Family, 2015

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Drawing I did of Veronica as a child.

 

Family is an interesting thing.  We’re all aware that it’s not just who’s married to whom, and who shared bloodlines.  It’s far more complex–and, simultaneously, simple-than that.

I’m adopted, first of all.  When I was two-and-a-half years old, in the fall of 1968, I was adopted from foster care into the Olson home.  I was Leonard and Leone’s only child (they’d lost a baby at birth nine years before I was born), and they were in their middle forties, and both professionals.

Church photo a week after my adoption: Leone, Karla, Leonard Olson.  September, 1969.

Church photo a week after my adoption: Leone, Karla, Leonard Olson. September, 1969.

I hit the jackpot on families!  No one could ask for more loving, more dedicated parents. I am grateful, daily, for my upbringing.

Also, I’ve been married twice.

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First husband and me, 1994, St. Cloud, MN

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Justin and me, 2007, Clear Lake, MN

My first marriage was ill-advised, but I deeply loved my husband, and altogether we were together ten years. Shortly after he and I began dating i n 1988, he found out he was going to be a father.  The child’s mother was a high school friend of his, Beth, with whom he’d kept up a friendship, and they’d celebrated his birthday that year, resulting in an unexpected pregnancy. To make a long, long, story short, he has not been the world’s best father but I lucked out in our divorce, in 1998, and got to “keep” the kid–well, Veronica, his daughter, lived with her mother, obviously, but Beth was wonderful enough to allow me to remain in Veronica’s life.  As Beth aptly put it–I still remember what she said, and how I cried for happiness–“You love her, she loves you.”

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Veronica at Aunt Geeney’s house, 1992

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Veronica at her father’s and my house, St. Cloud, circa 1995

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Veronica and her father’s and my house, St. Cloud, circa 1996.

 

 

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Veronica at Twin Cities Gay Pride with her father and me, circa 1996.

There were a few family reunions–my ex-husband’s family, mind you–that were non-traditional.  I’ve stayed in contact with my former in-laws, and they’ve accepted my current husband without any problem. I do distinctly recall one summer gathering, at my in-law’s family homestead farm, where sitting together in a row on a picnic table were Veronica, Beth, me, and my now-current husband, Justin.  A few distant relatives, not knowing all the ins and outs, asked how we were family; this led to very interesting answers.  “Well, I used to be married to your cousin, see, and this wonderful girl is his daughter and this is her mother and his old friend.  Oh, and this is my boyfriend…”

Beth, Veronica, Justin, and I have vacationed together (Yay, Duluth!).  When asked, simply saying “family” supplies all the information anyone really needs.

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Brighton Beach, north of Duluth, 2006

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Veronica, Park Point (Duluth), 2006

Skip forward several more years, and Veronica’s now nearly 26 years old.  She lives in Sacramento, holds a Master’s Degree in public policy, and is doing great work on behalf of many people in the capital city of California.  She’s brilliant, funny, creative, and everyone’s dream of a daughter, stepdaughter, or former stepdaughter. I’m honored to have her in my life, and further honored to be friends (family?) with her mother.

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Veronica in Germany, 2006ish.

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Veronica and friend Angela, St. Cloud Java Joint, early 2000s.

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Veronica at Mills, freshman year.

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Veronica and proud mother Beth, Graduation from St. Paul Open School, 2007.

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A favorite picture of Veronica.

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Veronica at Mills. (I’ve edited the wall message for public consumption…)

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Trivia Party, 2007, St. Cloud

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Veronica’s going-off-to-college party, George Street, St. Paul, August 2007.

All this to say that while Veronica was still in junior high and high school in St. Paul, and Justin and I lived in Marshall, MN (four hours from them), our gatherings were looked forward to, and we always had the best of times with hilarious and scholarly discussions on pop culture, literature, current events, politics, childrearing, education, music, and, well, anything.  Games would be played (Wizard of Bees!). We’d eat good food (well, if we visited St. Paul, that is, rather than they visiting Marshall).  Libations would occur.  We’d go home with our bellies hurting from the laughter.

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Veronica, Beth, Justin

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Justin, Bindu, Veronica: St. Paul, circa 2008

 

Additionally, there was the annual KVSC Trivia Contest.  Veronica has played on our team (Those Meddling Kids, then WWSD) via phone when she was young, then in person from adolescence onward.  Beth now plays with us, too, though a latecomer compared with Veronica.

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Trivia nap…circa maybe 2008?

