Wednesday, July 13, 2011

A Weekend of Reality Checks - By Cara Potapshyn Meyers

I went to my High School Reunion this past weekend. Although it was rather pricey, I am glad that I went. My best friend was my “date.” I took this as a serious event because I truly haven’t been out anywhere on the weekends for close to two years. This was my one exciting night to “live it up!” I had my nails manicured, my hair professionally done and even splurged on a fancy dress! After such a long time, it felt so good to be pampered and feel special. Especially when you consider that I usually walk around in “lounging” clothes that are four sizes too big for me, no make up, and my hair up in a hair clip. For one night, I truly wanted to feel like Cinderella! And Cinderella I was!

The reunion, however, ended up being a rather eye opening experience for me in many ways. I went to the reunion knowing that I would probably disclose to a handful of people that I was getting divorced. I was shocked to discover that about a handful of people already knew through reading my blogs!! None of these individuals had ever commented on anything I had ever written, so it was quite an overwhelming experience to discover that not only do they read them, they read them every week!! This was my first reality check: people actually read the stuff I write. I’m still dumbfounded.

My next reality check came about through speaking openly with a couple former classmates who disclosed that they were also having trouble with their marriages. Thankfully, they were seeking counseling.

I then ran into a woman who has quite a meek personality. She has three sons, all in their teens; the oldest being 17. This woman flat out told me that she gave up parenting her eldest child because he was such a challenge. She even stated that she couldn’t wait until he turned 18 because she was going to tell him to leave the house. In this same conversation, she was discussing how “delightful” her other two sons were and how they obeyed and never gave her a lick of trouble. I felt for her eldest son. It sounded as if he was completely misunderstood by his mother because he was “more difficult” than his two younger brothers. He sounded very much like my own tenacious son. I said a silent prayer that I have the knowledge and fortitude to not only understand my son so well, but to channel his “tenacious,” “challenging” strengths and establish limits on his occasional “over the top” behavior. I left our conversation feeling disappointed that this lovely woman will probably never have a strong, loving relationship with her eldest son. Deep in my heart, I know that I always will. Another reality check: I have finally learned how to parent my son effectively.

I then spoke with women who were dealing with the “Sandwich Gap.” These women were faced with not only raising their immediate families, but they had to deal with caring for their medically unstable or ailing, elderly parents. The women that I spoke with all lived several states away from their parents. Some had siblings who lived across the country. They all related how painfully difficult it was to do the very best for their parents but physically be so far away. I certainly know firsthand what they were all facing. I had to single-handedly take care of my stubborn, ailing, elderly father for approximately ten years. And once I had my son, the burden was so large, we ended up having him sell his house and live with us. He was heartbroken leaving his house. But I just could not drive two hours, round trip, with a baby, at least twice a week, to tend to my father’s medical needs. My father died four years ago living a somewhat completely independent life, watching his Grandson grow a little more each day, until he reached 89 years old. I am both thankful for that and thankful that I don’t have the added stress of caring for him at this rocky time in my life. Thank goodness for small (and large) miracles. Reality check: I thankfully am beyond the “Sandwich Gap” stage.

I then discovered that there are more Later Moms than I even realized. And I blog for a Later Mom website!! Even more interesting was the fact that many of their children were “only children” and non of the moms made a single comment about regretting that they couldn’t / didn’t have another child or that they felt “badly” that their child was an “only.” Instead, we all sat and discussed our children’s individual strengths, or in my case, some difficulties. We lamented about being “so damn tired!” all of the time. Mostly, though, we were just so thankful to have our children and be able to parent them with wisdom, more tolerance and, when necessary, a pinch of humor! I wanted to shout out, “bravo!” that the stigma I faced growing up as an “only child” was now fading away throughout society. Reality check: “Only” children are finally accepted by the world around them!

I left the reunion late, as a group of us were still reminiscing. I fell into bed remembering that my son had a birthday party to go to at a local park the next morning.

“Beep, beep, beep, beep...,” I heard as my son, the human alarm clock, woke me up at 7 am. I had less than 4 hours of sleep. He was excited to go to the party and didn’t want me to “oversleep.” If I had espresso in the house, I think I might have eaten it, I was so dead tired. I perked myself up with quite a bit of coffee. We dressed and I packed a bag with extra clothes, towels and a bathing suit as I knew there were sprinklers at this park. Off we went.

As we walked into the park and approached the party, I noticed a neighbor whose older son is in my son’s class. I hadn’t seen her in over a year. Little did I know, she would be my next reality check.

We sat down in the shade. She inquired about my son and his learning challenges. I gave her the latest update. I then said, “We should catch up more! I hardly see you any more!” Then the reality hit. She explained how her younger son was “severely” developmentally delayed in every category imaginable. He was receiving 25 hours of assorted therapies each week, from physical and occupational therapy all the way through speech therapy and other behavioral therapies. I was absolutely stunned. She said that the worst part was that her son did not display enough deficiencies in any individual, typical disability category, so he could not be officially diagnosed as Autistic, nor having Aspergers Syndrome, nor any other developmental behavior disorder. She explained that although she is able to get all of this therapy through Early Intervention, when he gets to grade school level, she doesn’t know how she is going to get services for her son if she doesn’t have a true diagnosis for him. I sat there with my jaw dropped open, utterly speechless. What struck me as quite odd was that she explained all of this with practically no display of emotion. She was almost too calm. As I watched my son, the social chairman, organize what the children at the party were going to do next, I said another blessing that although my child had learning difficulties, he eventually will overcome most of them. And the kid could make friends with a doorknob. Literally. Reality check: My son’s learning disabilities could be far worse. I feel blessed that they are manageable.

The last reality check of the weekend also occurred while at this party. I saw a mom I knew who had battled breast cancer in the past, but had been in remission for quite a while. As we began to talk, she disclosed to me that at her recent follow-up, they discovered that the breast cancer was back and “highly aggressive.” She began to tear up when she said, “I might not be alive to see my daughter turn 9!” This hit home the hardest. My own mother died of ovarian cancer when I was 19 years old, and my biggest fear in life is getting cancer as a divorced mom, with a young child. This woman had also gone through a very messy divorce recently. Reality check: Beyond self-explanatory.

After hearing all of these stories, each one even more devastating than the one before, I came to the conclusion that I should consider myself blessed. Yes, my divorce has devastated me almost irreparably, but I will go on with my life and have my precious son by my side. I’ve already been through dealing with an ailing, elderly parent. I don’t have to fit that stress into my already over-stressed life. Yes, my child has learning disabilities. But they are not affecting his sense of self-esteem and he can function in a mainstream classroom; at least up to this point. And he truly is an intelligent kid, learning disorders and all. He will be able to overcome his learning difficulties. And I am most blessed that even with my myriad of medical problems, none of them are life threatening and all are being managed very well with proper medications and routine follow-ups. I am eternally thankful for that.

Thus, my weekend of reality checks. I think I needed this splash of cold water on my face. Nobody’s life is perfect. And there are so many people that I know personally who are going through the same if not worse calamities in their lives. I consider myself blessed. And I pray for those whose lives are even worse than mine. You can never foresee what life has waiting around the corner for you.

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