Goodbye, 2011

ImageThe 2011 Recap, or “Daffy Dad, Cont’d”

This past year has been, by far, one of the most emotionally charged, roller-coaster-y of my entire life.

At the beginning of the year, I was sweating graduate school applications, having just finished my Bachelor’s degree. I’d been in school since 2004 at that point, and was relieved to have finally graduated. But if I didn’t get in to one of the schools to which I’d applied, I was going to be at a loss as to what to do.

As a back-up, I was flooding the market with resumes and applications as well as was helping Charlie to apply to a variety of places. We were set on moving to Chicago, if we could make it happen, but after the first couple of months of 2011, neither of us were getting calls back.

Meantime, my dad was still living with us, not to finally depart until the end of March. He’d first moved in with us at the beginning of May 2010, and it was really supposed to be just for a couple of months. Charlie warned me from the get-go that this wasn’t going to be the case — that we were in it for the long haul. But I kept hoping against hope that something would change.

My dad got a job at the end of December that lasted about three weeks. He was being paid $60 an hour to do IT work, and also got approved for disability. He didn’t tell the disability office that he was working, but that didn’t matter because he got fired anyway. Though not before collecting something like $6,000 before taxes (he was working as an independent contractor and the company didn’t take out taxes for him). We saw about $500 of that when he paid to have our car window fixed. The one that had been broken out since June the previous year.

The disability check also rolled in, paid back to May, when I began filling out the paperwork FOR him, as well as having to be interviewed, myself, on the phone, and writing statements. That check was about twelve grand. From that, we saw $300 for rent in February.

I guess what I’m really talking about here is 2010, because I keep thinking of all the things we did for my dad up to the point he’d received all that money. We sold our brand new rolling dishwasher (still being paid off at this moment), our Wii system, Charlie’s year-old iMac, movies, CDs, furniture. Our credit cards fell behind. We borrowed money from Charlie’s family. Our tax refund was gone in a week. We paid for my dad’s car, his insurance, his medication, his food, his gas, his clothes for job interviews, things for his room.
I had to start working more. Charlie had to start going in at 4:45am some days to pick up extra hours. We still managed to work our schedules around Bea, though, because despite the fact that my dad claimed he could watch her, I never trusted him alone with her for more than a few minutes. We are talking about the man who called a one-year-old a “bitch,” you know. (“I didn’t mean she IS a bitch, I meant she’s BEING bitchy.”)

But then he was gone in March. He didn’t pay us for the furniture he “bought” until Charlie called and bitched him out. And even then he didn’t give us what he’d said he would. But the amount of relief we felt having him out of the house was almost worth losing out on all he’d borrowed.

And then I got my acceptance to DePaul. I was in tears at work, I was so happy. Charlie and I suddenly had to figure out how the hell we were going to get to Chicago, though. No easy feat. We started selling more things, searching CraigsList even more furiously than before. We took two day trips for job interviews and apartment hunting. Then I found the garden apartment in Anne’s house and it was like the sun finally started shining on us.

I drove up one weekday with Liz, combining signing the lease with an interview for an assistantship (that I did not get, mind you), which marked the first night in Bea’s life that I’d spent away from her. She was almost two years old.

In the middle of a terrible thunderstorm at the end of May, we drove to Chicago, all of our belongings getting soaked, and had our first inkling that something wasn’t quite right when we arrived to find Anne moving all of our stuff out of the utility room and mopping. Charlie and our friend Scott had made a trip the day before and stored it in the back of the apartment. Since the place was a wreck, they assumed Anne wasn’t done cleaning, so they wanted to keep stuff out of her way. I guess she felt things were in good shape, because she didn’t clean anything.

While we had box fans going on all our stuff, Liz and Charlie and I were up until 1am, scrubbing cabinets and floors, the bathtub, the utility room. There were cobwebs and spiders and bugs everywhere. We tried to put on a smile and assumed it was just from the freakish amount of rain.

But you know that’s not the case, because, within three months, we were facing potential eviction. We met an apartment hunter, borrowed even more money from friends, and found the apartment we’re in now. For only $95 a month than we paid at Anne’s dump, we have an extra bedroom, a garage space, a dishwasher, a free laundry, decent neighbors (we don’t really hang out with them or anything, but they’re nice and stay relatively quiet), and we’re on a quiet, family-friendly street. A few days after this relocation, I started my first quarter of graduate school, where I passed with a 3.85GPA. I wasn’t happy to not have a 4.0 — I wanted to at least start out with a perfect GPA — but I was glad to have done well in both classes.