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Trivia, circa 2006

 

Since Veronica left to go to college in California in 2007, our group gatherings have been limited to summers (when she still came home, which ended a while back) and, currently, at Christmas, when Veronica still makes the trek home to Minnesota to see friends and family (and likely organize everything in sight, as she’s wont to do).  While we can connect on facebook and via email and twitter all year, Justin and I very much look forward to when the four of us (now five, as Beth is partnered with Aaron, who’s a terrific addition!) can get together.

Veronica and Beth, Milaca, MN, January 2012 or 2013.

Veronica and Beth, Milaca, MN, January 2012 or 2013.

Which we did this past Friday.  In the Twin Cities.

Theses were written on the implications of Breaking Bad and Fight Club.  Second wave feminism butted against third wave, as it normally does in our gatherings.  We spent a good forty-five minutes discussing whether “mansplaining” was appropriate or obsfucating.  Knitting occurred.  There were liters and liters of coffee drunk. Snacking and eating in interesting establishments happened (Longfellow Grill, Peace Cafe, Riverview Cafe and Wine Bar) . There was disagreement on The Decemberists (Veronica votes Nay, Karla votes Yay) and The Shins (Karla votes Yay, Veronica votes Meh).  Presents were exchanged.  Dogs were fed (and pigdogs carried…). There were hugs.

And, my God, the laughter.  Open-mouthed, head back, full-throated laughter.  The absolute best part of being with these people.

I love my family. And how I look forward to these Christmas get-togethers!

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Veronica and Justin, Peace Coffee, Jan. 2015

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Beth and Veronica, Peace Coffee, Jan. 2015

 

My Joy Looks Like Kittens

Twig the Fairy, on Twitter, just tweeted “What does your joy look like today?”

Good question, and timely. I’ve spent what little of the day I’ve been awake for doing unpleasant things. I’ve been trying to get things lined up for the mortgage on the new house despite lousy communication among two different bankers at the same bank (who don’t seem to share information), my father in another town without e-mail, and our realtor (okay, this last has great communication–thanks, Bonnie!). Additionally, the house here is in chaos–more so than usual–because of the packing and boxes everywhere.

And, on top of that, Dad called after his followup visit with the eye doctor a week post-cataract surgery, with bad news: The new lens has partially detached because of his having had shingles in that eye, and the tissue being unhealthy. He’s going to have to go to Minneapolis on Monday to have it redone by another doctor, one who’ll sew the new lens in rather than trust in the tissue to do the work. Aside from the “ewwwww” factor, Dad certainly doesn’t need the stress.  The whole moving thing is keeping him on edge.

So, what does my joy look like?  Angry and confused black scribbling, perhaps?

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angry scribble

Perhaps this needs a re-vision.

  • I’m joyful that my Dad is not in pain.
  • I’m joyful that I’m available to take Dad to Minneapolis, despite the fact that he kept apologizing for my having to (apologizing for *what*, I kept saying; he’s my *Dad*…this is what we do, and besides, going on trips with him is fun!)
  • I’m joyful that the house we want and have been dreaming of isn’t yet off the table; it’s just a bit rocky getting there, thus far.
  • I’m joyful that my awesome husband just brought me tunafish sandwiches!

I’m alive, and loved, and while things may be stressful and chaotic right now, my life is that of royalty compared to much of the world, and it seems somewhat shameful to complain about things when I have it so good.  Today, I get to eat my sandwiches, post on a blog, pack some more clothes and books, watch a Twins game, and maybe read a book later, or knit, or go for a walk.

So, today?  My joy looks like this:


Alzheimer’s, a Bloody Thief

My mother has Alzheimer’s disease; she is in about stage 6 (of 7), from what I can tell. She also suffers from spinal stenosis which has limited her ability to stand and walk, so she’s wheelchair bound, as well.  The last few years have been Hell, especially on my father as he’s not only been her spouse of 60-plus years (they’ll celebrate their 65th anniversary this upcoming December), but decider, caregiver, and advocate. Until quite recently, my father–himself nearly 88 years old, now–cared for her at home, alone, including feeding and bathing and bathrooming, as well as taking care of house cleaning, gardening, mowing, snow removal, shopping, bills, and all the tasks that life necessitates.  While she’s spent short periods of time in various nursing home facilities, she’s been home, with Dad, until January of this year, when he finally placed her permanently in a Memory Care unit.

Mom and Dad, circa 1995

Mom and Dad, circa 1995

Then, he promptly got sick himself and nearly died.  Twice.

Dad’s on the road to recovery from kidney and heart failure, but he’ll likely not regain all of what he was before his illnesses in February; he lost forty pounds, first of all, and didn’t have that much to spare to begin with.  He’s gained a few back and we hope to help–with Justin’s cooking–in his gaining twenty pounds more back (his goal) after we all move in together this summer.

