“You are not going out with that boy unless his parents are driving and that's that. I'm not just Spitting Grits here, young lady!”

. . . My father, John Thomas Cravey, USAF, to me in 1956.

Life 101: Learning to Learn

One topic I haven’t blogged much about on Spittin’ Grits is, well, potty training. I’m betting you’re grateful, right? I had conveniently forgotten how trying this process can be, but thankfully, Joanna Leigh’s preschool took the initial responsibility for this milestone development. My job was to keep up the training at home.

I am happy to report that she has successfully gotten it! And that includes Number 2. Yes, into the potty.

But even the light moments and accomplishments are marred by the realities of being a parenting grandparent to a child of a drug addicted parent.

Getting a toddler to do Number 2 in the potty is not quite as easy and getting them to do Number 1, so we have poured on the praise. She is still basking in the glory. The other day she did it and called me to praise her, which I was delighted to give. It sure beats the alternative of changing dirty diapers.

Then she said, “My mommy will be proud I poo-pooed in the potty.”

I thought it had been hard up to now, being the parent of a drug addicted daughter. This unfortunate and hurtful fact of my life has been life-changing in many ways, including being the motivations for educating myself about addiction, learning how to cope with the realities, and figuring out if I could contribute something to inform and help others like me. And it was the primary motivation for creating this Spittin’ Grits blog.

I learned a long time ago that you do not EVER say a couple of things: “Well, it just can’t get any worse.” NOT. It can always get worse.

“I’ve taken all I can take.” NOT. Most likely you can take more because there are really no other options.

“Now it’s finally over.” Absolutely NOT. There’s always more.

Like now. My granddaughter is hurting over her mother’s disappearance – again – from her life. And watching it is awful.

I will meet with the child psychiatrist Monday, and it can’t come soon enough. I need direction on how to continue dealing with Joanna Leigh’s feelings, her fears, her grief. I just don’t know what to say anymore. I’m not sure how to better hide my anger at my daughter.

The other day she was playing and somehow or for some reason closed the door to her room. I heard her crying because she couldn’t get it open. Before I could get there to open it, she was crying, “Mommy, mommy.”

She told me the other night, which I reported in the last blog post, that she wanted a pink car so she could pick up her mommy.

I bought her several new nightgowns, which she wanted to wear immediately. She put one on, wrapped her arms around herself, and said, “I love this. Mommy will love this.”

Every day when we’re coming home from school, she says, “We going pick up mommy?”

Yes, I need direction. I hope I can pass on helpful advice and information on Spittin’ Grits. I will try.

 

Grand New Parents

The problem of Time is not philosophical. Last week, on my 67th birthday, our adoption of our granddaughter Joanna Leigh became final when the Probate Judge agreed to sign the required forms. Now we’re both grandparents parenting and parenting grandparents. We also became Joanna Leigh’s parents. Admittedly, it’s a bit weird. Why do this, when some of the issues and problems are unsettling at best?

We had to make a decision whether to have a new birth certificate issued to reflect this change. My first instinct was no, not to go this far. My husband and I have no intentions of disavowing that our daughter is Joanna Leigh’s mother. Plus, Joanna Leigh knows her “mommy” and that her name is Mary; she talks about her, wants to see her, and is probably grieving over the loss in her latest disappearing act -- going to jail.

The other night, we were talking about Santa Claus. Yes, I’ve pulled out the Santa card this early. So sue me.

She said to me, “I want a car for Christmas, a pink car. I want to go get mommy.” She had seen a Barbie car or some kind, in a store or flyer.

This is extremely hard. I’ll know more about how to deal with this when we see the child psychiatrist. I need a better strategy than to just burst into tears.

But we opted for a new birth certificate: First, this will ensure that our daughter not ever be able to reclaim parental custody; second, Joanna Leigh will have to present her birth certificate many times in the coming years, for everything from proving inoculations to signing up for a soccer team to getting her driver’s license; having an accurate certificate seems prudent.

