Excerpt From My Memoir, “The Shaken Tree.”

“I’m an over-achiever.  I’m a workaholic. I’m a mother, wife, friend, and volunteer. I’m a caregiver to a special needs child and elderly parents.  I’m a business owner, public speaker, instructor, student, and researcher. I’m a social media marketer. I’m an advocate for children and adults with special needs.  I’m a group leader online under a group I started: Down Syndrome Resource Notes, and we have over 500 members and growing. I am a reader. I’m a published author, I’m a CEO for a tiny publishing house I’m starting up but not sure where it’s going if anywhere. I am a certified freelance writer, illustrator. I’m a book reviewer for publishers worldwide, book blogger and editor of manuscripts.  I am an interviewer of fellow authors, publishers, agents, and writers on a freelance basis. I am the publisher and author/illustrator of a children’s book series: The Adventures of Iggy Squiggles, my series, a series of four books published to date, the fifth in the works, special editions and a unique concept.  I am the published author of two supernatural thrillers: Echoes of Darkness, Echoes Series; and, upcoming Dial 911-Dead, a standalone.  I’ve written hundreds of published articles. I am working on a fantasy series, a standalone about fairies, another about aliens.  I’m also working on a nonfiction project and a memoir or autobiography–I haven’t made up my mind.  I have countless outlines for projects-but who knows when I’ll get to them…

I am a person attached to a computer 24/7 one way or another.

I AM HAPPILY EXHAUSTED.

I am also intimidating, hated, disliked, and forgotten by family. I am liked by those I volunteer to coach, appreciated by good, loyal friends and loved by my husband and daughter, Katie, and, my mom and stepfather. I am a pet lover. I am an artist.

What I’m not:

I am not a housewife, those days were over long ago. That doesn’t mean I don’t clean my house, I just don’t make a habit of it, nor, am I occupied with it on a daily basis. Is my house dirty? No. Others clean it and I pay them for their services.  My husband pitches in when he can too.  Katie cleans her room.  What more could a mom ask for?

I am not a babysitter. I raised two children that were not mine and am now raising and responsible for a special needs child that will continue to be my responsibility forever in the immediate sense. She lives with us and her care is expensive, constant, and consuming. It’s like having an adult with adult expenses but with a child’s mind and needs.  She is a constant worry and in need of constant stimulation and attention/parenting. We are her connection to the real world of appointments, provisions, education, and growth. We are the ones who love her unconditionally.

Katie doesn’t sleep, maybe three to four hours a night if we’re lucky. She’s had this sleep disorder since birth but only recently we’ve finally gotten to the bottom of it and she is being treated for it. She has behavior issues, physical hindrances, and medical needs–she’s diabetic, insulin dependent and is beginning to suffer from nerve pain in her feet.  Her eyesight is changing-getting worse; and, she suffers and will always suffer from hypothyroidism. This causes weight issues, clothing issues, and physical challenges.  She is always anxious and has severe panic attacks and meltdowns that often involve physical violence.  They became worse after her sister cut us out of her life.  She went to counseling and is coping better. Although medicated to handle things better, she still has her moments where rocking and holding is the only solution. There are learning disabilities where simple things often frustrate her and set her off. She has told me that she wishes she could read; she loves books and goes to the library to look at books all the time. We’ve had to learn as we’ve grown.  There are triggers that Katie possesses that we need to know of and avoid.

Although all this sounds horrible, she is my little girl and I love her immensely.  I will always make decisions to ensure her peace and happiness.  There won’t be a day that goes by that she doesn’t know she’s loved. She is told all the time. I also know her better than anyone else and must remain her strongest advocate, supporter and provider, especially when all and yes, I mean all her extended family don’t have anything to do with her, the worse–her four siblings.  She’s an embarrassment to them, I’ve seen them writing this, calling her a freak and abnormal.  I know it’s out of jealousy because they all share a dad with Katie and feel she’s stolen him away from them.  They wish she was never born so that they would have it all.  Hell, they wish I never married their dad, but that’s another story for another time.

I can assure you, we know our priorities and where our responsibilities fall.  Nothing is stopping them from picking up the phone or calling to arrange a time for grandpa and them/their children.  I am not standing in anyone’s way. I’m too busy. So when I get angry with stupid behavior or watch as others judge me for standing up for myself and Kate, I am abrupt, sometimes harsh/angry, and final with my actions. I do not have time for negative people and the damage they feel they have the right to inflict on my world. Why is it that people would rather whisper hateful things behind your back than to your face?  Wouldn’t it be more satisfying to say it to a person’s face and watch the hurtful reaction?  I never understood this.  Or, not accept responsibility for the damage they’ve done, but instead shove the blame on whoever is convenient.

