25 February 2015

Aging Parents and the Lion King

About 6 months ago my parents came to live in my hometown. They moved from the house they lived in for 45 years and came to a small town in rural South Florida. Because of these circumstances and the pressure my mom is trying to put on me to spend more time with her, I've been reading a lot about aging parents and being part of the "Sandwich Generation"—parents who are caring for their elderly parents while still raising children of their own.

There are a lot of us out there. I have two relatively young children (9 and 13) plus I now have my parents (84 and 75) living in the same town as I do. While I thought this would be beneficial to everyone, it has wound up being an incredibly stressful time in my life. My parents are having an especially hard time settling in—making friends, finding things to do, just about everything now requires my help. So my question is—what did they do when they were living 1200 miles away? How were they able to get around? They seem completely unable to do much of anything except go to the bank and the grocery store every day.

A couple of weeks ago my parents took the three of us out to see The Lion King. I'm sure we were all hoping for a fun time out watching a great show. The trouble was, I had 4 kids with me. I was constantly helping everyone. Literally all we had to do was park the car (that I drove), get to our seats, and sit and watch the show. End of story. Where we took a wrong turn is that everyone was starving, traffic had been bad so we weren't able to get lunch ahead of time, so we had to split the group up. Half went to get snacks and the other half waited in line to have our tickets taken. We all met up right outside the door and walked in.

When my dad left to go to the bathroom right before the show started, I thought that wasn't a smart idea, but I'm not going to be the one to stop him. When he didn't come back...at all...I started to get worried. My kids got worried. My mom didn't seem to notice.

I had to choose between staying with my kids and heading out to find my dad in the lobby of the theater (or wherever else he might have been). Now, let me just say, my dad is not one that wanders off. He doesn't have dementia, he's just older and has to go to the bathroom about 50 times a day. But since the theater was dark when he returned, he wasn't quite sure where we were and he didn't have his ticket with him to be able to ask for help.

I choose to stay with my kids, knowing that the theater was safe and that eventually we'd have an intermission and I'd be able to find dad. Intermission, lights up, and an usher came up to us and asked if someone from our party was missing. She took me back to the area near the entrance to actual theater (not the building) where people stand or sit waiting to go back to their seats. Dad was apparently able to see the whole show from where he was sitting. However, when the usher and I got back there, he was missing...again. I finally found him outside in the lobby and walked him back to our seats.

He sits down, eats a bit of his snack that was purchased an hour earlier. The bell goes off signaling the second act is about to start, AND HE GETS UP TO GO TO THE BATHROOM AGAIN! I nearly blew a gasket. At least this time I asked my son to get up and follow him, which he did. But dad sent him back to sit down. Fortunately the second act of Lion King starts with a lot of interaction in the audience and the lights were still up when he finished his business and came back down to sit with us.

We're still navigating my parents' living arrangements and whenever prompted, I suggest they head to the clubhouse or out to a restaurant or a community music performance or whatever other event might be happening at the time. But they nearly always choose to stay home. Now, the codependent in me would have been angry that they weren't listening to my suggestions. However, these days, I take it in stride. They are perfectly capable of making decisions, they are not incapacitated. If they make a wrong decision, then they make a wrong decision. But the point is, it's their decision. The world is not going to end if they choose to stay home rather than socialize at the clubhouse. And since there are many, many options for things to do around here, if they are bored, then it's their choice to be bored. It's not up to me to entertain them or point out all the options.

Spread Your Wings!

24 February 2015

On Being a Codependent

I am a recovering codependent and according to Wikipedia, my favorite "research" tool, codependent relationships are:

"a type of dysfunctional helping relationship where one person supports or enables another person's addiction, poor mental health, immaturity, irresponsibility, or under-achievement."  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Codependency
Side note: I actually hate Wikipedia because my more recent college students used it as a resource in oh so many papers. Crazy concept that everyone can contribute to an online encyclopedia. Also a crazy concept that anything on online is truthful. Lessons learned over and over again when the entries turned out to have misinformation. But I digress...in this case all I'm showing is a basic definition of "codependent."

Before I hit therapy and Al-Anon, I had never heard of the term "codependent." I heard people using it at Al-Anon and somehow I got it in my head that it much be someone who also had addictions and alcohol issues. And it sort of is...

