And Ode To That One Spider Plant

I texted my brother yesterday to ask him if he remembered where it came from…the spider plant that weirdly thrived in the bathroom at Dad’s house.

He wasn’t positive, but I have this vague memory of the plant living in the cold part of the house for awhile and Dad had forgotten it was there. I had wondered if my brother left it behind when he moved, but he thought it might have arrived in the house years earlier. Either way – I do remember one year Dad forgetting to move it to the warm part of the house when the seasons changed.

You see, our house was only about 1,000 square feet and had no central heat or a/c. In the winter, we kept the door closed between the “common” area and the “back bedrooms” so that the tiny floorboard heater could almost keep the common areas livable in the winter.

The bedrooms didn’t need heat, you see, because they had electric blankets. Nothing should have survived in the cold part of the house without an electric blanket. Ask my husband who bravely suffered visits with me in the winter when I taught him how you build a tent over yourself with blankets and BREATHE and BREATHE and BREATHE, filling the area up with your own hot breath.

So, I have this vague memory of Dad going to the cold part of the house in the middle of winter (his bedroom was off the living room in the warm part of the house) and discovering the spider plant was still back there in the arctic and hanging on to life by a very frozen thread. He was so amazed and immediately moved it to the warm part of the house and see if he could perk it up a little bit.

He hung it by the window in the only bathroom. That room was in the warm half of the house, but that half of the house was still probably only 60 degrees at it warmest in the winter. That room did get direct sunlight through a window so Dad thought the plant might do best there. And of course – like my brother and I often joked due to the fact that the house had no central heat to circulate and filter air – that room was always filled with poop air.

And it thrived, which was weird considering it was cold as shit (no pun intended) in that room (I still have nightmares about taking lukewarm showers and exiting to the freezing air in a room with no heat) and – oh yeah – Dad would go out of town for WEEKS at a time with work.

He would water the hell out of that plant before he left, of course. And then just hope for the best.

And it just kept growing those baby shoots like it thrived on poop air and neglect.

It’s just a hilarious thing all around because Dad was not a green thumb. Well, who knows, maybe he was. But he never showed any signs of caring about plants or grass or landscaping or anything even remotely connected to chlorophyll.

But that spider plant, it suddenly became quite a source of pride that he couldn’t kill it, not with a cold house, and not with extended trips out of town.

I remember winter after winter it still survived, even if neglected for weeks at a time while Dad traveled, and I remember it always cracking me up.

There’s a plant at my office, not a spider plant, but some sort of generic ivy potted plant and it’s not doing well. It caught my eye the other day and I momentarily wondered if I should move it. And then I remembered the poop air loving spider plant and stopped for a moment to think about Dad.

Some days, man. I just still miss him so damn much. Especially this time of year which is the same time he was in hospice in 2009. I don’t remember if the spider plant was still alive in the end, I feel like one of us would have kept it if it had been. But there were so many emotions surrounding so many items during those clean-up weeks…who really knows.

Maybe it had already died. Dad really did travel a lot and maybe it was just one extended trip too many.

But I have this weird vivid memory of throwing the ball with Dad in the living room (you threw ball to keep warm in the winter) and glancing over to see the spider plant and laughing about it looking like it belonged in a jungle. It was SOOO full and green and lush. He insisted that it should have died a long time ago and credited the early weeks suffering in the “cold” part of the house as making it sturdy so that the “warm” part of the house was like a tropical climate.

I just wish everyone could have known my Dad, the spider plant whisperer.

I stumbled upon an email Dad sent in response to the ultrasound pictures when emailed him when we learned Nikki was a girl. He asked, “Do anyone of us know anything about raising a girl?”

He was funny and self-deprecating. He was the smartest guy I knew, or have known since. He was humble and giving. He bullet journaled before it had a cool name and he took notes in one of those journals after my wedding to help him remember the names of my friends. Something like: Betsy: Anastasia’s Mom. Black Dress.

And he learned the secret to spider plants was arctic poop air and periodic abandonment.

I miss him.

Now My Other Cat Is Dying. OF COURSE SHE IS.

We are still in a holding pattern regarding the house. We have an offer and a contract and are waiting on the Request for Repairs. We aren’t expecting anything unmanageable, but I do photography and marketing for a real estate brokerage and I now know all of the WORST CASE SCENARIOS so I’m paranoid and unable to breathe easy about this move until that comes in and we don’t find out our house is haunted or inhabited by aliens.