My husband is equally fed up, but I won’t speak for him; he does well all on his own. 🙂

The other children I raised with my husband are now adults, are married and have children of their own. They live far away and have their own circle of friends. We’ve been pushed aside. When I refused to babysit and play the typical role of granny by giving them all my time and money to help them get their lives in order, an act that included taking multiple vacations and holidays  (something my husband and I have never had for over 28 years and counting), while we were babysitting, something they never offered us in return (babysitting, not a trip) to give us a break from our stressful lives, they decided we were of no use to them, and ended the relationships with not so much as a thank you very much.  I’ll go into greater detail in a minute.

On November 28, 2014, Katie required major reconstructive surgery in Toronto Sick Kids. She required having her lower jaw broken and her upper jaw broken. Then her upper jaw was moved forward and her lower jaw was moved back so that her teeth in both jaws lined up with each other.  Titanium pins were used to hold her jaws to her skull and then a piece of bone had to be taken from her pelvis and put into her palette to keep the upper jaw from sliding back.  They discovered that she had no sinuses and they had to grind out sinus cavities and attach them to her nasal passage after correcting a deviated septum.  For the first time in her 18 years of life, Katie was finally able to breathe through her nose.  This was hopefully going to correct her severe sleep apnea, help her with eating, allow her to speak properly and provide a better life.  Prior to surgery, she was going through episodes of not breathing while sleeping. The whole surgery required me to stay up in Toronto with her, sleep on a bench beside her bed and take care of her throughout the day doing things the nurses didn’t have time for. I also had to take her all over the hospital for tests, give her insulin and wash her.  She was sore and badly bruised.  I posted photos online showing the end results.  My husband would work, then travel via bus up to Toronto to spend a few hours with us before going home because he had to work the next day.  Four days after surgery, I had just gotten home and on that day my daughter announced she was having her wedding shower two days from when we got home from Toronto. Both Katie and I were exhausted.  She expected me to be there.  I couldn’t go.  There was after surgery care that I needed to give to Katie.  My mother was elderly and she couldn’t drive up and go alone.  Strangely, my so-called friend of 30 years and my brother’s wife didn’t offer to drive her, but she went herself with my other sister-in-law.  How nice for them.  I’m told my friend acted as the mother of the bride.  Great!  

The only wedding I would ever have, my daughter or who I thought of as my daughter was getting married. I was so happy to hear this. I wanted to go dress shopping like I had with my mother when I got married. I offered to pay for her dress, despite being financially strapped. We were going through so much at this time and thought the wedding would be our happy cloud in all the dark storm. This wasn’t happening. My daughter invited all her friends and wanted me to go up there, a couple of hours away to shop. I wasn’t well enough to do that. I told her to go ahead and get the dress and I’ll go up on another date and pay for it. Anything I suggested, she didn’t want to hear. She said she was following a show on television because she didn’t know what to do. I told her I planned a wedding and grandma planned a wedding, she could ask us for help, we didn’t mind.

I don’t remember her answer, I was too stunned and hurt. So I stopped suggesting and agreed to whatever she thought was best. As long as I paid, it was all good. I even got, “I’m surprised you want to do this.” All my daughter talked about was the cost, the money it was taking to have this huge wedding, the hopes that they’ll make up the cost with money gifts. This didn’t happen by the way. People weren’t giving huge money gifts. We were strapped after having to declare bankruptcy and pay for the human rights lawyer and fight we were having with Canada’s Ministry of Health and OHIP (another long story of discrimination against Katie for another time.) My family was generous, but her husband’s family and friends weren’t. I heard all about the expense and offered to help where and when I could.

I had no idea what had happened to cause all the snark either, but I was going to find out soon enough. I was incredibly upset at this point and growing angry. Naturally, the person I thought of friend and family was there for me to vent to, but I had no idea she was offering her shoulder for ulterior motives.

Anything I did for their wedding received nasty digs like, “I’m surprised you did that.” or “I didn’t think you’d bother.” or “I’m surprised you’d wanted to do that.” Why wouldn’t I do things for the person I raised as my daughter and loved for over 20 years? They treated me so bad. I even have photos of when I gave a speech and they were behind me making faces and rolling their eyes at me. For the wedding, I was asked to babysit in a room away from the reception all night. I was the mother of the bride. Why would they ask this of me? I know why now. I was asked to do other strange things during the wedding too as if I didn’t want to enjoy seeing my daughter get married and have fun with family and friends… speaking of which, I wasn’t allowed to invite any more than twenty people to his mother inviting 80 or more and the wedding was in his town, not where our daughter grew up… My family that attended were sitting together and ignored me all night.  I didn’t know then that my friend and sister-in-law was working her claws into an already boiling pot.