We finished out the year in Indy, staying with the friends who’d helped us move, and spending Christmas Eve at my aunt’s house where, as you know from my previous entry, I saw my dad for the first time since he’d moved out.

It’s been a rough year. Expensive and stressful. I lost weight last year, put some back on, then lost it again, walking all over the place to go grocery shopping, hang out at the beach, get to class. I’m glad to be where we are right now, and if I had to change anything, we might not be here, in this moment.

The Best and Worst of 2011

  • We watched our daughter turn two years old.
  • We lost our dog of almost 13 years. I still cry for her.
  • We had our first visit to Indianapolis as Illinois residents.
  • We watched our close friends — Bea’s godfathers — struggle to sell their home so they could move here, too. We haven’t seen that come to fruition yet, and it’s incredibly lonely here without them. I’m glad they visit so often, and that we have a spare bedroom just for them, but I do wish they were closer, for Bea’s sake. And their sanity.
  • We said goodbye to all the pets we’d lived with for more than a decade as Alvy and Andouille both went to a new home. I don’t know what the likelihood is of them returning to us, but I try to remain positive about it.
  • We got hundreds of dollars in parking tickets, making us official Chicago residents.
  • We went into debt even further, watching my student loans begin to grow exponentially as I started my first day as a graduate student in September.

2012

I’m taking deep breaths as I say this, but I am still hopeful that the next year has a lot more positives in store for us. I would be fine without the highs if I could avoid the lows. I just want a year of school, work, exploring the city, spending time with friends and family, and keeping things calm and easy-peasy. Charlie and I tend to have good and bad years. Our good years are usually odd, and bad ones are usually even. But considering we’re getting ready to mark our 11th wedding anniversary, I suppose we can switch things up. We’ll say goodbye to what was going to be “our year,” the Year of the Rabbit, and welcome the Year of the Dragon.

Daffy Dad

My dad appeared on Christmas Eve at the family get-together. Although I knew this was a distinct possibility, I was still secretly hoping he’d just skip it. He was a couple of hours late and left early.

When he walked/hobbled/limped in the door (Charlie and I had bet earlier that he would come in with a cane, or asking for physical assistance), he came straight over to the chair next to me, sat down, and began to tell me that his mom had told him we weren’t going to be there. “Oh?” I said. “That’s odd. She knew we were coming,” and I nodded to all of the packages under the tree for Bea.

He said I looked good, that Chicago has been good for me. At first, I just said thank you, and that we liked it a lot. But after I thought about it a bit, I wondered if there was a deeper meaning to that comment. Was it merely a compliment, or was it him absolving himself of any responsibility he had to pay us back? I mean, if I look good, I must be eating well. My clothes are clean and nice, so I must be living well. Translation: we must be capable of paying our rent and buying food.

He then made up some shit about how he’d opened an account in Bea’s name and the information was being sent to our house. “I took your advice and, rather than buying her toys, wanted to contribute.” This was a suggestion we’d made to other people when they asked what we wanted when she was first born. He remembered this one statement from two and a half years ago, but doesn’t seem to recall the fact that I had to take out student loans for grad school. He apparently told several members of our family that I got a “free ride” to Chicago and didn’t have to pay anything out of pocket. Jackass.

The account for Bea business worries me, though:
A.) I would not use any account he opened for fear he would take every dime we put into it.
B.) You can’t open an account in another person’s name without that person’s Social Security number. If he has access to that, I will be extremely worried and upset.

The process of checking a minor’s credit is complicated — copies of Social Security cards, birth ¬†certificates, driver’s licenses, etc… From what I’ve read, the credit agencies are terrible about getting back with parents who are worried about identity theft, so after you go through all the hoops they have set up, they’ll just ignore your request and then you have to file a complaint with someone else to get the credit agencies to follow through. Sigh.

So then my dad went on to complain about his medication, that he hadn’t ordered it, and was having all sorts of physical problems as a result. I didn’t really know what to say to that. It was clearly an I-didn’t-bring-a-gift-for-you-so-I’ll-pretend-I-didn’t-know-you-were-going-to-be-here, followed by an I’m-so-miserable-and-sick-and-poor-feel-sorry-for-me. Whatever.

