Friday, December 11, 2015

The Next Chapter

And so it begins. A lot of my life over the last five years involved helping to care for my parents. Dad died in 2012, and Mom died this past July. Four days of every week during that time, I was focused almost completely on their needs. I visited Peoria for two days most weeks. The day before was always my “knot in stomach” day as I anticipated all the things that could happen during my two-day “date with Alzheimer’s,” as I called it. Then the first day after I returned home was just pure exhaustion, mostly brain drain, as I recovered from my visit. The visits were often fine, but the anticipation was difficult. And the “being on” all the time was exhausting. It reminded me a lot of when I was first teaching, and I would come home, drop everything and collapse on the couch.

I feel good about the time I spent with my folks. As I’ve said, Dad was always more of a challenge because he had never lived by anyone else’s rules, but we got through it. Mom’s decline was challenging, but her sweet and funny self stayed with her to the end, for which my sister and I will be forever grateful.

So what now? First let me say with absolute sincerity, I would take Mom back in a heartbeat, Alzheimer’s and all. Spending time with her the past three years, even on our worst day, was always a joy and a gift, and if I could turn the clock back, I would do it.

But we all know the rules. I will have to wait to see her again. In the meantime…..

I’m going to appreciate every day I’m given, and I’m going to live my life in the best way I can – enjoying everything possible, being kind and trying to make a difference, spending time with the people who matter, and laughing until I pee (which doesn’t take nearly as long to achieve these days).

To Move or Not to Move?
For a long time now, I have considered moving closer to my children. Ok, since the day I became a grandma, I have considered moving closer to my grandchildren. Being three hours away is tough, and in my opinion, it’s about 2-1/2 hours too far.

Having said that, let me also say, I do not want to raise my grandchildren. Obviously I would step in if needed in those horrible situations I won’t even think about. Assuming all is reasonably normal though, let me say it again. I do not want to raise my grandchildren. I want to play with them, laugh with them, love them to pieces, snuggle with them, spoil them, enjoy every second with them, and then happily give them back to their parents so I can go home and enjoy the quiet. Being Gaya is the best gig I have ever had, and I do not want that to change.

But I can help more. I have the time, and it pains me sometimes that I could help if I were a little bit closer. As I’ve said before, my son-in-law, Scott, has to travel a lot for work. So Leah often has her hands full with those two very active little guys, in addition to her full-time teaching job. Sometimes just having another set of hands is helpful; and if one of the kids is sick, I can step in so she can work, or even better, sleep. Also, I can see the concerts, the soccer games, the ball games, swimming lessons, all those things that I could just pop over and see or do if I weren't so far away.

Actually, I’ve already got my eye on an area. It’s a Del Webb community for seniors in Huntley, Illinois. They have a restaurant, gym, walking track, two pools, trails, all kinds of things to do if I’m interested, including trips into the city to see shows, and get this…..they mow your yard and plow your snow. What is not to love about that deal?? And, I’d actually be one of the youngest in the crowd for a change! That hasn’t happened for a very long time!

Also, north of I-80, there’s Portillo’s, Giordano’s, Woodfield Mall, IKEA, and my favorite two words, yes, let’s say it together………Super. Target. Hallelujah!!

Of course, I will miss my beloved Avanti’s, Filippo’s, Peking House, Los Zarapes, and not just restaurants, but a few friends as well. But I also have friends north of I-80, and the world is smaller now. As I’ve demonstrated recently, I can fly to see one dear friend in Oregon, and then catch up with another great one in Florida. Granted, in hindsight, it probably was not the best planning on my part, but the point is I can get places.

And, I’m not leaving Lindsay out of this plan. I will be 45 minutes down the road from a major hub airport, so depending on where she is living in any given year (no bets here), I can fly to see her! Same if the kids should move away from Elgin. And of course, there's always a beach calling my name.

I don’t mean this to sound doomy and gloomy, but I have learned the hard lesson along the way, that tomorrow is not guaranteed, and I don’t know if and when Alzheimer’s will arrive, but I expect it will show up at some point. Mom always called it the family curse, and I think she may be right about that. So I’m not going to fear it. I’m going to live my life while I can, whether it’s flying to Ireland or snuggling up with a good book all day. Every day will matter.

So, bring on the bucket list and give me a planner. This girl’s got some stuff to do….

Monday, November 16, 2015

Rose and Roo – Together Again

I have been preparing for this day for a long time. “My” kitty, Roo, is 18 years old. I know it’s time. I know we’ve been on borrowed time. And I know what I need to do. But it’s ok (I tell myself). He needs to go be with his Rose.

When my Parker doggy died in 2007, I was heartbroken. I didn’t want another dog if I couldn’t have Parker, so I thought I’d just be by myself for a while. A couple of days after he left me, I noticed as I got in my car that I didn’t have my phone. I went back into the house, and said, “It’s just me…..” and I realized ….. I was speaking ….. to no one.