Well, they all succeeded in making me feel horrible. By the end of the night, I was in tears. They had it all planned. I was fed up with it all and wanted to leave, leave my own daughter’s wedding. Who would have thought?

I was so sick waiting for surgery, you know how long waiting lists are, but this didn’t matter.  Do you know my daughter told me that the money she made was mostly from my family and even some of their so-called friends showed up without a gift? Yet, they were more important than family… She knew what we were going through, we didn’t keep things from her because we thought she cared.  

I couldn’t wait for the night to end. 

After all that… we were told we were babysitting while they went on their honeymoon. The baby cried for seven days straight, she was ill and so young she missed her mother, she was only nine months. When they returned, no sooner had they entered the house to pick up their daughter, my daughter said they’re going again in twelve months and we’ll be needed to babysit again. We were exhausted. Not only did we have Katie to care for, no sleep because of her, I was royally ill, but we also stayed awake any other little time we had for sleep to watch a crying baby. We were exhausted. I told my daughter no. She kept asking over the next months and things started getting worse.  Digs and speaking to us disrespectfully grew worse. 

People must think you’re stupid and won’t notice how they treat you.  The little comments, the digs, horrible treatment, the nasty comments, and hurtful accusations.  Like I lied about my health issues, even claiming I never had surgery. Wanna see the scars?  My abdomen is riddled with scars from all the surgeries I’ve undergone to save my life. My husband couldn’t believe his daughter.  When he stood up for me and told her that I was going through something horrific, she told him to grow some balls and stand up to me… be a man. Tell me that he wanted to babysit so that they could go on their trips.

He was being a man–a real man.  He was standing beside his wife, helping her get through this emotional and frightening time, and he was caring for Katie and her throughout the surgeries and while she recovered.  He was being wonderful. I had a lot of surgeries, some unexpected. The last being 83% of my stomach removed. I was spiraling out of control healthwise and this was the only solution.  Why on earth would I lie about it??  It’s no fun having a stomach the size of a golf ball and the diet or foods I’m able to eat now, well let’s just say pureed and liquid shakes.  Is that fun?? Eating is no longer enjoyable.  I had to have an emergency gallbladder surgery right before, it was eventually also removed since it was impacted in my liver, thinned and ready to burst.  I had a fatty liver that needed tending and colon cancer scare that needed scope surgery.  Yet, apparently, I lied about all that, used it as an excuse so that I couldn’t babysit… seriously??? I guess people really think all their parents are good for is what they can get out of them.  I considered sending letters from my doctors and photos of my scars to them to show that I wasn’t making excuses then I slapped myself and realized if I was important to them in any form, this wouldn’t even have to be considered.  They’re kids I raised, not my employer. 

I think the digs were the first hints that something wasn’t right.  Other things followed that come to mind now, things I never really paid attention to, like at the baby shower, my daughter’s new baby wouldn’t stop fussing, so I took care of her, she screamed in the heat the whole time, poor thing.  Before she came down to my so-called friend’s house for the shower, I told my daughter to leave her home because it was sooooo hot, but like all my suggestions, she turned her nose up at what I had to say and did what she wanted instead.  I didn’t even get offered food or drink during the few hours I rocked and cared for the little girl away from the shower out of the sun in the front of the house by myself, but my daughter had a good time. I’m glad.  

In the beginning, I had made efforts to take all the blame and try to mend fences but I was virtually spat on and told I had made their lives less than stellar.  I HAD… I was never married before nor had any children of my own at the time, but took on children not my own and all the responsibility that came with them.  I even tried to give them the same loving, caring childhood, my own parents gave to me. I taught them how to cook, sew, got them… well one interested in reading. We went to Florida on one of their birthdays, had a huge neighborhood birthday party full of games and fun and they wore nice clothes and were fed well.  They both danced at my studio for years enjoying center stage, all the attention, beautiful costumes and lots and lots of fun. I wanted them to know what fun was since where they came from was so dark.