He pretty much stuck in the kitchen, speaking to whomever would hang around in there long enough. Eventually, he went outside to smoke his pipe. I ran into him, where he began this really long, convoluted, weird conversation about oscillation, microwaves, and moving things across time and space. I couldn’t recall the specifics, because it was all so strange and nonsensical. After I went back inside, I had to wonder what purpose that “conversation” served.

On the way home, Charlie and I were talking about it, and he said, “Well, he’s just trying to sound crazy.”
“Yeah,” I said. “But, isn’t wanting people to think you’re crazy actually kind of crazy?”

All in all, it wasn’t that painful. When I first saw his car pull up, my stomach did a flip flop. But after he’d settled inside, it was just mildly awkward. He could tell I was being extremely cool toward him, so he didn’t attempt to butter me up. Instead, he played the pity card, but I didn’t bite, so he got bored and went to another room.

He left before anyone else, and didn’t say a word to me on his way out the door. Granted, I kept my head down, pretend-texting when he was making the rounds. But I just didn’t want to interact with him any longer.

A few days after we got back from Indy, we received some stuff from our Amazon WishLists. I got a $17 hat; Charlie received a $60 PS3 video game. I’m assuming this was my dad’s attempt to get something to us, despite the fact that he probably didn’t order them until after Christmas. And what’s with the discrepancy? Again, I’m probably looking too deeply into this, but if he’s so broke, why is he purchasing a brand new PS3 game for Charlie? And why do I get a gift that’s a third of that cost? Why couldn’t he just get something that was ten bucks for each of us?
There was no note inside the boxes, no way of identifying who sent the gifts. And, we have yet to receive that “account information” for Bea. Now I’m thinking I should do that credit check, though, just to be sure.

One of “Those People”

Years ago, some friends started an animal rights newspaper/organization/web site that I helped with. I wrote some of the articles and tried to help with the web site (not very well), and worked with other organizations to try and get some stuff done in the city to raise awareness.

One of the worst parts about the job (volunteer position) was that I would get the most awful emails from people about animal cruelty they witnessed, strays they picked up that had been abused, even animals that would lay on the side of the road, seriously injured. I hated getting those messages and the idea of all that abuse and suffering affected me deeply.

And of those messages, the ones I found most irritating were from people who were trying to get rid of their pets. Generally, it was a young couple who’d just had a baby and didn’t feel they could take care of their dog or cat any longer and wanted me to help them find another home. Those people really pissed me off. Put the kid in a stroller and walk your damn dog, I would say, only trying to be more polite.

Except now I find myself in a very similar situation. I don’t necessarily empathize with people who have money, own their home, have a great backyard, and just don’t want to mess with pets anymore. But I have come to terms with the fact that, since Bea came home from the hospital we have become the “wrong family” for our younger dog, Alvy.

He just turned 9 last month, and has been staying with my friend Liz since September, when we moved out of the moldy apartment into the second story place a little farther north. The first day we were in the new place, Liz, Bea, and I went out for a minute and didn’t take Alvy. After our return, maybe 10 minutes later, he had peeled the paneling off the back porch.

His behavior at the moldy apartment had been erratic, nervous, and weird, ever since Trinity passed away. He’d eaten the frame off the back door, and if we were going somewhere that we couldn’t take him, we were having to take extreme measures to try and keep him in one area without access to anything he could destroy.

It’s been as if, since I had the baby, he has gone slowly crazy, and, combined with two moves in three months (after five years in the same place), he’s gone even crazier. Trinity dying was sort of the last straw. He just lost his mind completely.

When I saw the paneling in the back room, I just started crying. Getting him up and down the stairs, wrestling with him and Bea, having to clean up after his messes all the time, had worn me out. I was just standing there, bawling, and Liz said, “Look, I’ll bring him home with me. I’ll see if I can find him some medication that’ll work. He needs to be around other dogs.”

That is, until her husband had enough of her rescuing dogs and helping other people. At one point a couple of weeks ago, she had Alvy, their two dogs, and three rescues she was keeping until she could find homes for them. Her husband put his foot down.