Dad & Muffin, Feb. 2011

Dad & Muffin, Feb. 2011

I bring this up because today, Justin and I were in my parents’ town to celebrate Father’s Day.  Dad had gone to “break Mom out” of the home for dinner, so we all went out then returned to their home so Justin could help move some boxes (my father’s far more along on packing than we are, to no one’s surprise, despite his having had eye surgery only days ago, the use of only one arm, and being shaky while walking with a cane). I sat with Mom while Dad directed Justin and the handcart.

And I was totally unprepared for my response to Mom’s current stage of dementia.

Alzheimer’s, I’m finding, not only transitions with very blurry edges in the patient, but tends to sneak up and surprise the Hell out of the family members, as well. I’ve visited with Mom, in person, at least weekly for months now, so it’s not like there’s been a lot of time elapsed. I just was at her place on Thursday, four days ago.  But today, sitting with her in their Den, despite the fact that she was in a terrific mood and happy and laughing (and had been flirting with the waiter, in Norwegian), broke my heart.

My mother, the wordsmith, the woman who’s never been quiet more than two minutes in her whole life, the veteran teacher who taught grade school for forty years, who’s read and promoted quality language use her whole life, no longer has the ability to use the right words.

Mom, heading to California, c. 1944

Mom, heading to California, c. 1944

I’ve noticed this before, mind you; here and there.  It frustrates her, but I’ve always been able to understand what she was trying to say.  Often, she’s incorporated a word or concept spoken behind her (or on TV) into her own communication, but it’s been easy enough to follow.

Not today.  Today was an entirely different beast. A very ugly one.

She was speaking in word salad. Grammatically correct (as always, bless her heart); using the right parts of speech, correct syntax. But none of the words meant anything that she wanted to say.  Worse, when she’d ask one of us a question and wait for an answer, and none of us had the first clue what she was asking. It was as if she were randomly selecting words from pages in a dictionary, without any tangible connection to her thoughts that I could discern.

My parents, husband, and I: July 2007

My parents, husband, and I: July 2007

I turned off the TV, hoping that would help.  No.  I sought to find patterns in initial letters, or concepts, or images, but could find none.  Her brain seemed to simply be supplying words chosen by a roll of the dice.  And she had no control, and worse–she realized she had no control.

She attempted to maintain her sense of humor, and to keep communicating, but I was horribly frustrated and–to my own shame–embarrassed. Not of her, exactly, but of the whole situation. Damned mad, which I process by becoming overly anxious and short.  More than once, I left the room to find something to do to get away from the incomprehensible communications, and then I felt bad for doing that.

Next time, I hope to be more prepared for this.  I hope to find a way to communicate with words even when the words haven’t any meaning.  She could understand us just fine, which is helpful, but I can’t imagine being my mother, being the woman I’ve known, without being able to verbally express my thoughts. What a horrible, cruel, worthless shitty joke to play on her.

I hate Alzheimer’s more than ever, today. Hate it. Hate it more than cancer, waaaaay more than fibromyalgia or Hashimoto’s disease, more than anything.

Alzheimer’s has just robbed my mother of her greatest joy.

My parents and I, Mother's Day 2011

My parents and I, Mother's Day 2011

Don’t Divorce Us

Because I live in a democratic Republic, where civil rights are not majority rule, and equality is something we promise to protect in our Constitution.

Because commitment should always be supported.

Because I’m in love with my best friend, and he and I enjoy benefits by legally marrying, and others should have the same.

For my stepdaughter, my friends, my family members who should have every right to happiness, joy, and family that I have.

This.  Video.

Don\’t Divorce Us

More Baby!

As an addendum to a post-baby boom blog of yesterday, more baby news!

Friends of ours, Doug and Neil, are fostering a newborn baby boy, born 12/18/08 and placed in their care a day later, and hope to adopt him after six months!  They fostered a teenaged boy last year and hoped to adopt him, but with the stupid laws (he was from out of state, which was the problem) they weren’t able to.  I hope this one goes much better!

Neil and I have been friends since the Dawn of Time (okay, more like 1988 or so) and Doug since they began dating ten or eleven years ago.  Since they live in the Marshall area (Doug’s a professor here at the college), they helped us find a house when we moved here seven years ago, and I served on a city commission with Doug for a year.

Anyway, yay for more families!  As an adoptee from foster care myself (back in 1968, when I was 2 1/2 years old) placed in a non-traditional family (my parents were childless and in their late forties and told they’d make terrible parents because of it), I salute them and support them and am thrilled for all three of them!

(I’ll add a picture if I get permission from them to post it!)

In the meantime, a picture of me shortly after my own adoption.  🙂

mom and dad and me