Their mother was a nightmare and deemed unsafe to them by the courts, so my husband got interim, custody of them.  They ended up being raised by us without help from their mother. Their mother… what a nightmare. Their mother was a drug user and prostitute, yet I hadn’t made THEIR lives stellar? I often ponder this statement told to me by the eldest.  I think back to all the things she’d done to me along the way.  When I came into their lives, they were sharing a bed in a very dull room. I purchased new beds for them, they stayed together because they were always together and I didn’t want to stress them out.  Besides their older brother was in the only other room next to ours in the house.

I spent hours painting and papering, making little teddy bear murals for them. A teddy bear adventure with balloons on the walls. It took me forever to finish the room for two little girls.  I thought they liked it. The next day I discovered the paper peeled off by the eldest.  

I redid the bathroom in the house, repairing the walls, it was an old house. I stripped the vanity and restained it, papered and painted and when it was done, the eldest went in with a can of furniture oil and sprayed all the walls.  I had to redo everything. My heart was so broken.  Then she started hiding food all over the house.  I had to constantly clean and go on a search and destroy mission to find all the rotten food before bugs did.  She was clever with her hiding spots.  I found underwear soiled and shoved in places for days.  I found their locations by following the smell. She learned to puke on command and could do it in a snap.  I’d spend all day preparing supper. For example, one time I made a roast and potatoes and veggies and a nice dessert.  After I put all the food on the table, the eldest sat down and gagged and barfed all over the food.  She’d done this more than once, in fact, I think she did everything she could to try and drive me away and hurt me.

I responded with love and concern.  It was I who got her into counseling and involved with doctors because I began to suspect she was sexually abused during visitation with her mother.  There was always a line of men going in and out of their mother’s place, sleeping over.  Once the eldest told me she slept on the floor amongst men.  She’d tell me horrible stories and my husband and I were so scared for them. Then, there was the courts to fight with.  They were not supportive of father’s rights, just the mother’s. The stress was incredible.  The mother didn’t help but played using guilt to make the children want to see her, and they did, whenever she chose to show up to come and get them.  Gosh, I can’t tell you the number of times they waited, and waited and waited for her to arrive only to be disappointed over and over again. One time, during access, the younger daughter was at the bowling alley with her mother and sister and some friends of the mother.  The youngest did something to make her mother angry who ran at her and punched her in the kidney.  We had to believe this because my husband older son was also there a few lanes down bowling and saw the whole thing.  He took his sister to the hospital and a report was filed.  This didn’t stop access. It did make us more stressed out and in fear for their safety.  Things like this went on all the time. We complained and complained but nothing was done.

Soon the eldest was losing loads of weight, the weight she couldn’t afford to lose and then her hair started to fall out.  The more abuse she received from the situation, her mother’s guilt and boyfriends who did who knows what to her, the worse she got. Then there were all the drugs… we made a huge decision to end visitations by going against the court and refusing to cooperate with the mother. It was a huge fight.  But we wanted these two children safe.  It cost us over $150,000.00 in legal fees by the time it was over and then the ex came back over and over and over again…. more money for the court, more money to keep the girls safe. The courts sided continuously with her no matter what evidence we presented.

More stress for my husband and I.  Yet we hung in there for them, for us with the hopes that once everything was over, they would see that we did it all for them out of love. Yet according to the eldest, I hadn’t made her life stellar.  There were two of us parenting but as the outsider, the stepparent I suppose it was easier to just blame everything on me.  There was no way they’d take any responsibility for anything that they did to make matters worse. Her childhood wasn’t stellar, well my marriage, in the beginning, was a nightmare and not because of my husband. I think what bothered them the most was that nothing that they did broke me.  I was strong, am strong and survived it all. I had a great husband and mother and father that kept me strong.  They saw it all and knew what was happening to me.  It’s funny how others never around were quick to judge… How easy it was for people to point the finger and say, “What a bitch!” 

How dare I stop two vulnerable little girls from getting abused one way or the other. How dare I stop a convicted drug head from harming her own children.  How dare I stand against a convicted prostitute from influencing her two daughters.  How dare I for caring, loving, nurturing and teaching two children that weren’t mine. How dare I! I should be shot!

Indeed… 

Then Kate came along. My beautiful little joy from heaven.  She made everything so much better.  

There is so much more, but I think that basically sums up why I am who I am today.  I feel during all that time, well over ten years for one and twenty for the other, I had put all my own needs aside to deal with what was happening then to two little girls I’d grown to love, who obviously never loved me as I had hoped.  I was a bank account to them. Their father hoped, but his hope was misplaced. That chapter in my life is over.  I can actually write about it without shaking like I used to.