I thought that day that perhaps I did need another four-legged family member, not a dog, but maybe a cat. I made the mistake of mentioning this to my friend, Tonya, the animal whisperer, and she was very happy to encourage me. She smiled with a bit of delight, and said, “Wanna visit the shelter? It’s still opennnn......” I should have known better, but I agreed.

Fast forward to meeting one of the original grumpy cats. He didn’t want to snuggle. He didn’t even want to come out of his cage. He was nine years old, kind of an old fart, but there was a sweetness that drew me to him, and I had a feeling most people wouldn’t even notice him. Most people, I figured, would want the cute little, baby kitties. So I went with the least obvious choice, and after visiting again the next day, I told the staff I wanted to adopt Roo. I could hear the collective sigh of relief as I’m sure they all thought this guy was going to live his days out at the shelter. Nope. I decided we would rescue each other.

As I said, there was something sweet about him. He had been adopted from the shelter at four years old and brought back to the shelter five years later. Don’t even get me started on that. I feel my blood start to boil every time I think about someone doing that to this sweet boy. Who gives a sweet kitty back to the shelter after five years for no legitimate reason?? Well huh, I guess I got myself started, didn’t I?

Ok, taking a breath….I was told he was afraid of men and children. That turned out not to be true. He liked everybody. I suspected he had been locked in a room for a considerable amount of time because he hated closed doors. Seriously, if you felt the need to be bitched out by a cat, just close a door.

So the doors stayed open. And I gave him his space. And we were there for each other. And all was well.

When Dad died in 2012, Mom talked a lot about getting a dog. The idea of companionship was one we liked, but we were worried about all the care a dog would need, and we were afraid she could trip over the dog and fall. As my sister and I were discussing how we might possibly make this work, I had to go on two weeklong trips, and I mentioned that my neighbor would be taking care of Roo. Mom suggested I bring Roo to her, and she would take care of him. So we all thought, “Why not?”

And that begins the love story of Rose and Roo. When Roo and I arrived in Peoria, about 1-1/2 hours from my house (translates as 1-1/2 hours of Roo chewing me out – not a fan of car rides either), I put him down just inside the door, and suddenly I felt like the third wheel. (Cue harp music.) Mom quickly fell in love with Roo, and the grumpy old man fell fast in love with her. I thought at the time that I might not get this cat back. And I was correct.

The next time I was at Mom’s house, it was clear Roo needed to stay there. She was spoiling him rotten, and he was sucking up to her like nothing I’d ever seen. There had always been rules about animals not being on the furniture. Suddenly those rules didn’t exist. Mom first had said she didn’t want him on her bed. Then she said he could be on the bed, but not under the covers. By the time I returned, he was sleeping on the pillow next to her head. He was shameless.

She’d sit at the kitchen table, and he’d come in the kitchen and sit by her chair. That, to her, was the universal sign for “Poor kitty is starving and needs a treat.” I tried to tell her she shouldn’t feed him that much. Have you ever tried to tell a Jewish mother that she shouldn’t feed anyone too much? If so, you’re laughing right now.

The cutest thing, though, was when it was time for bed. In the evening, she would be sitting in her favorite living room chair, and Roo would come out from the bedroom and jump up on the arm of the chair and meow. A lot. And she would look at him and say, “Hi, Roo, is it time for bed?” He would meow, and off they’d go, because Roo had declared it so.

I realized at some point that he was meant to come to me that day in 2007, but only because I was meant to connect him with Mom. He ended up staying with her for 3-1/2 more years. Sometimes I’d whisper to him, “Don’t go anywhere yet. You need to stick around for her” because I couldn’t bear the thought of him going first. She was his constant companion, and he was hers.

So when Mom passed away, I figured Roo wouldn’t be far behind. It’s been a little over four months now, and I know it’s time. I’m really ok with it. I’m not happy about saying goodbye to him, but I do believe his calling was to care for Mom. And he did his job well.

I know he’s going to the rainbow bridge, and I have a feeling a certain great friend of his will be waiting for him. Probably with food. Just guessing.

Have fun, you two.

Friday, November 6, 2015


I’ve been thinking about moms a lot lately. Obviously, I think about my own mama. I also spend time with my girl, Leah, and I’m in awe of her ability to take care of her two young boys while teaching full-time and often having to do it all while Scott travels for work. Although she would say sometimes she’s barely staying afloat, the truth is she is incredible, and even on a bad day, she’s still good.

I’ve also had reason to think even more about my friend, Mindy, whom I’ve written about before. She died in 2001 when her daughter, Rachel, was just 12 years old. Well, her beautiful Rachel got married a few weeks ago. Rachel has spent a lot of years living without her mama’s physical presence, and I know it’s been terribly rough for her, but she’s become this amazing young woman who makes me so proud. And I couldn’t have designed a better man to be her husband. John is the real deal, and I knew that the first time I met him.