I knew I wasn't an alcoholic, so I assumed that word didn't pertain to me. However, after about 6 months of attending Al-Anon weekly meetings and reading everything I could get my hands on, I started in with family therapy. That's when things changed. My therapist was awesome. It was the first time someone was actually helping me to understand what was going on in my life. We did role playing...what do I say if...what do I do if...she helped me and she helped my children. Most importantly, she helped me to learn to help my kids. They were hurting and I comforted them as best I could. But there were other things I learned to say to give them verbal cues to remember their sessions.

Getting back to codependency—I was always the fix-it person, the go-to person, and the Mother Hen of each and every professional position I held. I don't remember when it began, but I'm assuming sometime in my graduate work. Up until that point I was painfully shy and very introverted. But in my doctoral work I came out of my shell and start expressing my opinion. I guess I just finally matured enough to learn how to speak up.

My home life had been a series of negotiations, learning how to cope with parents who were constantly fighting and very negative to each other and to my brother and me. While our parents were there at every event to support us, we walked on eggshells everyday. I remember continually being told to be quiet, stopping fighting, stop making noise—kids make noise, by the way. You had to be careful when joking or teasing with my mom because at any given time, she would take it personally and then suddenly turn on you.

At some point in my childhood, I learned to cope with this environment, escape it as soon as I could, and then learn to deal with life on my own (usually making very poor decisions regarding my personal life). I learned to be the negotiator. I didn't like when people were treated badly and I wanted to right the wrongs of the world in order to make it a better place.

I still want to do that to a certain extent. Through therapy I had to unlearn a lot of natural tendencies. I finally figured out that I cannot fix every situation and I learned that I'm not necessarily helping someone by solving all their problems for him or her. I also learned that unless a person is a child or an invalid, there is no reason they can't solve their own problems. This is very different than offering your opinion when asked or helping someone out of an emergency or a tight spot.

My job is to be an administrator at a Montessori school, not to solve the world's problems. I can help in my little piece of the world, but everyone eventually needs to learn to fly solo. It's an important part of growing up and maturing. While it took me a good 27 years to figure out how to use my voice and speak my own opinions, hopefully the students at school will learn this process at a much younger age. And while I, of course, fall back on those fix-it tendencies, I do my best to keep everything in perspective and encourage everyone to make their own decisions.

Spread Your Wings!

22 February 2015

Recovery Books for Teens

There are many good groups to help teens and younger children through the issues of family alcoholism and addiction. My kids both attended a younger Alateen group, sometimes called Alatots. They both were very nervous at that first meeting, but as soon as they left the room, they both said they wanted to go back. There are no parents allowed in the room, so kids are able to say whatever they need to.  

Again, since I tend to read and read and read about issues, trying to solve the problem, I bought one of the Alateen books, a daily reader. It's the Alateen version of One Day at a Time. 

There are certainly others books available online here: http://www.al-anon.org/alateen-literature. But this one provided a quick lesson each day that they could take turns reading to or from the short drive to school.

My kids really enjoyed the Alateen meetings. They were given a chance to be in charge of the meeting at various times. Just like Al-Anon, the meetings are run by volunteers, so in the case of the Alateen group, the children took turns each week leading the Serenity Prayer or leading games or readings. They really liked having the opportunity to meet other kids their ages who were experiencing similar issues. 

They learned very quickly that none of the issues they were experiencing had anything to do with them. They also learned to express their feelings rather than leaving them bottled up inside until they either cried or screamed. These Alateen meetings were critical for the health and well-being during a very turbulent time.

Spread Your Wings!

21 February 2015

Recovery Books

When I first started with Al-Anon and then later therapy, I began reading everything I could get my hands on to try to understand what was taking place. I am a lifelong student and a former university professor, and I continue to work in education in my present position, post academia. So naturally I thought if I could just read up on the subject of alcoholism and addiction, I could figure out a way to fix the situation I was experiencing. Wrong!

