celebration of miracles when wonder and joy abound.  Children are too innocent to understand that in the adult world, there is no such guarantee for happiness.  You don’t realize it now, but you were robbed of the Christmas that you deserved, and I will make it up to you.

I know that for you, sleeping camp-out style in a cold, filthy building was an adventure.  I used to think that way too.  The meager Christmas tree that we erected in a dirty corner of a dusty room at the last minute probably looked better to you than it did to me. The broken ornaments found in an old drawer probably glistened a bit more in your eyes, bright with new dreams.  The food probably tasted better and the arguments probably sounded less vicious because you were counting down the minutes until Santa came down the chimney.

You went about life as always, preoccupied with watching all the Christmas cartoons, drawing pictures, and teasing each other.  You fixed a plate for Santa with no help from the adults, who were too busy anyway, shouting over each other and sloshing glasses of wine on the stained floor. I envied your oblivion, and yet I could not help but wonder how much you had already deduced.  After all, you are the smartest children I know.  How could you not notice that many things were strange this Christmas?

While you were gleefully playing with your new kitten, our entire family imploded.  I want you to know that it was a long time in the making, and it had nothing to do with you.  Actually, that is not true.  For me and Daddy, it had everything to do with you.  I don’t imagine that my childhood was like yours.  I grew up very quickly, learned to hide problems and make excuses for my loved ones, and tried to be the glue that held everything together.  The role I played is not the role that I want any of you to play.  Because it’s not how Daddy and I want to treat you, it’s not right, and it’s not good for you.  I want you to have a stable and healthy upbringing, but I have noticed that I am passing on to you some very bad habits that I learned as  a child.  You deserve better than what I had, and only I can make changes in my own life to improve the conditions in yours.

Someday I hope that you understand the decisions that were made, the lines that were drawn, and the boundaries that were established.  I hope that you are not damaged because of what I experienced, and I hope that I have the strength to change myself before it is too late for you to have the family, the memories, and the life that you want and deserve.  Your daddy and I had to make a very important decision this Christmas, and we both pray that our family will be much healthier by next Christmas.  It is January 1st, New Year’s Day.  My heart aches to speak to people whose ears have been closed, but I remain hopeful that it is not too late for us.  It is time for me to break a long and dangerous cycle, and to give you the best gift that I possibly can.

Your life is what you make of it, but without the proper tools, you cannot thrive.  You don’t know it now, but this year for Christmas Daddy and I gave you the gift of a better chance at life because we finally put you first.  We lifted the curse of a million bottles and cans, and we released you from the grips of a family disease.  The road ahead won’t be easy for any of us because we have been affected deeply by a sickness that hurts entire families, but we are working together to make our family better.  Daddy and I owe that to you all.  You will have a better life than your parents, because of the decisions your parents are making for you now.  This is my promise to you, my darlings.  I love you all unconditionally,

~Momma

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The Good Summer

My son enjoying a quick climb on the Badlands this summer.

My son enjoying a quick climb on the Badlands this summer.

I almost titled this ‘The Good Enough Summer’, but changed my mind before typing one word.  When you hear good enough, regardless of the context, doesn’t your mind bend slightly to thoughts of something mediocre, like whatever turned out to be ‘good enough’ was still not quite satisfactory, and the party reaching said state did so under protest?  When my husband and I were discussing this year’s summer plans, our conversation ended with the blanket statement: “Well, it’s just going to have to be good enough.”  Everything was going to have to be good enough, each family member would have to pull their weight, and expectations would be lowered to get through the summer.   I didn’t know if it would work, but I wanted to be optimistic.

I wanted summer to be good because we were under stress.  We sold our house in Kansas and bought another home in Missouri.  The mortgage application process became a prolonged nightmare, but in the beginning we were oblivious to what lay ahead.  Our focus was on the six weeks of summer during which we would technically be homeless.  Although this was not a problem since we had family and friends to visit during our vacation time — very convenient for gypsies who like to travel — no amount of obsessive planning can totally prepare a person for the creeping feeling of general terror when facing the truth of simply being unable to go HOME.

We had to be ultra conservative to get through summer without going into debt.  I counted my daughters’ shoes and made a pile of nearly two dozen pairs between them.  After playing in mud puddles, running up and down dirt roads, cruising zoos and water parks, the pile would diminish to one or two usable pairs by the end of summer.  I expected most of their clothing to become outgrown or worn out, too.  My plan was that the kids would wear things out as we traveled so I could squirrel money away for back to school shopping in August.  I wanted them to learn that consumerism is not a hobby, that money does not appear on a whim, that we should use what we own, like old tennis shoes, reuse what we can, like ripped blue jeans, and replace things when the time comes.  This summer would be a perfect time for such lessons.