So there was much to celebrate. And I was not going to be sad on Rachel’s wedding day. It would not have been fair to Rachel, and I know without question that I would have been letting her mama down if I was. So I geared up. Sometimes you just have to be stronger than you feel. On the actual wedding day, as I was getting ready, I was giving myself the same pep talk that this would be a happy day, and I would not be sad. (I repeated that to myself a lot.) As I was doing this, I happened to catch sight of my mouse tattoo in the mirror. Mindy had become known as our Mindy Mouse (funny story that I can’t relay here), so I got a tattoo on my shoulder so she would always be with me. I don’t always notice it’s there, but I thought seeing it that day was a sign – that she was present, and it would be a happy day.

And it was. Rachel was a beautiful, beautiful bride. There was a great amount of joy and laughter the whole day, and Rachel’s daddy threw an excellent party. I only had one moment – when the mothers were being walked in – and I thought, “Dammit, I did not prepare myself for this part!” But I took a breath and continued to be happy. I owed it to Rachel, and I owed it to Mindy.

Not long ago, in talking with the hospice social worker, I told her that I felt guilty grieving for my mom, because Rachel had lost her mother when she was so young, and my mom had had a long, happy life, and I’d had so much more time with her. She told me that age has nothing to do with grief. She said she had a client who was in her 80s and lost her mother who was 103 years old, and it was as painful for her as it is for anyone else. Before Mom died, I would have thought differently. I get it now. It hurts at any age.

I have to tell you this story about my mom and her mother. Our grandma lived with us for a couple of years when I was young. My mom’s sister told Mom to let her know when it got to be too hard, and she would come from New York to get her. Things got tougher, and Mom called her sister, who did come to get our grandma, and she took her back to New York and put her in a nursing home. (You can only imagine what the nursing home was like back then.) My mom was traumatized the rest of her life. She said she had no idea that her sister would do that, and if she had known, she would have put our grandma in a nursing home in Peoria so she could still visit her. The idea of her mother – who had dementia and didn’t speak English – feeling scared and abandoned stayed with our mother even after she had dementia herself.

My sister and I knew of this, and our fear was always that we would have to place Mom in a nursing home, which was Mom’s biggest fear, or that she would be alone and scared when she passed, which was the other thing she dreaded.

Fast forward to her stay in Lutheran Hillside, where she was surrounded with kindness, compassion, respect and love. We couldn’t have asked for a better place for her to leave us. And although saying goodbye to someone so incredibly vital and dear to us, well, you know it wasn’t easy, but while my sister and I were with her, with us each holding a hand, our mom said, “I see my mother.” My sister and I looked at each other, and I asked Mom if that made her happy, and without missing a beat, she said, “Yes.” I kid you not. If I saw this in a movie, I think I would have been a bit cynical, but my sister was there too. We both knew then, that it was time. She finally got to be with her mother, and we needed to let go of ours.

So the good news is, and I believed this before, but I know it for sure now, I will see my mama again. I’m not at all in any hurry to go, mind you, but when it’s time, I know it'll be ok.

(Still not gonna tell her about the tattoo though.)

Friday, August 28, 2015

Loving My People

After my last post, which was shortly after my mama’s funeral, I had to check out for a while. As I mentioned before, I learned exhaustion can be a big part of grief, and it surely has been a huge part of mine. Although I found myself tearing up much more than I usually do, it was the exhaustion that would hit me like a freight train. Every day at some point, I had to stop everything I was doing and close my eyes, sometimes for several hours. Then I realized one day I had gone all day without a nap break. I thought it was a fluke, but then a few days later, it happened again. Now I’m back to most days being ok. Not all days, but I feel like I can function a bit more, and the fog is finally starting to lift. I’m still going easy on myself, but I’m starting to feel human again. I understand, though, that grief is a process, and I feel better, but I know something as powerful as losing my mom will take time.

Last time I posted, I wrote about so many of the kindnesses we experienced in the care and then loss of my mom. The things I have to say now are a bit more personal. I don’t think it’s a secret to anyone who knows me that I love my girls and those two baby boys more than anything in the world. Truly more than anything. I am so proud of them, and the amazing thing is just when I think I couldn’t be prouder, they prove me wrong.

My girls had such a beautiful relationship with their Grandma Rose. I remember hearing once that parents should light up when their children walk in the room. I always felt that from my mama. I always felt she was happy to see me and genuinely interested in my life, what was happening, what I was thinking and feeling. And that welcome, the joy, the happiness that she felt when I walked in the room was not even remotely close to how she would light up when she saw her granddaughters. We always laughed about how the Gs, as we referred to them, would be ridiculously excited when they’d see the girls out on their step. They’d hug them, kiss them, spin them around and hurry them inside so they could play with them or show them a new toy or read them a book or feed them or whatever. And Dave and I would often be left outside to carry everything in. We became the afterthought. Sometimes we’d be lucky enough to get an, “Oh, hi!” Uh, huh, we got it. We were the chauffeurs, and that was pretty much our job, although I will say they did feed us and let us use the facilities, so there’s that.

