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If you think this is about YOU, maybe you should go reconcile with your parent and work to get back your kids instead of continuing to be a jerk. If you think I am you, or similar to you, welcome! :-)

Monday, March 26, 2012

Old Games Revisted

As a youngster growing up in a major metropolitan area, we had access every morning to not one, but several major metropolitan newspapers. Despite offering the news we now receive via our cell phones, the newspapers had regular features that begged contrast and comparison. If my grandfather didn't bring one on his morning visit, he brought the other. My mother preferred the Sun Times, but usually wasn't one to turn down something for free. The small weekly from my father's hometown appeared once a week, his birthday gift from his mother. The news was less, but the features were richer.

I used to enjoy reading the various horoscopes. Sidney Omar in the Sun Times often contrasted sharply with the horoscopes offered in the Tribune. It was worth it to have a variety of comics to read. When the Sun Times went to a tabloid, easy-to-carry format, I used to enjoy the Tribune for its sections, as well as its large coverage when saved to cover surfaces for messy craft projects. My father's weekly held fascinating stories of weddings in all detail, including the fabric for both the brides' dresses as well as those for the bridal party. It was from this paper I first learned about alencon lace and peau de soie satin.

But there was one section of any paper that simply fascinated me: The Obituaries. My mother called them the Old Ladies' Sports Section. This confused me for years, but not wanting to appear stupid at eight or nine, I never said anything.

The Tribune and Sun Times varied very little in their obits. At that time, nobody deviated from the format. LAST NAME was emblazoned across the column, followed by date of death, date of birth; "beloved husband/ wife" if there was one; the names of the children, spouses and therefore in-laws to the deceased regulated to parentheses; number of grandchildren and great-grandchildren, but no names; location and time of the wake, location and time of the funeral; "Please omit flowers" if no flowers were wanted, and no suggestion whatsoever as to whether the  bereaved preferred donations to the American Cancer Society or the deceased's parish. It simply wasn't done.

The weekly from my father's town of origin gave a brief biography for each and every dead resident. Even in the sad case of infant, children and teens, there was a biography to be had, one way or the other. The local reporter spent a lot of time attending not only wakes and funerals, but the standard funeral luncheon. Whatever was offered by the ladies' aid of the deceased's church was painstakingly detailed. 

My sister and her best friend took up putting on skirts and blouses to attend local wakes. We lived on a business street, and had access to not one, but three funeral homes, one on the way home from school. To this day, I have no idea why they were fascinated with open casket wakes (and they are indeed generally caskets in this country, not coffins). Everybody predicted they would both go into business together as directors one day. I think they did it for the snacks frequently offered back then. "Snacks" didn't mean stuff out of a bag, junk food, either. They didn't report on them, but I considered it strange. My mother didn't stop her, but I'm not sure she always knew when she attended one. My sister and her friend often used the ruse of "making a visit" at our parish church, which back then also involved a skirt and blouse.

These days I don't receive a daily paper, nor do I purchase one. They take up too much space as it is on Sundays, the ones I buy for coupons. The only horoscopes I encounter are the ones on friends' Facebook pages. Obituaries of those I know come the same way, or are texted from family. I still get obits from :down home" though. I've signed up with the funeral homes there to receive emails when somebody passes. I don't want to miss an elderly relative who might kick the bucket. I only like to read the ones where the deceased is at least 85 years of age. The ones about infants, children and teens still bring tears to my eyes. 

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Shameless and the Face of Bipolar: How It Looks

I would not let my grandchildren watch "Shameless" on Showtime until they are much, much older. I think thirty-five would be good. 

It's affordable, actually, on Netflix, all of Season One, with Season Two on its way. There's  also British Channel Four's original version, which just finished its ninth season, and bears a passing resemblance to the American version. 

It's a fabulous show for adults. Mature adults. Mature adults not easily offended by filth, violence, murder, poverty, crime, every form of sexual encounter known to man, blasphemy, graft and other corruption. As the critics have said, it's not blue collar, it's no collar. Let's put it this way: If you can't handle the opening credits, which depict the use of the family bathroom as the backdrop- and I admit I forward through this opening interlude- the show might be too much for you. The Mister even forwards through parts of it, and he's been in the military and has advanced degrees. He should be accustomed to the study of Man's Inhumanity on a microscale by now.