Al-Anon has an extensive list of books, one of which is "One Day at a Time in Al-Anon." This is a daily reader with 365 entries. The purpose is to help to focus your energy on YOU, not the alcoholic in your life. You need to concentrate on fixing your interactions with the alcoholic and realize (and truly believe) that everyone is in charge of their own life. After a few months of Al-Anon, I realized the program was not about solving someone else's drinking/addiction problem, it was all about me. Fabulous book that I still read. There are many, many books (online and hard copy) that are available. I started here http://ecomm.al-anon.org/shop on my search for literature to "fix" my situation.

After about six months of Al-Anon, I started in therapy at a local group that specialized in family therapy and for those with drug and alcohol issues in their family. Again, I immediately asked the therapist for a reading assignment...something that would help me fix this problem. She was amazing and emailed me a list of about four books that would potentially be helpful. One in particular was recommended: Melody Beattie's "Codependent No More." Just reading the first chapter, I immediately identified with what the author was saying. This was a life-changing book for me. 

I'm not advocating spending hundreds of dollars on books or therapy. I have met many people through Al-Anon, who have never purchased a single Al-Anon book, but rather choose to work the program only by attending the free meetings. They have found solace in the group and didn't wish to pursue another road. I also know many people who seem to solve the issues entirely on their own. They have made peace with the situation and handled it in the way they believe is best. But if you do choose the route of therapy, there are many groups out there that work on a sliding scale so you pay only what you can afford if insurance doesn't cover the expenses. Check in your area for rehab centers. They can also offer family counseling and assistance.

Everyone has to choose his or her own path. Mine was to join support groups and read and share as much as possible. God is in control of my life and I never really believed that until I started this journey five years ago. I fought like crazy to fix things for the first few years until I got the help I needed. Once that happened, everything changed for the better. That doesn't mean everything has been rosy or easy—quite the opposite actually. But I am at peace now and that is everything.

Spread Your Wings!

20 February 2015

Al-Anon Progress, Not Perfection

I've mentioned a few of Al-Anon's slogans and I'd like to offer another one today. Life is about "Progress, Not Perfection." It's easy to get down on yourself if you slip back into old habits. But you need to just keep moving forward. It's the process of working on yourself that matters not the fact that you are/aren't perfect. None of us is perfect. So it's not fair to judge yourself (or others) by some artificially high standard. Rather, keep working to make yourself a better person and don't worry whether you achieve all of your goals. You likely will never be perfect by any standard. The important part is the journey.

I often slip back into states of anger and frustration over actions of uncaring people. I have to constantly remind myself that (1) I can't control them, (2) I didn't cause them to act selfishly, and (3) I'm not going to cure/teach/guilt them into making good decisions. It's up to the individual to do the right thing and no amount of me wanting them to change will actually change them. This is the basis of the "3 C's" I wrote about in an earlier post.

In addition to not being upset by bad behavior, a therapist once told me that I shouldn't be surprised when people act the way they've been acting. So if someone has been acting selfishly or arrogantly or erratically, then why does it seem to always surprise me when they do it again?! Shouldn't surprise me at all. What should surprise me (and in a pleasant way) is when they do the right thing and make the right choices. 

Food for thought and that's a lot to chew on. :)

Spread Your Wings!

19 February 2015

My amazing son

Those of you who actually know me or even those of you who don't really know me, but read the blog will know that I'm not a crier at all. But last night at Liam's Parent Demonstration Night, he gave me this. What an awesome young man I have!

Spread Your Wings!

17 February 2015

Al-Anon's 3 C's

The slogans of Al-Anon/Alateen are helpful sayings to learn to cope with a situation that is out of your hands. These apply to not only the alcoholic in your life, but to life in general. The first one I learned was "The 3 C's." I didn't cause it, I can't control it, and I can't cure it. When my son was going through our situation, he was often angry and frustrated at school and specifically at other students. We attended weekly Alateen meetings and saw a therapist. But the gentle reminder of the Al-Anon/Alateen slogan helped when someone was doing something that was pissing him off (deliberate or unintentional). 

At first it's rote memorization. I didn't cause it, I can't control it, I can't cure it. But after a while, you start to actually believe the words you're saying and things change for the better. I remember attending an Al-Anon meeting where a new person basically said that slogan was a bunch of bunk. She was going to cure her son. She was going to make sure he went to rehab and got the help he needed. She was going to fix the world. Instead of arguing with her, those who were leading the meeting simply said, "Keep coming back." That is the standard answer. Helping yourself realize that you can't cure the alcoholic or addict is hard. You want to fix a bad situation. But if you believe that Al-Anon and Alateen can help, then you 'keep going back' and very quickly learn you cannot be responsible for another person (unless they are an infant or incapacitated). 