I don’t have to tell you how hard it was for the girls to lose their grandma. What I want to tell you is how amazing they were in her last days. They put aside their own sadness and focused on their grandma. Leah came down with the boys, and Grandma Rose was overjoyed to see them. Leah spent time alone with her grandma, which they both needed. Matt held up his Great Gaya's favorite items so she could see them. We took her outside for some fresh air. Matt “helped” to push her wheelchair, and she was very appreciative. Nathan pulled himself up to get closer to her. Even his very young self knew she was special. And yes, she would light up every time she saw either boy.

Matt, of course, could only sit still for a while, a short while, so he took it upon himself to monitor the hallway to make sure no one fell and got hurt. You can only imagine how much he brightened people’s days. Another sign of a good care center – when children are not only allowed, but welcomed. Lutheran Hillside was big on that. Then when he felt things were ok in Great Gaya’s hallway, he would take Aunt Boo (also known as Lindsay) and go to all the other hallways to make sure those people were ok too. One man saw us walking with the boys and asked if we could visit his wife so she could enjoy a minute with them. Of course, we did. I’m happy that Matt lost most of his initial discomfort with old or sick people, that he understood it was important to visit with them and be kind to them. We didn’t have to tell him that. He just knew it because he has a kind soul (and wonderful parents).

Leah had to say her goodbye and head home with the boys because four years old and nine months old do not a peaceful situation make. She had a talk with Matthew later, explaining what was happening and that if he saw his mommy or gaya crying, this was the reason, and it was ok to be sad. Matt climbed up in his mommy’s lap, and the two of them did some of that ok crying. I have to admit, I hadn’t thought Matt would really get what was happening, but he also had a relationship with that wonderful woman.

Lindsay was able to spend more time with us, and watching her with her grandma was also a beautiful thing. She would sit and talk with her, she’d stroke her arms and put lotion on her, and she would give her drinks and put lip balm on her lips.  I know we didn’t specifically teach the girls these things, but somehow they knew exactly what to do. At one point, I recall them saying that Grandma Rose always did those things for them. True story.

I also have to mention my other people – some related and others chosen. I am so blessed to have so many good friends. I read this once – true friends are those who will drop everything and come cross-country if you need them. I can name right now at least ten people who fit that description. How lucky am I?? The interesting thing was during all the days I was with Mom, not a day went by that I didn’t get a text or an email or a message from at least one of them asking if I was ok, if I had gotten any sleep, if I needed anything, that they were thinking about me. It didn’t surprise me really, because that’s why they’re my close friends, but it was almost as if it were coordinated. It couldn’t have been, because they don’t all know each other, and they live all over the country. The point of this, though, is good friends are always there, and I am so lucky to know what true friendship is.

Well, you know how the story ends, but as hard as the goodbye was, the joy of having had this amazing woman in our lives far outweighs the sadness.

I’m going to stop here, but I might still have a little more to say. Shocking, I know. I’ll be back.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Losing Mom - Lessons to Remember

As many of you know, my mom, Rose Weinberg, passed away recently. I have to admit it’s hitting me harder than I expected it would. But this is not about being sad. Everyone gets that part. This is about so many wonderful things I experienced and witnessed over the past weeks. There is a lot of good in the world, and it has not gone unnoticed.

Here’s the nutshell version – Mom, who was entering the late stages of her Alzheimer’s journey, had two small strokes, which put her in the hospital. After the strokes were diagnosed, she was transferred to a rehab facility, but after about a week there, one thing seemed to lead to another, and a few weeks after that, hospice was called, and you know how the story goes.

There are some things worth passing along to others who have to lose someone dear to them. So this is Andee’s Guide to Some Things Worth Knowing if You Have to Lose Someone Dear. (Forgive me. I'm not into thinking up good titles at the moment. I did just lose my mother, you know.)

So, back to the hospital (Methodist, now Unity Point, in Peoria), where everyone ….. EVERYONE ….. was lovely, compassionate and kind, and, not surprising to us, they quickly fell in love with Mom, with more than one person saying they would like to take her home with them. One of our favorite nurses, Matt, said to us, “She’s so cute, I just want to pick her up and SQUEEZE HER!”

And speaking of Matt, who was a lovely, kind and happily engaged man, on her first day in the hospital…..yes, her first day… I was sitting next to her bed, and Matt was doing something nurselike on the other side of the bed, Mom looked at me, let her eyes go over to Matt, and back to me, and then raised her eyebrows with that inquisitive, “Yes?” look. That’s right ..… Jewish mother to the end. Seriously, Mom, could you give yourself, I don’t know, 48 hours before you get back to finding me a husband?
Lesson #1 – Always be able to find the funny.

I have to tell you my thoughts on the medical care professionals in general. Every single person we encountered was simply amazing. The nurses, the CNAs (certified nursing assistants), the APNs (advanced practice nurses), all the therapists and diagnosticians, and the people in housekeeping and dietary services – all were amazing. The doctors were great too, but most of them were not a part of the actual care given to actual people, so on this particular subject, they are not at the top of the list. We needed their knowledge and brainpower, but once we had that, they moved on to diagnosing the next case, and we moved on to Mom's care.