I will keep a copy of the original birth certificate so that Joanna Leigh will know when the time comes that we were not trying to hide anything.

Time Reductio ad Absurdum

One major reason governed our adopting her, despite the unsettling feelings and hard facts. Our age. The legal adoption will help guarantee Joanna Leigh’s future. She is now eligible to receive Social Security benefits until she is 19.

In 13 years, I will have made it to the life expectancy of a white woman in America. This is the hardest fact of all, and it hangs over my head like a noose.

The years leading up to life expectancy, or NOT, also hang over me. Luckily, I come from good genes of long-lived people, but I sure haven’t done everything right. All of which bring me to the next subject:

I am going to create the Friends of Joanna Leigh Advisory Board. This is going to take thinking and work. So it’s my next project.

I’m soliciting ideas.

 

About Grief: The Second Time

It was Easter season again.

I think it came early in 1970. The day was a bright, cold early March day. Winter was clinging to the dogwood’s branches. The jonquils were still plentiful, since they were a bit late in breaking ground. I wore yellow.

I stared out the back window of the black Cadillac. I suddenly remembered the other worst day of my life, the Easter that Chickie Easter Egg drowned. Until this cold 1970 day near Easter, I thought the other Easter was the worst day of my life. This cold day my brother was to be buried at this gravesite in the cold ground. He was 23.

When I looked over at mom in the Cadillac, she was staring out the window. I shivered. Was she wondering how many cars were in the procession to the gravesite? The motorcycle cop roared past the driver’s side, headed up to the light at the next intersection. Mom swung her head around, startled.

Suddenly it seemed like an obnoxious tradition to hold up traffic all over Alabama when someone died. But that’s how it is still done today. Cars will pull over and stop on the side of the road in respect, even on the interstates. Ridiculous.

“It’s really cold for Easter,” I said out loud. I thought to myself, “I don’t regret wearing this yellow spring suit to my brother’s funeral.” His body had to be shipped back from Vietnam. It took over a week. I felt like throwing up.

So I concentrate on mom. She is beyond crying, I thought. She’s like a piece of marble, white, veined, cold, stiff.

Why couldn’t finding Chickie floating in the duck’s water have prepared me for this? Why didn’t that experience warn me about this day? What is experience for, if not for this? Why didn’t mom and dad tell me about this the day Chickie Easter Egg drowned? About having the worst day of your life. About grief.

This day is the one when I came to know grief, nearly unbearable grief.

A Funeral, Over and Over

In 1993 after my daughter’s first trip at age 18 to a 28-day in-patient recovery plan for addicts, I began to spiral into an abyss. My dreams became more and more desperate, vivid, and archetypal:

I am on a boat in calm blue waters. The sun is warm. There is no horizon or vantage point. I cannot get any bearings and I see my daughter drowning. I am trying to get to her some way. I can’t find a life preserver or floating ring on a rope. I can’t move. I am paralyzed. She is flailing her arms. I try to scream but am mute. I wake myself up screaming.

There are kittens in mortal danger. I am walking down the stairs of someone’s den and I see these kittens out the glass sliding doors. They are trying to get in, but there’s a huge tiger in the den. If the kittens come in, they will be killed. I’m trying to do something, but I can’t remember what. My black lab tries to appease the tiger. I wake up, my heart palpitating.

After Mary completely relapsed, I enrolled in some kind of expensive after-care program to help me function again. I went to Al-Anon meetings. I flailed and flailed and flailed. This is when I began going to the funeral over and over and over. It has never stopped. I still go to the funeral over and over and over.

It has been the worst day of my life over and over and over. It is unceasing, unrelenting, until now.

You simply can’t evaluate something so completely out of your ken. That’s where we were as parents in 1993 – standing on the edge of the river Styx and thinking it was the Black Warrior River in Tuscaloosa. It was simply out of our understanding.