There are a lot of things that are out of my control...almost everything except what I do and think. Living by the 3 C's has helped me to not overreact when someone says or does something with which I disagree.

Spread Your Wings!

16 February 2015


If you've ever attended an Al-Anon meeting (and I'm guessing AA, too), you will likely have heard Q-TIP, Quit Taking It Personally. In other words, you cannot be responsible for what comes out of someone else's mouth, nor can you be responsible for what idiotic actions (in your opinion) someone else pulls. So don't take things personally. They are not necessarily acting out against you, they are merely either unable to behave within some kind of "normal" frame or they simply have a different opinion of what "normal" is according to their irrational mind.

Q-TIP has permeated every aspect of my life and my children's. Instead of being frustrated with a student at school, I just remind my son to quit taking it personally. That kid isn't doing x, y, or z to bother you. He's just trying to get your attention.

The alcoholic's drinking has absolutely nothing to do with the rest of his or her family. His actions are a reflection of who he or she is at that time. He or she may or may not ever stop drinking. They may never realize the damage they've done. There are a million excuses why they drink, but none of them actually has anything to do with you.  Al-Anon teaches that the alcoholic drinks because it's a disease and until the alcoholic is willing to admit he needs to see a doctor (and actually listens to the doctor), there will be no cure. If someone has cancer, they usually go to a doctor. If someone broke their arm, they usually go to a doctor. Very few people have the ability to heal a broken limb, so they opt to see a professional who can cure them. Alcoholism is similar. I personally know of one recovering alcoholic who was able to quit on his own with his wife's help. Short of that person, every recovering alcoholic has needed the support of a group like AA, a pastor, or another sponsor to help them through this process.

On the other hand, many spouses, children, and friends of alcoholics don't believe they have any part in the process. That is completely wrong. I was a co-dependent in the relationship and I thought I could fix everything. Once I was taught by Al-Anon that the alcoholic's drinking had nothing to do with me and once I really believed that, I started to change in my approach to that relationship. Actually I started to change in many of my relationships. While it's often hard to remember to Q-TIP, whenever I feel personally attacked by someone's words or actions, I try to remember that they are not attacking me, but just disagreeing. This sounds really simple, but it's not. I just keep trying to remember to not take anything personally. Someone is entitled to their opinion, whether they agree with me or not. Just a I'm entitled to my opinion. The alcoholic can and will continue to drink until he or she realizes they need help. That situation and all the other inappropriate behavior that goes along with the drinking, is not a personal attack on me. Rather, it's an alcoholics inability to recognize they need help.

So Spread Your Wings...because...

15 February 2015

Coping with Aging Parents

I left the academic life five years ago and have not regretted one minute since then. Everything has changed, some for the better, some not. In August 2014, my parents moved from West Chester, Ohio to Homestead, where I live. They wanted to be near to my kids and me and to help us through a rough patch during the divorce time.

Their transition has been a very rough one—for all of us.  The things I thought would be difficult (e.g. moving to a predominantly Spanish-speaking area), aren't the issue. It's been little things like remembering to pay the bills, learning the cable TV channels in Miami, and finding restaurants they like. I keep hoping that little by little they will adapt, but so far they haven't.

When they first moved, they spent about 6 weeks with us, living in the guest house. Even then, I had an inkling this wasn't going to be as easy as I thought it might be. I'll leave it at that and try to write bits and piece over the next few weeks.

The main thing I would like to leave you all with is that had I not been prepared by Al-Anon to not accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference, I do not think I would have been able to continue to help my parents, despite the daily (sometimes hourly) frustrations...

Spread Your Wings!

14 February 2015

Happy Valentine's Day!

So I made it through the wedding today. It was nice, but one word of warning: if you attend a wedding or even better yet, if you are *in* a wedding...please avoid chewing gum. I don't think I need to say anything else on this. But when everyone in the first two rows at the church is chewing on gum at a beautiful wedding, it kind of makes me laugh inside...