So, back to the rock stars. If you are in the medical care profession, and you ever wonder if you are making a difference, I promise you that you are. One of the beautiful things we will always keep with us is the way our mother, along with our family, was treated by each and every one of you. And it’s not just about the care. Your knowledge impressed us to no end. But the kindness, the care, the compassion …… trust me, you are making a difference.
Lesson #2 – Always notice and appreciate the kindnesses.

Ok, this one's important. I happened to stay over at Mom’s house because we knew something wasn’t quite right, and I was going to take her to Urgent Care in the morning. When I woke up, I went in to her bedroom to see her sitting up and getting dressed. As I was saying, “Well, look at you, already up and moving,” she told me something wasn’t quite right, which isn’t unusual with all the Alzheimer’s challenges, but I quickly realized she couldn’t move her right arm. I knew the acronym to determine if someone is having a stroke. I knew it started with F, for facial symmetry; and then A, for arm movement. I then couldn’t remember the next letter in the word. So that all of you reading this will not have to utter the words, “Son of a bitch! Is it FACE or FAST??” I will tell you, it is FAST.
F: Face – Does one side of the face droop if the person smiles?
A: Arms – If the person raises his/her arms, does one drop downward?
S: Speech – Is the speech slurred or strange?
T: Time – If you observe one the above signs, call 9-1-1 immediately.
Lesson #3 – Remember the acronym F-A-S-T if you think someone may be having a stroke. (Remembering the word F-A-C-E will not help you after the A.)

Fortunately, my brain kicked in and said, “Andee, her arm is not moving. Call 9-1-1.” I do appreciate that my brain sometimes thinks all on its own when I forget to use it. And, of course, we got to the ER, thanks to all the lovely people who show up when you do call 9-1-1.

So, after the diagnosis, Mom was discharged to a rehab facility. My sister and I had visited facilities in Peoria several years ago when we realized at some point, we would probably need to make some decisions regarding our parents’ living arrangements. We visited several nice facilities, but when we walked into Lutheran Hillside Village in Peoria, we saw they had a resident dog. That sealed the deal for me because I firmly believe if anywhere outside a private home has a resident pet, that is a sign that real humans work there. To say this was correct is an understatement.
Lesson #4 – Pay some attention to the sales pitch when looking for potential services for your parents, but really notice the little things – like resident pets – and things like smells, smiles, and how you feel when you are there.

If you have parents or others in a care situation where they may not be capable of making decisions for themselves, I cannot stress enough that you need to be their advocate. That doesn’t mean you have to start fights. It doesn’t mean you have to be difficult. It just means you have to ask questions, you need to make sure all the messages get transferred accordingly (i.e., hospital to care center), and you need to speak up when something doesn’t feel right.

We had one of those instances, and we spoke up. I learned quickly that once the people in authority became involved, things happened. Learn who the people in authority are. (I should have done this sooner.) The good ones, and we had some great ones (Robin and Wade), will make a huge difference.
Lesson #5 – Be your parents’ advocates, and learn who can make decisions. Then do not hesitate to speak up if something doesn’t feel right.

When I spoke of the medical profession earlier, I was talking about the people at Methodist Hospital, but I can say the very same things about the people at Lutheran Hillside Village. We said this in Mom’s obituary, and it was so completely true – the people at Lutheran Hillside cared for Mom as if she were one of their own. They were compassionate and funny and respectful and loving, and as we all were realizing it was Mom’s time to go, they shed tears along with us.

And they didn’t just care for her. They cared for us. When Susan, my sister, and Lindsay and I decided we would just camp in Mom’s room with her, breakfast trays started arriving in the mornings. One night when I was sleeping in my two chairs, two lovely CNAs (I'm so sorry I can't remember both names!) woke me because they were bringing in a recliner. As I climbed into the chair to fall back asleep, I felt a pillow being put under my head and a blanket being placed over me. Always, always will I keep that with me. Then a cot appeared when someone (I’m told it was Robin) saw Lindsay sleeping on the floor.

They made sure we ate meals. They sent us out for walks. And, how’s this for a Touched By an Angel moment? One of our favorite nurses, LaRosa, started working there the day before Mom was admitted. She and Mom had a bond that was simply magical. Rosa would whisper in Mom’s ear kindnesses that were helping her along the way. And yes, the fact that we considered LaRosa to be one of our angels…… and she started there a day before Mom came in…….is not lost on me. Coincidence? You decide.

Tamika brightened every day, Trudy exuded quiet competence, and Angel knew a lot…..about nursing and about Mom. When she hugged me goodbye, she told me it was a blessing for her to serve our mother and our family. I appreciated that, but I already knew it because I felt it. There were so many others – Angie the speech therapist who “got” Mom instantly, and Yarl, the occupational therapist who said to Mom, “Loss of memory does not take away from the beautiful person you are.” There were so many kindnesses.
Lesson #6 – Refer to Lesson #2. Repeat often as needed.

There’s more, but I’ll stop here for now. I need another nap. The hospice social worker told me today that exhaustion is a big part of grief, and I need to be good to myself. That is not something that comes easily to me, but I’m going to try.

More to come….

