Monday, January 25, 2010

Letting Go

Something that became painfully clear to me a long time ago is that parenting is all about letting go. From the moment your children are born, it's a slow but steady progression of letting go. Sometimes it's a physical letting go, sometimes an emotional letting go, and sometimes it's letting go of control. No matter what, letting go is really hard.

I'm dealing with a letting-go issue with Annabelle right now. I've written a number of times before about her penchant for pulling her hair out. While she's never been formally diagnosed with trichotillomania, I've pretty much come to assume that that's the label most appropriately attached to her habit. It started with hair-twirling when she was less than a year old and evolved into hair-pulling over time. It usually coincides with finger sucking; she sucks the two middle fingers of one hand while twirling and pulling out her hair in a specific spot on her scalp with the index finger on her other hand.

For more than a year now I've been determined to break her of this habit, because ultimately, it breaks my heart to see the destruction she wreaks on that beautiful head of golden curls. Also, I feel like I've failed her in some monumental way: what sort of issues does she carry around inside, not knowing any way to manage them except by pulling her own hair out? Whether this guilt is actually warranted or not, I really don't know. I've tried and tried to figure it out. Does she have anxiety? I wouldn't characterize her as an especially anxious child, but maybe I'm just not recognizing it? Is she unhappy? For the most part, she's always been very fun-loving and affectionate and a little clown. Is it chemical? Does she need to be on medication? Does she have ADD/ADHD? Both her preschool teacher and her kindergarten teacher have assured me that they don't have any reason to think she has any kind of attention deficit issue, and that she's well-behaved and focused at school. Is it a manifestation of Middle Child Syndrome and feeling lost in the shuffle of a lot of siblings? (There's that guilt again . . .)

I haven't come up with any answers. What I have done is try my damnedest to control her hair-pulling habit, and along with that, her finger-sucking habit, since the two go hand-in-hand (and they both drive me crazy). I have visions of her growing up into an adult with these same compulsions still driving her, and maybe worse ones as well. I've been determined to force her to Stop. Pulling. Her. Hair. Out. I've done this by taping up her sucking and pulling fingers with first-aid tape or bandaids. At all times, day and night. Because the minute her fingers are free, there she goes, twirling/pulling and sucking. Then I get on her case. I demand that she Stop It Right Now. I yell at her for it. Because it makes me feel angry and helpless.

It's become such a point of contention between us, and I truly hate what it's doing to our relationship. She's five. We shouldn't have any points of contention this big for at least another six or seven years!

The truth is, the taping works, sort of. It's a band-aid solution, though (so to speak). As long as her fingers are taped up, she doesn't pull. But getting the tape on is always a battle because she hates it, and she takes it off on the sly much of the time anyway. And I've begun to realize that having tape on her fingers stigmatizes her at school. I've seen other kids ask her why she has tape or band-aids on her fingers and I've seen her look down and quietly say, "I don't want to talk about that." Rip my heart out.

So I decided a few weeks ago to stop making her wear tape on her fingers at school. She insists that she doesn't pull or suck at school anyway, and I tend to believe her. She's plenty busy at school; it's at home that she has down time and it's when she's idle that her fingers go into her mouth and her hair.

However, I've still been trying to control her behavior by nagging her about it, by demanding that she STOP IT! when I catch her doing it.

Ugh. It's just miserable. And after about six months of her hair growing out, I had to cut it again to even it all out because of the pulling.

It's not that she doesn't look adorable with short hair (she does!), and it's not that I have anything against short hair on girls (I don't!). It's the reason we have to keep it short that kills me.

Lucky for me, though, I have a friend, Megan, who is in a very similar boat. She has a little girl who pulls too (and she has another little girl who has Ds who may be Finn's future wife, or at least girlfriend). Imagine my shock (and relief!) when I discovered that Annabelle is not the only child on the planet with this strange and frustrating habit. So Megan and I commiserate. Recently she sent me this article, which makes a lot of sense to me, or at least is worth a shot.

So we're trying a new tactic here. When Michael or I see Annabelle sucking her fingers and/or twirling/pulling her hair, we calmly take her to the place we have designated to be her Pulling/Sucking Place (a chair in the playroom), we sit her down and encourage her to suck and pull to her heart's content for the next 10 minutes. She's not allowed to pull or suck anywhere else but in that special spot, but once there, she's encouraged to pull and suck as much as possible. Outside of that, we don't talk about it - we don't talk about her hair or her pulling or her sucking.

It's tricky. It was tricky choosing a place to put her, first of all. The article suggested a bathroom, but that's really not practical in our house because with as many people who live here, the bathroom is likely to be occupied at any given time. After trying out a couple different places in the house, we settled on the chair in the playroom as the most practical. Another tricky aspect is the fact that when we take her to that spot, she tends to react as if she's being put in a time-out (i.e., punished), which is not the message I want her to be getting. It's more like, "Okay, you want/need to do this, here's a private place for you to do it to your heart's content." Tricky, also, is not talking about her hair or her habits outside of taking her to her special place - in other words, not drawing attention, not giving it that power - even when she twists a corkscrew into the front of her hair making herself resemble a unicorn (I'm not kidding).