Upon our arrival in Indianapolis yesterday, Liz brought Alvy to the house where we’re staying with our friends Jill and Scott, and we traded him over next door, to a neighbor of Jill’s that thinks her dog is lonely and needs a friend.

That environment is going to be temporary, as well, though. Kristin and her boyfriend are putting their house on the market in February and hoping it will sell quickly. I don’t know what the chances of that happening actually are, but Kristin seems to think they’re pretty good. So she might only have Alvy for a couple, few months. At which point, we have to figure out something else.

If the last moves were hard on him, I cannot imagine how stressed he must be, being passed around from person to person. I feel guilty as hell, like such an asshole. This dog has been my responsibility, my family member, for nine years. Suddenly, because I don’t have time for him, I’m bouncing him around, trying to find a suitable place for him.

I have to tell myself, though, that it isn’t completely my fault. And it isn’t just about “time.” He does have special needs. He desperately needs someone who can give him a lot of attention, and he definitely needs a home without children.

There were times when Bea would try to play with him. I would watch her crawling on him, pulling on his ears (not hard), or just trying to hug him, and his ears would be straight back, his tail down, his eyes closed. It looked as if he was thinking JUST DON’T SNAP. JUST GET THROUGH THIS. And I would sometimes feel a little anxious, myself, like maybe he wants to turn around and chomp on her to get her to stop.

So I know it’s not that he isn’t our dog, not that we don’t want the best for him, not that I just want to give him away because having a pet is too complicated or something. I think he’s experienced so much trauma in his life, and been so stressed out, and has so many neuroses, that we aren’t the right people for him.

It’s still hard to accept, though, because I feel as if I’ve failed him, that I’ve becoming “one of those people” who just gives away a lifelong pet because he doesn’t fit into the new family structure.

People Read Reviews?

So, in case you didn’t know, adding to our extremely expensive last couple of years, I also had a little visit to the emergency room several weeks ago. While our friends and their daughter were staying, I’d been complaining of what had felt like a UTI for a few days. Saturday morning, I woke up feeling more pain then usual, which ended up getting worse and worse. It was localized on the lower lefthand side of my back and was almost exactly what I’d experienced when I had kidney stones when I was pregnant with Bea. By about 9:30am, I was rocking back and forth on the floor, on my knees, in tears. It felt like I was in labor all over again.

We all attempted not to freak out. I called Charlie, who left work on personal time. Our guests decided to go to Lincoln Park Zoo, taking Bea with them. I was in no condition to argue against it. Through the haze of pain, I tried to imagine Bea doing hot laps around a hospital waiting room and screaming while people bleeding from stab wounds and elderly people with broken limbs cried and begged Charlie to take her somewhere else. It was a blessing our friends were here to attend to her. If there’s one positive thing I can say about the hospital visit, it’s that Bea got to go to the zoo, got food and drinks and ice cream, played with her friend, and had a blast.

I found the closest urgent care/ER and we drove straight there. The person at the front desk asked what was wrong. I said I thought I had kidney stones, so he directed us to the emergency room, which is where we went.

Charlie and I were separated, which was understandable. It was a very small triage room with 4 or 5 beds and I know they have to accout for potential domestic abuse, but I couldn’t get a signal on my phone, so while I was getting texts from him (“What’s going on?” “How long will it be?” “Are you feeling any better?” “Do they know what’s wrong?”), he wasn’t receiving mine.

The short version of the story is just that the place was super dirty, the people working there were super rude (with the exception of one lady who took pity on me and processed my paperwork so I could go home and free up space for actual emergencies), and I wished I’d gone someplace else. I spent hours and hours of a Saturday waiting to be seen, waiting to be treated, waiting to be scanned, waiting to be given prescriptions, waiting to be released . . .

A person identifying herself as a patient advocate for the hospital called and left me a voicemail earlier this afternoon to see what she could do about my “experience.”

I’d written a negative review of the ER on Yelp after this visit which included being told I didn’t know what I was talking about when explaining my symptoms (the nurse who I dealt with the most said “That’s not kidney stones.”), being asked to disrobe in plain view of other patients, being yelled at several times by the attending nurse, and using a bathroom that was filthy. I’m talking, there was urine all over the toilet seat, the floor, and even in the sink. Sprinkled in the urine were a variety of pubic hairs. One older man shuffled back and forth between his bed and the bathroom with the open back of his hospital gown flapping in the wind.