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Bullying is Never Acceptable

I’m still glowing from wedding joy, but I have to return to the real world. Over the past days, a story has surfaced involving the University of Illinois Women’s Basketball Program. Four players have transferred to other programs; an assistant coach has resigned, effective immediately; and three sets of parents have written to the university higher-ups with allegations of abuse, harassment, creation of racial tensions and general nastiness that is affecting the entire program. Two other sets of parents have written letters defending the coaches, saying their daughters have not experienced any of the above.

This has troubled me so much that I cannot stop thinking about it. I cannot stop thinking about it because I have been in a similar situation, and I have watched another similar situation. The fact that bullying may be legal does not make it acceptable, and it is incumbent on those in authority to put a stop to it.

(Disclaimer: I don’t know anyone in the UI Women’s Basketball Program, and I am in no way accusing anyone of anything. I am speaking strictly from my own experience and what I have witnessed personally, and how eerily similar these allegations are.]

This is what I know. Abusers divide and conquer. Abusers create tensions between people who otherwise would work beautifully as a team. Abusers make inappropriate comments to people and then say they were misunderstood if anyone is offended and/or complains about it. Abusers can be especially nasty to individuals when no one is watching and then can appear to be completely opposite to those same individuals when there are witnesses.

People who are being abused or watching abuse change. Their body language changes. Their behavior changes. Their ability to be productive changes. And it’s important to remember that abusers don’t abuse everybody, so some people don’t understand why others are having a problem. That’s all part of the “divide and conquer” approach. Another symptom of a toxic environment – people leave. If people have other options, or sometimes even if they don’t, they leave. Most importantly, the tone is set at the top, and if the person/people at the top do not tolerate abuse and bad behavior, it doesn’t happen, or if it is happening, it ends, because they take action.

Having said that, let’s review: Four players have transferred to other programs, and an assistant coach has resigned. That SCREAMS that there is a problem.

For the full texts of the three parent letters, see the above link. This is all now public record.

These are various points made in one letter:

  1. Coach Bollant has systematically tried to create racial tension among the team.
  2. He has verbally abused and berated girls based on personal attributes that have nothing to do with basketball (such as their intellectual ability).
  3. He has systematically tried to discourage team members to the point of voluntary scholarship withdrawal, particularly players that were in the program before he became head coach.
  4. Without reasonable cause or violation, on numerous occasions he has threatened to take players scholarships, including telling them not to bother to renew their apartment leases because they would not be remaining with the team.
  5. [He is] showing extreme preference in what could only be perceived as attempts to belittle and discourage all but the favored players.

From another letter:
We dropped [our daughter] off a happy, healthy, 143-pound athlete that was excited to be a part of something special. What we got was a depressed, overweight, under confident, abused, bullied young shell of our daughter. We were shocked and greatly disturbed by our daughter's appearance only after 6 weeks.
The two head coaches used their power to dominate these young women mentally and verbally, which silenced their voices as women. We as parents have had to re-instill in our daughters that their treatment was not normal and not OK.

Then from the third letter:
With Coach Bollant's full knowledge, Coach Divilbiss would verbally attack players on and off the court about personal issues in their lives. 

This is what is the most troubling to me, and forgive me for stating the obvious. This is the University of Illinois. These are talented and bright young women who have been verbally beaten down. This is not just tough love. These are all the symptoms of abuse and bullying. It should not happen to anyone, but the fact that it is allegedly happening at the University of Illinois? As one parent letter said, and this is heartbreaking to me: “Let me be most clear. One of the most exciting days in this family's life was the day that [our daughter] accepted the offer to play basketball at the University of Illinois.”

I’m trying very hard to take the emotion out of my words. I’m trying to be objective. And I so desperately want to believe it’s not true. But I recognize these accusations all too well, and it’s making me incredibly sad.

Hooray for these parents. Hooray for them showing their daughters that they have their backs and they believe in them. Hooray for them empowering these young women to know they have options, and that they deserve better.

As for the higher-ups, as I said before, and as I experienced, if the people at the top do not tolerate abusive behavior, it will stop. It doesn’t matter if it may be legal or if it doesn’t violate NCAA rules. Bullying at any level is never acceptable, and the University of Illinois leaders need to enforce that standard. They need to give this more than lip service, and they need to do so immediately.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

I Don't Cry at Weddings

I really don’t cry at weddings. Occasionally my eyes well up at something sweet. I do smile a lot. I enjoy weddings when I’m happy about the couple; but I don’t get outwardly emotional. I really never have.

And then I witnessed the wedding of Amie and Brittany.

I don’t want to tell their story because it is, of course, their story to tell, but I do want to tell my version of the love and the joy and the emotion I witnessed yesterday, when my niece married the woman who is clearly the love of her life, and there is no question the feeling is mutual.

Seriously, Andee, again with the damn waterworks?? Stop it already!

When we learned about Brittany and Amie being a couple, every single Chestnut welcomed the news with joy and support. As you may know, that’s a hell of a lot of Chestnuts. And every single one was happy……..because our Brittany was happy. Truly, joyously happy.