Unfortunately, in the process of boarding our pets for the inspection, our vet discovered my cat – Sunflower – looked a little yellow around the eyes and gums. They did bloodwork and found out that she’s essentially dying of liver failure. She’s 17, so they’re not honestly suggesting anything can be done about it and have basically sent us home with a list of things to monitor so we can get an accurate judgement on her quality of life. Things like food and water consumption, requests for snuggles and purring. It’s weird because her spirits seem fine. She has seemed a little lazier than normal now that we think about it – but she was spritely over the holidays when trying to attack E’s cat who came to visit.

While there’s really no “good” news to hope for on the Dying Cat front. I do find myself being a little morbidly humorous about the whole thing because COME ON. I just held Bambi in my arms while he died a few weeks ago…and now my other cat is dying? GIVE ME A BREAK, UNIVERSE.

But as long as the home sale proceeds without hiccups, I’ll still consider it a Net Gain in terms of gifts from the universe. Sunflower is 17 years old, it’s not like we were expected her to live another 10 years. We felt like at this point every year is a bonus. The average life span of a domesticated cat is 12-18 years. This is upsetting (I’ve cried so much already) but not unexpected.

It is very weird though. Every time we go through this with one of our animals (we’ve had to decide with all of them to put them down) I think about when my Dad was in hospice. Once he made the decision to just die instead of living his life bound to dialysis, he wanted to die IMMEDIATELY. He even joked about it the first few days. Like, CAN WE DO THIS ALREADY? While Kidney Failure is a painless way to die (You basically just get more and more tired as your blood becomes more and more toxic without the renal filtration) it takes awhile. It’s not quick. And Dad found this very frustrating.

So every time we start discussing quality of life with our pets, I think about how weird it is that we can do that with our pets, but not with humans. My Dad decided his quality of life was too terrible (he was also in a lot of pain from the microfractures over his skeleton caused by the blood cancer) and was ready to die and he basically just had to sit and wait. There is no humane way to end someone’s life if they’ve decided that’s what they want. You just make them comfortable and wait for it to happen. AND THIS FEELS SUPER F*CKED UP, I’ll be honest. I can recognize when my cat no longer wants to live and I can sedate her and then hold her as we give her medicine to stop her heart, but if it’s a human who I love more than myself? I have to just watch him stare into space every day waiting for his blood to finally be toxic enough to shut down his body.

I MEAN. COME ONE.

Many fights against assisted suicide stem from the idea that it is only God who decides when someone’s life is over. And if you help someone end their life, that’s a sin. And if someone ends their own life, that’s a sin. Religious people have a hard time wrapping their head around the ethics and morals of assisted suicide.

I do not.

I think about it in the same way I think about my dying cat. She can’t tell me when she’s ready to die so I watch how much she’s eating and drinking and how many times she gets out of bed and does she come to me for snuggles and does she play that game with her tail and does she purr…I have ways to evaluate whether I think wants to still be alive. And when those measurements indicate she does not, I do the right thing because I love her and don’t want her to suffer. And that is what I wish I could have given Dad. That is my one regret. That we don’t live in a world where people can remove mysticism from death and just look at it pragmatically. Someone’s quality of life has deteriorated to the point where they have requested we end their life for them and we can’t do it unless we have lived in this state for X amount of time and X amount of doctors have confirmed the diagnosis of death in X amount of time.

It’s just strange. I mean, I get it. I understand the complexities when you look at the ethics and morals, especially if you factor in the idea of souls and afterlife. I’m not trying to minimize that as important to consider, I’m just saying for me personally? I just can’t see any other “right” way than to allow people to decide when to die on their own humanely and peacefully. It should be a perk to having advanced brains capable of complex thought and medical intervention. But nope. Not us.

HAPPY NEW YEAR! Let’s talk about how my dying Dad should have been allowed to die sooner! Like my cat!

Oh, man. I gotta work on the humor up in this joint.

How about instead we look at this picture of Sunflower from several years ago and ponder the question:

Why doesn’t anyone come over for Pizza night anymore?

Dear Dad,

You would be 70 years old today. 70! Sometimes I get mad thinking about how you should still be here considering you had both of your parents for 90+ years. I would have thought we’d be celebrating this birthday with you, not in your memory. But I know that kind of wistfullness would have irritated you so I WILL MOVE ON, ALREADY.