And no, I do not approve of most of the activity in this show. 

The warning is in place, now the synopsis: Frank Gallagher (William H. Macy as you've never seen him) is a depraved, selfish drunk (alcoholic is too kind) who has fathered six children with his on-again, off-again wife, Monica (Chloe Webb). Their six children are more or less raising themselves, as Monica is an off-again, on-again mother, with a big mentoring, mothering assist from the eldest child, Fiona (Emmy Rossum). 

It's Fiona who has made the lioness' share of the sacrifices to keep the family's children out of foster care this time, food on the table, clothes on their backs, and in school, by depriving herself of an education and any real chance at life. She's aided to some degree by her teenage brother, Lip (Jeremy Allen White), an authentic genius who nevertheless seems bent on his own destruction, as well a big assist from the couple next door, Kev (Steve Howey) and Veronica (Shanola Hampton). But it's often overwhelming for Fiona, who at twenty-one is torn between just walking away from her siblings and starting her own life, and desperately trying to make sure her kid brothers and sister have better than she. It involves all of the Gallagher children out there earning enough to ensure they can make it, some of them in remarkable, though sometimes illegal, ways. 

It's Fiona who tugs the heartstrings, and Frank who gets the sneers, but it is Monica who should be the poster parent for extreme bipolar. Not only does Chloe Webb sound Chicago Polish for this role (if she was trying for Irish, sorry, but it's Chicago Polish), she does a marvelous, marveling job at presenting crazy, selfish best. This is especially true in Season Two, Episode 10, "A Great Cause."

Monica lives away from her children more than she has ever lived with them. She returns this time, from living a lesbian life with Bob AKA Roberta, at the behest of Frank. Frank seeks out Monica, as he is grieving and seeking pity (you have to know the character to understand this). His evil mother (no other word is as apt) has died, leaving him none of her stolen money to him but all the responsibility. To be fair, Frank stole both money and drugs from her during her final illness, but of course Frank doesn't see it Mom's way. So he runs to Monica, and Monica runs home. 

Monica says she wants to make things right for her children, especially Fiona, who has borne the brunt of the responsibility for Monica's choices. Fiona wants to believe Monica, anxiously, dreadfully. Monica is making school lunches, washing clothes, coming to the kids' events;  making meals, at least breakfast pancakes. And it seems Monica wants to make good on her resolution.

This doesn't mean Monica has eliminated fun or the inappropriate. She and Frank wake the three younger children, Carl, Debs, and Liam, at 1 AM on November 1st to watch a slasher flick, rated R, on a school night, as a post-Halloween treat. Both parents remind the kids not to tell Fiona. While the little ones are frightened out of their wits, Monica and Frank share a joint. Monica makes herself and Debs matching cheerleading outfits for Carl's park district football team. Monica is relentless in her pursuit of Frank's manliness (yes that, it's everyplace and everywhere in the house, and Frank is worn tired from it).

I mentioned the kids must each earn their own money to survive. Dubbed the squirrel fund, they have all been working hard, even slacker Carl, all summer, so that they can survive the winter months in what is for them comfort. The fund is hidden in an old Crisco can, to keep it from Frank, who is the stable parent of the two, and that's not saying much. 

But Monica starts a manic phase. When she goes to make pancakes yet again, she looks for some sort of fat, and finds the Crisco can with the squirrel fund in it. What results can only be described as one of the best interpretations of manic I've ever seen. It covers it all: Irresponsibility, disregard for the safety of others, selfishness, lack of self-control, manic spending, over-the-top drug binge. It looks real. It feels really scary, and not in that slasher movie way, but the too-close-for-reality format. Every parent of a bipolar adult child will point to it and say, "Yes, that's exactly what bipolar looks like. I've seen it with my own eyes, and somebody has finally done justice to it on the small screen."