Well, as I said, yesterday was their wedding. All you needed to be convinced it was right was to look at their faces. I don’t think I can describe them well enough to do this justice, but I’ll try. Of course, they were both stunningly beautiful, but there was also a radiance. A glow. You could actually feel it. I’ve never really experienced anything quite like it.

Some people started crying just seeing them walk down the aisle. Some got teary watching them stand together holding hands and looking at each other as their brothers stood up with them. The judge said many beautiful words that brought out tissues. But as they said their vows, and we heard the words, “You made me feel normal”…… Yeah, you can take it from there.

Again, I don’t want to say too much about what is really their story, so I will say this. It was more than your usual Chestnut wedding (which are all lovely and hilariously fun). With a family so big, though, it’s really hard for everyone to be able to attend every wedding. But this one was important. Nobody said it. Everybody just knew it. Cousins flew home from New York and California. Every Chestnut was there. It was that important.

Little did we know when both families rallied around this beautiful couple, what it would do for all of us. If you were there, you know what I’m saying. I can’t even tell you how grateful I am to have been included.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve had a few moments in my life when I could say I experienced pure joy. This was one.

Thank you, Amie & Brittany.

Friday, May 1, 2015

The Story Continues

As I pointed out in my last post, I did have more to say about the events surrounding the new addition to our family, but it didn’t really fit into the “flow” of what I was writing. So here is the rest of it.

I mentioned last time there was a funny story about Nathan sliding into the world on November 5th. I need to rewind a bit to an evening when Matthew and I were in the middle of some type of serious entertainment that I totally can’t remember, when out of the blue, he asked how the baby would come out of his mommy’s belly. Ohhhhhh, noooooo! I had no idea how to respond to that. I didn’t know what he had been told, what words had been used, how much information they wanted him to have (does anyone else remember the Friends episode when Chandler unknowingly told the boy he was adopted?), and there I was, expected to answer. So, as one who has always been good at thinking on her feet, I said the obvious. “It’s kind of like going down a slide, only slower.” Yes, I did. In my defense, however, I was not prepared! Then, of course, I had to fess up to the parents, and I got the usual proud response from Leah. “Really, Mother?” Yes, when she throws down the mother card, she’s especially pleased with me. So, you can imagine the grief I got from my girls…..more than the usual grief even.

Now, let’s fast forward to November 5th, shall we? Labor story, epidural, long day, contractions, blah, blah. Dave and I were in the room, until push came to shove if you know what I mean. At that point, I went out in the hall to text my fellow grandma who couldn’t be there until later and a few others who were following us. Dave went to get Matthew at his preschool. I had just finished texting, “She's pushing!!!” when all of a sudden, I see the light above the door flashing red, and at least five nurses were running down the hall to the room. Fortunately, I didn’t have time to panic because just then I heard a baby crying! Our grandbaby, excuse me for pointing this out, had just slid into the world. Who’s looking like she knows a thing or two now?

It turns out, the light was flashing and the nurses were running because the nurse in the room had called, “Baby is coming without doctor!” It also explains why some nurses walked away when they heard the baby crying (I was mildly offended at first until I realized that meant everything was okay.) Then I did something I learned from my own mother after Lindsay was born. First, of course, I had to announce to every stranger walking by, that that was my grandbaby crying! It’s just a thing you do. You can’t help yourself. Then I stood outside the door, and every time the door opened, which was a lot, I asked, “Can I come in? Can I come in? Can I come in?” The trick is, as you say it, you keep walking in, and pretty soon, unless your child says for you to get out, they give up and let you in. I may have been a little pushy, but I got some darn good pictures of that cute little baby, and I got to hug my own baby, which was the best part of all. Anyway, my point of this very long story is, family repeat after me, Gaya was right.

I’ve often wondered how parents with twins, or more than twins, do it. I don’t know if it’s easier when they are the same age or harder. I can see advantages and disadvantages to both. I can tell you this, though, one is tough, and the degree of difficulty definitely goes up with the number of children. That doesn’t mean you love them less, because that’s just not possible. I learned from having my own kids, when another child comes into the world, your heart just expands accordingly. But the tired factor ……. yowser! Having two little ones was tiring enough when I was 30 and part of a great team. Being, well, older, is just exhausting. I now understand how my parents would feel after an overnight with our girls. They would beg for us to let them visit, but then would be ready to collapse when we came to pick them up. I get it now. And would I ever say no? Not in a million years.

After the first week of watching the kids while the babysitter was gone, I went home and slept away the weekend. It does usually take a good 48 hours to recover. Then Sunday night, I got a text from Leah asking what kind of bribe it would take for me to come back to help for a couple more days. She said she’d buy me all the Portillo’s I wanted. I responded that I was thinking more along the lines of a granddaughter. I was quickly informed I needed to “tell Lindsay to get on it.” Well, I tried. And of course, I went up and helped with the kids. If you’re lucky, that’s what you get to do. And, as I’ve pointed out before, then you get to go home. It really is a great gig!