Our new puppy Teddy enjoying the beach on Lake Kampeska this summer.

Our new puppy Teddy enjoying the beach on Lake Kampeska this summer.

I have to constantly keep my children sane, happy, fed, entertained, and alive!  Are my treasured art investments actually in storage or on the Black Market? Did I remember to pack my jewelry?  There are 500 pairs of shoes in this car and it smells like there are 500 pairs of shoes in this car.  I have to schlep 1,200 pounds of the Most. Important. Things. Everyone. Owns. around for the next month. WHY do my kinds think they each need five stuffed animals, 18 books they won’t read, and 600 loose Crayons, which are presently melting all over my car?  These thoughts filled my head as we hit the road.  Two adults, three children, and one yellow Labrador puppy growing at a rate of 2.5 pounds per week crammed into my SUV to drive thousands of miles and live like nomads for the next several weeks.

My daughters looking at the geese at a botanical garden in Missouri.

My daughters looking at the geese at a botanical garden in Missouri.

Packing light was a goal, not necessarily a realistic concept.   Anticipating our temporary homelessness and wanting to be practical, two week’s worth of clothing for each person, all the shampoo that we currently owned, and a couple bars of soap. By the time we reached South Dakota, we had to ship an enormous foot locker and a large cardboard U-Haul box back to Missouri.  We were already overloaded before our trip had officially begun!  We had decided to travel in one car, which began having ‘technical difficulties’ in New Mexico.  So much for the money for my back to school shopping spree.  I kept telling my husband that we could get rid of an extra set of bedding we used at the Carlsbad KOA cabin, but ever the Boy Scout, he wanted to hold onto it in case we needed it later on.  That turned out to be a fantastic idea, since several strange things happened requiring ingenuity as well as sheets, blankets, and so many garbage bags.

Regardless of our agreement that this summer would have to be good enough (in other words, we would all have to tough it out), I spent much of the time worrying. I missed my friends and had no outlet to work through my emotions about being uprooted.  Everything that could go wrong seemed to.  The underwriters harassed us nonstop for proof to further prove our proof of various documentation (and I know how ridiculous that sounds, but it is exactly what they requested).  My car was in the shop during our entire visit to Texas, and it started to malfunction from new problems during our trip from Texas back to Missouri. Our dog almost drowned, our oldest child turned into a moody teenager, and we were always at the mercy of the family members who took us in.  Every day was a new mini drama.

A quiet moment of reflection at the Oklahoma City Bombing Museum.

A quiet moment of reflection at the Oklahoma City Bombing Museum.

All I wanted was something better for my family, because we deserved a really great summer.  Hell, I deserved a really great summer!  My husband and I argued a lot and fought a little.  There were days when I wanted to run away from my family and establish a life as a fabulous hermit/diva somewhere in Europe.  I stress ate, when I actually remembered to eat.  When we limped the broken SUV into our new town in Missouri, we were met with empty promises from the bank, so we ended up in a horrid little motel. Our room had a mysterious, overpowering odor later identified as the mold and mildew that spawns after extensive water damage.

We arrived at our house for the walk-through feeling dirty and dejected, smelling of mildew, sleep deprived and slightly malnourished (having eaten nothing but ham on white bread for what seemed like years).  The seller, who happened to be a realtor with nothing to lose, took pity on us because we had essentially become the delightfully comical Griswold family from the National Lampoons Vacation movies, and she agreed to a temporary rental until the underwriters were finally satisfied with their scrutiny of just about every aspect of our lives.

Food for thought at my favorite sculpture park in South Dakota.

Food for thought at my favorite sculpture park in South Dakota.

Everything worked out in the end, but more work and a lot of introspection was required to get to this point.  ISummer is winding down, and as I go through photos of the family, I realize that maybe we actually did have a good summer.  Maybe our expectations were exceeded, and we didn’t have a merely mediocre time.  Sure, on some days there was crying, swearing, and fighting, and sometimes we were quite miserable, even pathetically so.  Looking back, at more happy memories than sad, I have realized that I am an ignorant woman. It took me the entire summer to figure out that when it comes to family relationships, there is no such thing as ‘good enough’.  There is just love, and try, and care, and time.

~G