I often think about the things I wish you could see in our lives. I wish you could see your son be a Dad. I’ve vacationed with his family two summers in a row and he puts us all to shame. He and his wife just have it figured out, you know? Their kids are going to grow up with memories of adventures and love and community and it’s just a beautiful thing to watch. You often worried we’d get some of your bad habits as a Dad but you wouldn’t worry about that after spending a week with their family. He’s amazing.

I also wish you could hear about Donnie’s job. You always liked listening to Donnie talk about work, I think you would have been a programmer if you had been part of our generation. But you would have LOVED the fun stuff his company does and you would have just loved hearing him regale you with all of the cool things they do in terms of encouraging creativity in project development. You supported the Silicone Valley style of management long before anyone else did, you loved the idea of environments where creative problem solving was encouraged.

But lately I’ve been really thinking about how I’d like you to meet my friends. I really think you would have liked them all too. You would have definitely loved hearing about the work some of my friends do (I mean, Huntsville is just jam-packed of people doing cool shit) but I think you would have also laughed at all of our stories of awkwardness and idiocy. I think you often felt like the other adults around you adulted better than you did – but I have learned something, none of us know what we’re doing and the second you start being honest about that? You’ll find everyone else is as lost as you are. You hated shopping for clothes because you felt like everyone around you could tell you had no idea what you were doing. Turns out? None of us do! And we all feel like that! I just wish you could have become an adult in the time I am in now, where everyone openly talks about their vulnerabilities and builds connections on that. I don’t think you were as alone as you felt.

I wish you could have seen the Obama Presidency. You liked him a lot and I think you would have been proud of the President he was for 8 years. I think you would have supported Bernie. I would have probably hidden from you that I was with Clinton just like I had to hide it from E and Donnie. They both loved Bernie too. It makes me laugh to imagine the primaries with you three trying to knock sense into me 🙂

E graduates from college in May and I wish you could be there so bad. He’s such a cool guy, Dad. I had nothing to do with that, as I’m sure you could believe seeing me in my clueless early days of being a WAAAAY too-young Mom. He’s taken on these leadership roles in college that are really teaching him a lot of the teamwork skills you and I often joked about lacking. You would have loved Montevallo, and found the passionate artsy groups there completely fascinating. You would have quizzed him about everything related to College Night (one of the oldest college traditions in the South) and you would have sat quietly in the back of the theatre watching the cheering and the singing in awe. I don’t know where his path will lead him after May, but I wish you could be here through all of it. Your parents got to see some of their grandchildren grow into adulthood and the most you got was seeing one of yours enter the tween years. I try not to get wrapped up in feeling like that’s unfair.

I miss you a lot, Dad. Some days it still hurts so deep in my soul I wonder how anyone can live with this kind of pain forever. But most of the days it just is a part of me. The grief has made me a better person in that I reach out to those in pain instead of shy away from them. It is a part of me and it has helped me be more compassionate and have more empathy and I think you would have been okay with that. You didn’t want us to grieve, but I think you would have been okay with it knowing it made us better people. And I truly believe it has.

Although I’d trade anything to be selfish bitch with you by my side instead of a compassionate soul with you long gone.

Happy Birthday, Dad.

Flashbacks To Child Endangerment

Taking a break from therapy discussion and politics to share a funny story about my Dad. I KNOW. DON’T BE SHOCKED.

My Dad had shoulder issues. His shoulder would dislocate often. The legend goes that one night, when I was a baby, he woke up in the middle of the night and it was dislocated. He supposedly woke up my Mom and when she saw it, she puked. But they took me to my aunt’s and uncle’s and took him to the hospital where he ended up having surgery.

I know the truth is: His should dislocated a lot and he had surgery on it. Beyond that, the rest may be just for entertainment purposes.

SO. He was always very sensitive about his shoulder. He didn’t like to even dive in the pool and there were just random things he would avoid because of the motion of lifting his arm up over his head would either hurt or just concern him, I’m not sure which.

But his own shoulder concerns made him very paranoid about my children’s shoulders. Once I was swinging E around when he was little and Dad was like, “WOAH. DON’T DO THAT. HIS SHOULDER!”

He’s not had surgery on his, Dad. He’s okay.