Looking forward to a great evening with my kids, my friends, and my friends' kids. :) More than anything, though, I look forward to Valentine's Day next year! By then, so many unfinished "things" will be finished. This year is going to be a great one, despite the small obstacles.

Happy Valentine's Day, everyone!

Spread Your Wings!

13 February 2015

Irony on Friday the 13th

Today is Friday, February 13th...the day before Valentine's Day. So I did not miss the irony in the fact that I received a call a couple of weeks ago to play a wedding gig tomorrow. No, God has a funny sense of humor and today the joke is on me.  Going through a messy divorce is not the time to be playing a wedding. However, a little old lady friend of mine asked me to play for her grandson's wedding, so I couldn't turn her down. 

When the mother of the bride called, she gave me all the details and then said, "The wedding is on Valentine's Day. I hope you don't have plans." To which I replied, "I'm going through a very frustrating divorce right now. I haven't had Valentine's Day plans in 3 years!" So the gig is on.

Tonight I will be sitting through the wedding rehearsal...trying not to make snide comments...

Now Spread Your Wings and eat chocolate!

12 February 2015


One of the most important lessons I've learned through Al-Anon is that the only person I can control is me. While I could control my children (to a certain extent) when they were babies, they certainly had those outbursts and temper tantrums where they were out of control. It's normal. 

Al-Anon taught me to "Let Go and Let God." Under those terms, I began to accept that I am powerless to control anything except what I do and say. In Al-Anon, God is defined as a "higher power." This could be in the form of a religious or spiritual figure or in some cases I heard people referring to their "higher power" as the Al-Anon group itself. I don't really need to go into a lot of detail here. I believe in God and I believe he is in control. So when I am frustrated that the car in front of me isn't moving fast enough (usually when I'm running late to work) or I get angry that adults in my life act like children, I really try to focus on the fact that God is in control, not me. It's His time, not mine. 

When I was able to move from saying those words to believing those words, everything changed. Oh, don't get me wrong. I still get anxious when people don't move fast enough on my way to work. But I (usually) don't feel the need to flash my lights or bang on the steering wheel. I take a deep breath and remind myself that I can't control how fast someone else is driving. Only that person can...

verb (used with object)controlled, controlling.
to exercise restraint or direction over; dominate; command.
to hold in check; curb:
to control a horse; to control one's emotions.
to test or verify (a scientific experiment) by a parallel experiment orother standard of comparison.
to eliminate or prevent the flourishing or spread of:
to control a forest fire.
Obsolete. to check or regulate (transactions), originally by means of aduplicate register.
the act or power of controlling; regulation; domination or command:
Who's in control here?
the situation of being under the regulation, domination, or commandof another:
The car is out of control.
check or restraint:
Her anger is under control.
a legal or official means of regulation or restraint:
to institute wage and price controls.
Statistics. control variable (def 1).
a person who acts as a check; controller.
a device for regulating and guiding a machine, as a motor or airplane.

Spread Your Wings!

11 February 2015


The first time I attended an Al-Anon meeting, I was completely nervous. I was determined to go for my kids, who would be attending the Alateen meeting in the next room. My pastor's wife went with us. She had grown up with issues her family, too, but had never attended a meeting either. We sat there and listened to the stories for about an hour. It wound up being one of the most reassuring things in my life. I heard stories similar to mine—people in all phases of the process and people from all walks of life.

If you've never attended a meeting, but are interested here is a link where you can find a place: http://al-anon.org/. You don't have to say anything. You can sit there and listen. And you'll have others sitting side by side with you doing the exact same thing.

Yes, I attended my first meeting for my kids, but wound up spending two years attending nearly every week because I also needed to be there.

Spread Your Wings!

10 February 2015

Words to Live by...2

Spread Your Wings! (and handle the stress like I do!)

09 February 2015

05 February 2015

Birthday Festivities...Not!

Today is my 49th birthday and I'm totally sick. Thought I'd head to school and enjoy the day telling jokes with the kids and I wound up flat on my back with a cold. All in all, this will still be a great day because I am blessed with two wonderful kids and many, many great friends.

That's all for now, but there's lots to catch up on!

Spread Your Wings!