I saw very clearly in Ms. Webb's work my own Lulabelle's episodes, the ones where she wrecked a car, where she bought the most stupid items at the expense of her children's need for food, where she decided to paint the Mister's and my bedroom to suit her (very sloppily I might add- another problem of the manic phase), where she started projects in a frenetic pace but never finished them, and left them all over the house. I also saw the underlying calm before the storm, the seeming reasonableness, the longing for the normal and the ability to do the right thing without taking the necessary medication.    

No reputable site has this episode right now without a fee, rightfully due to copyright infringement. I can't link you to the full episode, or even the portion where the this action occurs. But find your own way to it. Wait for the second season to come out on DVD at the library. Ask to use the TV of a friend who has SHO. Get a deal on SHO yourself and remember to cancel in time before your provider starts charging you for it. Get Netflix. Get SHO.

But see this. Ms. Webb deserves an Emmy for this one performance alone, not to mention the rest of her work in this series. She also deserves the thanks of many a parent of an adult child who has tried to describe bipolar and couldn't quite convince others of the seeming normalcy fraught with bouts of manic and depressive. Now we have an illustration to point to others.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Truth: Not the Altered Version

It's come to my attention that there are several grandparents out there with doubts as to what they did in rescuing their grandchildren. It seems their Juniors and Lulabelles work on them, whenever they're in contact, with their own version of the truth. These adult children try to manipulate the situation and the circumstances to suit themselves. It leaves Grandma and even Grandpa bewildered, and second-guessing themselves.

Maybe this will help you: Ultimate Truth is based on Faith, but everyday truth is based on facts. There needs to be a preponderance of facts with evidence in order to achieve actions based on truth. Mere faulty syllogisms and fabricated red herrings will not suffice. 

I don't want you sitting there doubting yourself when so much is at stake. Your attorney might tell you that you have a case, but we're talking about your lying, conniving flesh-and-blood here. So whip out your spreadsheet program and make two wide columns with wrap-around text, and a third smaller column in the center (you'll probably have to go landscape on this one); in the alternative, haul out a pad of paper and a pencil, dividing the paper in half however you choose, leaving space in the center. The left is facts. The right is fabrications. 

List the facts you know to be true in the matter, and how you know those facts are true. If you're using a spreadsheet, line them up on the left. Example: Lulabelle didn't just have an unkempt apartment, but there was extreme mold growth on the kitchen table from the 3 week supply of used dishes piled one on top of the other, unwashed and often with uneaten food. EVIDENCE- Dated photos of the mess. Second example: Junior attended no parent-teacher conferences, despite taking off work to do so. EVIDENCE- Note from kids' teachers, record log of calls from Junior's employer looking for him those days. And so on, and so on, until you have run the course of your facts. 

Don't feel better yet?

Well, let's list Junior's or Lulabelle's alleged facts. Put them in the right column, and if using a spreadsheet, create them flush-right. Now, look over those alleged facts, and find the evidence for them to be true; odds are there isn't any. If there is no corroborating evidence, put a word that reminds you there isn't any in each box where there is none. I use the word MYTH, in big, bold letters. You might prefer LIE or FALSE.

Now, print out the spreadsheet, if you're using one; in any event, go get yourself a 12" ruler, unless you can draw lines well without one. Connect the myths on the right to your corresponding list of facts with evidence on the left. I'm betting that you have the proof to prove each of the allegations by your adult child false. 

By this time, you should feel better about your decision to intervene in your grandchildren's lives. If you don't, maybe you need some time with a trusted clergy member or counselor who can help you unpack some of this. But I'm betting it does make you feel better, and it only cost some of your time.


Happy birthday this week to my eldest child, who created this life I live by her choices, which caused us in turn to make choices on behalf of our grandchildren. You didn't leave us much choice. We love you no matter what lies you spread about us, and what you choose to believe that you hear from others. However, we still will not tolerate the lies, the fabrication, the myths and the alterations in what really occurred. I remember holding you as a baby, caring for you as a young child when your biological father would not, and raising you to adulthood. I wish you better choices, and a good life. 

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Day of days?

As a young woman coming of age in the 1970s, I was a bridesmaid more than once. There was a year where if I wasn't walking up and down the aisle some weekend, I was holding the guest book or pouring punch and passing cake in a genuine polyester long dress.  