This picture showed up in my “on this day” feed on Facebook. DAD WOULD NOT HAVE APPROVED.

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BUT! One time when I was visiting my Dad’s Dad, he (my Grandfather) picked up E by putting his hands over his ears and lifting. HE LIFTED MY SON UP BY HIS HEAD/NECK. I about had a heart attack but no one in the large group flinched. Turns out? That’s just something Grandpa did to every kid in the family. Everyone just accepted it. I was like, “Really, Dad? I swing my kid around once by his arms and you freak out by you will let your Dad pick up the same kid BY HIS HEAD?”

It still kinda cracks me up thinking about it. He just shrugged and was like, “Eh…you all turned out fine and he did it more than once to you guys.”

My Childhood Memories Are Basically All Fictional

“I didn’t like A-Team. You and Chris did, I thought it was ridiculous.”

That was the statement from my Dad years before he died that shattered my view of my childhood. WHAT? My Dad didn’t like A-Team? What about all of the memories that I have of us curled up under the table by the one baseboard heater (our house didn’t have central heat/air – we just had one baseboard that basically just pumped out enough heat to ward off frostbite) and laughing hysterically at the antics of Murdock and Mr. T. In my head my Dad loved that show as much as we did.

“Did you like Roseanne?”
“Oh, yeah. That was great.”

So those memories were real. But the other ones weren’t? THERE WAS NO DIFFERENCE IN MY HEAD.

It was that moment when I realized my memories could NOT be trusted. And that I’m really good at fooling myself and writing my own history, I guess.

BUT NOTHING PREPARED ME FOR THE EARTH SHATTERING REVELATION FROM THIS MORNING.

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This was one of the many photos I came across recently when I was condensing 14 boxes of photos in 5 boxes. Nothing really exciting about this picture but I kept it out to scan because it was a good visual representation of one of my childhood descriptors: My love of my stuffed animals. I used to harbor a lot of guilt when I couldn’t take them all to my Moms every other weekend because – and this was long before Toy Story – in my head they all had feelings. So, I would carry them all around together so no one would feel left out. And this picture showed that! SEE! I’M HOLDING ALL OF THEM!

But then I noticed the date and something in my brain was like…wait a minute.

2460663780_68f94318b6_bI would have been 9 in that photo. And those stuffed feet I’m hold clearly belong to my Ewok which is shown here in this old photo of Nikki in Wes’s carseat. The Ewok I’ve been telling everyone I got for my 10th birthday FOR 30 YEARS. Seriously. I’ve written about that Ewok on this blog several times (Here I talk about how he helped with my grief over losing my Dad.) and every time I say, “My Dad gave him to me for my 10th birthday.”

BUT OBVIOUSLY HE DIDN’T.

You might say, “The date could be wrong on that polaroid.” But my Dad would not have let that slide. If the year had been off he would have realized it pretty quickly and corrected it.

And the funny thing is, recently I did kinda start to question the “10th Birthday” thing. I was listening to a podcast and they were discussing when Return of the Jedi came out. I knew I had gotten the Ewok for my 10th birthday in 1985, so I guessed the movie came out in 84. But then it turns out it came out in May 1983 and that would mean it had been out a whole TWO YEARS before my 10th birthday and that felt weird because I felt like the Ewok was a very current gift. Like…it fit with what other people were giving their kids at that time – which was a rare feeling for me. I never got a real Cabbage Patch doll (until Amalah sent me one many moons ago!) or My Little Ponies or Care Bears when my other friends were getting them. But something about the Ewok felt like it fell in line with what my classmates were talking about or playing with or something. And that was kinda rare so it stuck out with that gift. “Look at my Dad! Totally getting me a hip gift!” Two Years after a movie wasn’t unheard of to gift a product, but it didn’t feel “current”. So, if this was a photo taken at Christmas did I get the Ewok for my 9th birthday? Because in my head it’s definitely a birthday gift. But who knows? Maybe it was a Christmas gift? I looked on Ebay and those Ewoks were definitely made in 1983, so maybe even my 8th birthday? WHY DIDN’T I FIND OUT THIS IMPORTANT INFORMATION BEFORE MY DAD DIED? How will I ever know now when he gave me that?

Have you ever had a memory shattering discovery? Or am I the only one who obviously has written her past into some A-Team/10th Birthday Fairy Tale that NEVER EVEN EXISTED.