Friday, April 24, 2015

Now There Are Two

Yes, I’m still here, and I really appreciate that a few of you have asked about me! I haven’t stopped blogging. I did temporarily stop posting, but the blogs are always percolating in my brain. I decided when I started this, I wouldn’t write just to write, that I would only post something if I felt I really had something to say. I don’t want to waste anyone’s time because I am so grateful for the people who read this.

I did kind of wonder, though, why I kept thinking about things, but didn’t quite get to the fingers-to-keyboard stage. So I went back to the date of my last post, which was November 2nd, and then I realized. Aha! That was right before my second grandson came into the world. On November 5th, our adorable little, red-headed Nathan David was born. No wonder! I’ve been a little distracted!

Now there are two. (Picture me smiling.)

This really has brought me back to the days when Dave and I had two. Leah was almost four when Lindsay was born, and Matthew was nearing four when Nathan slid into the world (funny story about that in a future post). Not only that, but two weeks ago, the boys’ beloved babysitter, Ms. Soup, had a serious family emergency, and I was tapped into service for three days last week and 2-1/2 more this week. So a whole lot of the good, the bad AND the ugly has sort of come flooding back.

Some things were very easy to block out once our girls grew up:

Babies spit up. A lot. I just had to wash every one of the five shirts I packed for the past 2-1/2 days. I packed three, along with two bonus shirts, and all five had cottage cheese on them. The one I wore this morning had a complete streak all the way down the back. Ok, I know. You’ve probably heard enough, but seriously I could go on.

Did I mention projectile? I had totally forgotten that! Well, they still do it!

Also, babies don’t sleep. Or if they do, four-year-olds don’t sleep. Or four-year-olds HAVE TO HAVE something RIGHT NOW while you’re trying to put the sleeping baby in his crib. Do they not see the sleeping baby IN YOUR ARMS??? No, they do not. They have the amazing ability to see NOTHING except that they don’t have what they need RIGHT NOW!!

And then there’s the diaper bag that I had totally blocked out of my brain. Everything must be packed in advance for every single trip – diapers, wipes, butt paste (I know, right?), change of clothes for baby, change of clothes for four-year-old, pacifiers, teething toys, bottles, snacks, and the list goes on. Fortunately, Leah is really good at planning and organizing, but I still had to stock up and try to think while making sure the little guy was safe, now that he can army crawl like nobody’s business, and reminding big guy to use his inside voice for the 17th time. All of this was for a two-hour trip to the library with a possible visit to the McDonald’s playplace. (God bless McDonald’s and their playplaces.) Two hours. In the same city. And with all the things I packed, when we were pulling away from the library, Matt said he was thirsty. Thirsty! Of course! Guess what I didn’t pack?

Some other interesting things as I continue to compare and contrast:

The four-year-old can be the sweetest, most polite, incredibly adorable and lovable little boy. Or not. You never know. In our case, that was our younger one. (Shout out to ya, Lindsay!) So there was that to anticipate. Or not. You have to plan for either. And, of course, you have to follow through and be prepared to “walk” the screaming child out of wherever you may be (or her father can throw her over his shoulder as he takes her out of Target while you pay as quickly as possible). Fortunately, the library trip was generally successful, but I was ready.

And then there are car rides. Little guy is not a big fan. Car rides saved us back in the day. One night, when Leah was a wee little thing, and her parents pretty much knew NOTHING about what to do with babies, she had been screaming for some time. SCREEEAMMMMING. We had tried all the obvious things. Nothing was working. We got out all the books. One of us would read something, and the other would try it. We’d take turns. Nothing worked. Finally, when we had gone through every book, and there were a lot of them, we plunked her in her car seat and drove. We got on the interstate and headed south from Springfield. Shortly before the small town of Divernon, heavy sigh of relief, there was peace. So we turned around and went home. From then on, that was our barometer for how badly our day might be going. We’d look at each other and say “Divernon Run?” That was how we survived. This little guy doesn’t like car rides though. But he is quite a laid-back baby (so far), so maybe they won’t need a Divernon. This is where I get to have that little smile and think, “I’m the grandma. I don’t have to raise these sweet babies.” (Picture me smiling.)

Oh, and let’s not forget colic. Neither Matt nor Nathan had colic. I just felt like bringing those days up again. (Shout out to ya, Lindsay!)

But here’s the thing about being a grandparent. You don’t usually have to deal with all the tough stuff. You get to play, and snuggle, and you’re always special, and you can buy them things and take them places, and you miss them as soon as you’re gone because you’re not with them all the time. And you have the experience to know, really know, that “this, too, shall pass.” Eventually the colic stops, and the sleepless nights get better, and they do give up the pacifiers, nursing, bottles, blankets, fears of characters, fireworks and loud noises in general (ok, shout out to Leah this time), and yes, they even get out of your bed. And they grow up and maybe have their own children, and the grandparents get to sit back and chuckle a little and be thankful. There’s more I want to say, but I think for now, I’ll just leave it at that.

Yes, I’m smiling.