Weddings back then were not $30,000 for a bare minimum wedding, which now has to consist of a dazzling dress on the bride, tuxes for the gentlemen of the bridal party; every step choreographed by a professional planner; a sit-down dinner for 200, followed by dancing to the styling of at the very least a dj, who brings his light show; a chocolate fountain, a vodka luge; and hired help to photograph and video the hired help helping the star of the show, the bride, and her accessory, the groom. 

A bride whose mother had some smarts (yes, her mother, or other older adult female relative, and there was little protest about it being the bride's day to play Marie Antoinette) sent out the invitations on card stock, not email, requesting the honour of one's presence at two o'clock in the afternoon or seven-thirty in the evening. Anybody with a lick of common sense knew the menu would be cake, punch and coffee, with maybe a glass of champagne thrown in for the toast. Sometimes there were mints and mixed nuts in bowls, and just maybe there were some small sandwiches. Lunch or dinner was between 11 AM and 1 PM.Yes, this meant dining before one arrived.

Truly large weddings happened at Noon or as late as six o'clock in the evening. Those involved the caterer of Mother's choice, a bar tended by the bride's Uncle Louie, maybe a band, maybe the forerunner of a dj, the bride's brother changing records on a record player (You know, the giant CDs with grooves in them). No unique table settings. No extreme party favors, unless you count bags of rice or jordan almonds as extreme. 

I bring this up because grandparents are now being pressed (conned, manipulated, etc.) to help pay for their grandchildren's weddings, whether or not they are helping to raise them. That's fine if Grandma and Grandpa want to help, and can afford to help, but really, they are not obligated to do so. Yet, there are grandchildren and even their parents who did raise them, who think the old folks are mandated by custom to fork over for the event, to make it the star-studded extravaganza that will have people talking for decades.

Grandparents are not being asked to just pay for the wedding, but being bullied into it, and not subtly, either. "It's how we do things now, Mother," Grams is told. The bride is allowed to have her whims and with it control of the extended family for a year, maybe more, and be indulged in this orgy of excess.

Grams should know better, and hang on to her checkbook and credit cards, in favor of less glam, more sentiment and perhaps suggest her money would be happy to return to a more civilized time- starting with approving the young man.

See, back then, families didn't have two year engagements where the bride lived with the groom while both attempted to improve their credit scores, so they could take out a loan to have a destination wedding to Aruba or on a cruise ship. Brides-to-be didn't spend whole months interviewing bands, lighting experts, gourmet caterers, table decorators, street dancers and even clergy. 

Most of all, brides were not given the impression by the bridal industry that this was their Day of Days, the Most Important Day of Their Lives.

Think about it: This giant extravaganza of expense is the best day of a woman's life. It is so important that she has to wait until she can afford it, so live with the guy first, even have a couple of kids without being married. They can always be carted down in the aisle in expensive clothes and decorated strollers.

(That was sarcasm. Please save baby-making for after the wedding if at all possible.)

So, what happens the day after...?

A woman has many phases in life, and the wedding, while an important step, is not the most important day of her life. The day she has children, the day she gets a significant promotion at work, the day of her tenth and twenty-fifth and thirty-third and fiftieth anniversary- those are pretty significant days. 

We live in a time when it seems normal to put the cart before the horse, all for the sake of good photography and videography to remember the day. I'm not against big parties, but nobody in this economy should have to wait two years or even one year to have a man completely commit to her. You are better than a band, you know, and worth having in the bonds of matrimony long before the loan comes through for the rented hall; long afterwards, as well. 

Trust me young ladies, if he's worth it, he'll skip the vodka luge and sit-down steak dinner for cake and punch in the parish hall, maybe even a buffet catered from a reasonable eatery. Dresses can be rented or borrowed. We live in the digital age, so music, photography and videography are the hobbies of many with a laptop and the software to run it. Friends still make the best helpers, and are cheaper in the long run. Save your money for your old age, or when the first child comes. You are so worth it! 

And let Grams and Granps come as guests, not paying customers. Be sure to dance one with the old gentleman if there's dancing.

Skip the polyester unless you insist on a 70s themed wedding. Just keep Uncle Louie at the bar doing his job. It keeps him from wandering the venue, telling everybody to pull his finger.