I was naive and trusting.  I’d been a fool. I gave love to those who didn’t want it nor appreciated it; I gave friendship and trust to family and a friend and while she waited she plotted and when the opportunity came, she plunged the knife in my back and cost me, family, because she wanted what I had for herself.  Well, I wish them all well. I could not live in the middle of that circle forever wondering when one of them would strike again. To end it all, I had been harsh, cruel.  Maybe it was all those years of anger and frustration building and not venting.  Who knows. My daughter told me what had happened, threw her aunt, my friend under the bus the first chance she could get.

When I read and saw what had been done, I understood why all the snarky comments had been made, why I was treated so cruelly.  I realized where I stood and why.  I realized what my trust in the wrong people had cost me.  My hurt changed instantly to anger.  I stood my ground and stood up for myself. I cut the relationship off, yes, harshly. She never took responsibility for what she’d done and even sided with the one who ratted her out. She did spread her poor me act to others in my family who bought the act, but that’s okay too, I’m sure she gave a convincing act, leaving out certain details, naturally.  People like that show their true colours eventually. Oh well.  She’ll find out one day that what goes around comes around.

There is one part that makes me still uncomfortable with everything that’s happened. Sadly, because she is married to my brother, he chose to stand by her and now has nothing to do with me.  I’m now fine with that too, but he’s treating our mother despicably because she supports me isn’t right.  After all, why wouldn’t she support me. She knows the truth, was there for everything that’s happened in my life.  She saw it all. Saw my scars, knew I had surgery…?  She basically was the one who came to our aid, stood beside me and my husband, loved his daughters like they were blood and was treated and shoved aside when she was no longer useful or sided with me. That part still makes me angry the most is that he’s my brother and should know better.  Why isn’t he questioning his wife asking what she had done to make me so upset with her, told her to get ahold of me and fix things for the sake of the family?  He never did any of it.  She got what she wanted. For now, she’s gotten away with what she’s done.

In a way, she’s done me a favor and I thank her for that.  In fact, I’m fine with everything now that the hurting has stopped and practicality and reality have enlightened me to what really counts. 

The friends I have now are not the kind to stab someone in the back. They do not hide behind false smiles, while swinging their leg in secret loathing and agitation, nor talk behind my back because they’re gutless to say what they whisper about to my face.  I like them for their directness and appreciate the sincerity they express about confidences. They genuinely care about me, my husband and Katie too.  I’m just careful with what I share now.  We have coffee and talk and laugh at life.  There are sooooo many out there that have gone through what I have, the amount was startling to discover.

I write to get a lot off my mind.  Unfinished business is the hardest to get past.  So I write my thoughts down and once read out loud, I’m able to move on. I have stories inside me, stories that I need to write.  It’s like an itch that one cannot reach, always there and always wanting to be scratched.  I learn and write, never too old or experienced to learn more.  Life brings on plenty of topics to write about, there is so much more to my history.  I think it’s time to write down some of my experiences, share with others who may have gone through certain difficulties we have in common.  No, they’re not all like the above. I’ve learned a lot through my journey with Katie but I’ve also learned what having Katie cost me–nothing important.  I’ve learned what family really means and who is the person you should be the most focused on.

I’ve learned there’s no mountain high enough to defeat me, except death, and I’ve learned plenty from getting too close to that too.  I know I’m far from perfect and sure I could have done a lot of things differently, but I was on a journey like everyone else, learning from mistakes and growing from successes in life.  I think I’m the most flawed person I know and that’s okay to admit, finally.  I wish I could go back and undo, unsay things, make different choices.  My husband says the same to me all the time too, so I believe everyone has that discussion with themselves at some point in their lives.  I get the wisdom that comes with age finally and how some never learn because they’re so wrapped up in their own needs and wants.  I know I don’t want to be around narcissistic people anymore, you know the ones, they’re the people who think everything is about them or should be. I highly recommend you pay attention to the quiet ones around you more because it’s those that you need to be the most concerned about.  Don’t be so accepting either, question motivations at times and reassess relationships instead of accepting them for what they’re worth–especially those worth not much. When you come to this realization, make some edits to your life.

Drama is not as great as you think.  Leave it for writers and fictional work, and live life without it as much as you can.  If you are successful in achieving insight as I have, you’ll find peace and be able to move on and live life like you should have when you were busy being everything to everyone else. Be true to yourself and get on with living.  Life can be a writer’s muse, you just need to let it live inside you.”

 

 

 

 

 

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