 

About Grief: The First Time

I’ve been thinking about grief recently.

Several events and incidents have sparked it: First, Katie Granju’s loss of her 17-year-old son, which she has blogged about at mamapundit.com, and the grief she is experiencing; next, my daughter’s being back in jail on a second charge in four months of manufacturing meth, which will cause my granddaughter once again to grieve for her mother; and the strange kind of grief I feel for my terribly drug-addicted, but alive, daughter, which revived as I scanned the old negatives for the three posts on the Gulf Coast beaches.

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When I look at those old pictures of my daughter running and playing at the beach, I wonder who she is today or what happened to that toddler in those pictures. I simply do not know. I have grieved for two decades for the loss of my daughter to drugs. It has been like going to her funeral over and over and over and over.

GS-c-1977

 

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Grief, a Creature

Grief is a strange animal. Unrelenting. But it’s not an animal you’re familiar with until it shows up at your door and parks itself for some time. There’s really no preparation for it.

Unresponsive to kindness or cruelty, grief responds to only two things: attempts to repress it or attempts to control it. Repressing it will cause it to erupt in other places and circumstances. Trying to control it turns it mean and dangerous. Only one thing works: look it straight in the eye and accept its presence.

I remember the first time I experienced grief that has remained in my consciousness. It was Easter season and the first worst day of my life.

I was about ten. I had gotten a pink chickie maybe a month or so before Easter, from Woolworth downtown, and named her Easter Egg. I have no idea how quickly colored chickies begin growing out of the lavender or pink or blue. But on this day, she was growing out of her color.

The Easter of pink Chickie Easter Egg, I also learned that my mother cried and I learned about secrets. I am still not sure how I knew her father, my unknown grandfather, had just died; his death explained why mom’s sister was coming and bringing her Cocker Spaniel. No mention was ever made of any of it. Why was it such a secret? Her father? That made him my grandfather. I had never seen him that I knew of. I didn’t really know he was alive, so how did I know he died? I don’t remember. Whispers, I think. Children understand whispers.

Mom’s father, that grandfather, was a problem drinker, and Granny had put him out decades ago. I don’t think they ever divorced; that would have been far too indecorous in those days. Mom’s sister was to arrive the next day with her blonde Cocker. Until the dog came and we had to find a place for Chickie Easter Egg, I really had no intimations of grief or death. I think that was a secret too.

Easter Egg lived in my room. She followed me everywhere, except outside, of course, where she would be prey for the neighborhood dogs and cats.

Grief, All Tears

Neighbors up the street had ducks, so they had a pen where Easter Egg could stay until the dog left. She was outgrowing her pink and becoming yellow. The ducks were in their pen, and the plan was I would stop by each morning on the way to school on my bike. We stayed long enough to make sure the ducks would let her intrude. They did.

I stopped for two days, I think it was. That third day, I knew something was wrong when I got to the pen. Easter Egg didn’t greet me when I called her.

Then I saw her, floating, pink and yellow, in the big washtub of water the ducks swam in. She drowned in the duck water. Those tears felt like my first real tears. It was the worst day of my life.

Grief, No Comfort

I don’t remember mom or dad comforting me. Mom and her sister disappeared for a day or so – their father’s funeral, I guess. No one talked to me about death or grief. In the intervening years, we had many pets die or disappear; I always cried over pets, and learned to dread the day that something would happen to another one. Grief is just so hard.

Why didn’t mom and dad tell me about all this the day Chickie Easter Egg drowned? About having the worst day of your life. About grief. About death. Real grief and death. About this hole, this well of grief so deep and so cold and so dark that some people never return. Now I know what it must feel like to fall into a well and never be found. What happened to people who fell into wells? Would I ever be found?

This is how I came to know grief, nearly unbearable grief. Maybe grief changes you and defines who you become. In my naiveté, I thought it was enough grief for a lifetime and I would be spared any more.

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