Apparently, the patient advocate read the review, identified who I was, called, and now wants to discuss what happened. I’m not really sure what to tell her. Clean the bathroom? Hire nicer nurses?

I’m sort of embarrassed about the entire thing. You write these reviews, hoping someone will find it helpful, then someone who deals with, I’m guessing, the “image” of the hospital calls to find out what they can do to . . . what? ¬†Get you to write a more positive review? Delete the review altogether?

The most disappointing part of the experience is that I didn’t even get to use that wonderful hospital soap that I love so much. Whatever they had in the bathroom might have been a high-grade antibacterial soap, but it wasn’t the hospital stuff that I’m obsessed with.

Three Weeks Away

One thing I enjoy about other people’s blogs is photos, which really drives home how lackluster mine is in appearance. But since the battery charger we got to replace one that got lost in one move or another pooped out, I haven’t been taking photos with anything but my iPod Touch. Which, unfortunately, has a pretty disappointing camera on it.

And to be honest, most of the photos I take (I’ll be generous and say only about 95%) are of the kid. People on Facebook and Google+ have to see enough of her, and since I’ve run out of free space on my Flickr page, I’m not going to subject any readers here to more. Well, not in this post, anyway.

What I would like to do is get another battery charger and start carrying the camera around with me wherever we go. This is a somewhat frustrating idea because I already have to carry so much junk. I think one of the things I truly never understood about parents is WHY ALL THE CRAP? And then I became one.

Every trip out the door is an event. Struggling with her to just put on socks is sometimes exhausting. Then shoes, and, now that it’s colder out, mittens, coat, a hat, eventually a scarf. On really chilly evenings, I might bring a blanket and put it over her in the stroller. Then I have to check and double-check everything. Do I have an emergency diaper and wipes? Does she want a drink? Milk or juice? Do I need to bring a snack? Should I have a lollipop available for bribes?

The longer and more involved the trip, the more copious the amounts of junk. On our trip back to Indianapolis last week, our Toyota Matrix was spilling over with bags, shoes, pillows, toys, books. Charlie made a trip back home to work for two days and, when he returned, he brought even more stuff because, apparently, I had not brought enough shit the first time.

The trip itself was relatively uneventful. And I mean that in a good way. My dad did not show up to our family Thanksgiving. He never replied to any of his siblings’ emails asking if he was coming, what he might like to bring. He just called my grandmother Sunday morning to say he wasn’t feeling well.

It was a blessing, though. Once I knew that, my shoulders relaxed and I could breathe a little easier. Although now I wonder what the chances are of him coming for Christmas. My family always gets together on Christmas Eve, leaving the holiday open for “other sides” of your family. We would do Christmas Day at my mother’s folks’ house. These past few years, since things have begun to get sketchy in my immediate family, Charlie and I haven’t done much of anything. I really like that.

This year, barring any hideous winter storms, we will travel to Indy again, spend a few days at my friend Jill’s, spend Christmas Eve with my family, and get Chinese or Indian food on the 25th. We discussed the possibility of attempting to find The Muppets movie at a cheap theater and seeing how Bea handles it. I don’t know that she would like being inside a large, dark room with really loud music playing. Movie theaters give me a headache, so I can’t imagine how it would affect a 2 1/2 year old.

I do like the idea of having some sort of relaxed family tradition, just the three of us. I also like a new tradition that’s started on my paternal family’s side. Last year, when we picked names, we decided to do handmade gifts. I got the song “Beautiful Bea” from Will and Ben (no one can ever top that), I made my aunt Vicki a sugar body scrub and an apron, Charlie made a table for my cousin’s (now ex) husband, and so on. Since some people didn’t take too well to the idea, we decided people could do one of two things: either make a gift for someone, or absolutely keep the gift under $20.

I got my cousin Peter (on purpose. It helps to be the one in charge of the name drawing to ensure not getting someone who is impossible to shop for). I have had a plan for a couple of months now for something I’d like to make him. After mapping it out, I came across a second idea and now I don’t know how to choose between the two. I have neither the time nor the energy to do both, as much as I’d like to.

For the moment, I am working on my friend Maureen’s personal statements for grad school and trying to steer her in a direction that’s helpful. This weekend, I think I’ll buckle down and start on Peter’s gift. Our family Christmas is just three weeks away, after all.