Of course this is all really just a tactic to hopefully, eventually, get her to stop. But I have to accept that she may not stop. And that's the trickiest part of all: trying to let go of this. To let her own this, to give the control back to her. I can't make her stop, no matter how hard I try. I can only help her if she wants me to help her, and I will be here to help her, but ultimately, it's up to her.

Brief Debriefing

  • Michael is home! He came home Friday night, and is doing really well. We're all happy to have him home! When I told the kids Friday that I was going to pick Daddy up to eome home, Annabelle said, "You know what I'm gonna do as soon as Daddy gets home? Give him a really BIG hug!"
  • Heater is fixed. And it ended up costing more than he originally estimated. Of course. Because once he got in there, he found additional problems. Of course. But hey, at least we're not freezing our heinies off anymore.
  • Joey and Finn are doing somewhat better, although still not running at 100%. Joey did want to go back to school today though. Still waiting for the other kids (or myself) to come down with the stomach flu, and hoping that doesn't come to pass.
  • Lilah ended up in the ER yesterday after taking a dive - from a standing position! - off her sister's top bunk bed and smacking her head on the hardwood floor. It was frightening. I didn't see it happen, but was in the room in seconds, and she was dazed and unfocused, and then cried for a solid half hour. Head injuries scare the crap out of me! And I never know how serious they are (god knows all my kids have hit there noggins on various hard surfaces numerous times, and I never know if I should panic or not). Anyway, she was thoroughly examined in the ER and deemed okay. Phew!
I promise I will stop using these annoying bullets in the near future. It's all I've been able to manage of late - blogging on the run.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The gods are against me.

It's shaping up to be another kick-ass day, let me tell you.

Our oven seems to be on the fritz. When I was making dinner last night, the oven was making this awful buzzing sound which I've never heard it make before. I kept waiting for the whole thing to explode. It didn't. But still, I have a sneaking suspicion that the noise does not bode well for the oven.

Finn vomited all over his crib last night after I put him to bed. Daisy was sick all last weekend with a fever and vomiting, and I've been holding my breath wondering when the other kids would come down with it. After throwing up the once, though, Finn did sleep peacefully for the rest of the night and seems okay this morning. I think. Of course, I haven't fed him breakfast yet, so I'm not sure.

Joey is definitely sick. He's thrown up twice this morning and is warm and complaining of a headache.

Oh! The heater is out, too. Just. Not. Working. And it's COLD! Still storming outside. No heat inside. Yayy! It very well could be something as simple as a pilot light (although, talking to Michael on the phone this morning, he's not sure our heater even uses a pilot light). However, the heater unit is located in a dark, creepy, dank utility closet downstairs off the garage. I NEVER go down there. Ever. Because rats took up residence in the garage and utility closet a couple years back. We've since eradicated the rat problem, but I still cannot bring myself to go down there. Because I believe in rat ghosts. Also, even if I could summon up the nerve to go down there, I wouldn't know the first thing to do. I don't know anything about heaters, and I'm not a tinker-er. I am sad to say that when it comes to things like this, I am a helpless female. This is the kind of thing I have a husband for. That and all the sex. So. Here are my choices, as I see them:
  • Freeze.
  • Call a repair guy and likely pay a fortune.
  • Expose my helpless female self and call a neighbor.
I am thinking I will start with option number 3.

School was not canceled today because of the horrid weather (as Kevin had hoped), but I have taken it upon myself to cancel school for my kids for today. I can't very well put the sick, throwing up kid(s) in the truck to take the non-sick kids to and from school. So they are home today, currently wrapped in blankets in the living room. They will be watching entirely too much TV today, I'm just going to be up front about that.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A Little Update, Bullet-Style

(or checkmark-style, as the case may be.)

  • Michael's surgery yesterday went off without a hitch, unless you count that it was delayed by two hours. He is doing well, as well as they expect him to be doing at this point. I'm taking a wild stab and guessing he'll probably come home Friday . . . ??
  • I have yet to see him since I dropped him off at the hospital yesterday! Let's just say that various things have stood in my way, including dumb hospital rules, a power outage, and inclement weather.
  • I will see him tomorrow! In the meantime, hopefully he hasn't fallen for some hot nurse over there.
  • This morning went way more smoothly than I could have hoped for. The kids were angels, completely cooperative and efficient, thanks mostly, I think, to the fact that I threatened them within an inch of their lives to the fact that I bribed them to the fact that I am raising rational, well-behaved children who recognize the importance of teamwork. Everyone was fed, dressed, and out the door by 7:30. Is it too much to hope for the same for the next few days?
  • Have you heard about the weather we've been having here? Torrential downpours. Thunder storms. Flash floods. A tornado!! Here in sunny Southern California! It's been a little surreal. Kevin is hoping they will cancel school tomorrow. I told him not to hold his breath.
  • Food! A friend/colleague of Michael's had a TON of food sent to our house yesterday. Meals from Super Suppers! He must have told her how much I hate to cook. Really, though, in all seriousness, I am so touched by the kindness of people.
And that is all for now.

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Big Payoff

Nearly a year ago, we received some of the most devastating news possible: Michael was diagnosed with stage 3 cancer. For nearly a year now, we've dealt with the aftermath of that news. Radiation and chemo. More chemo. Major surgery. Lots more chemo. I've watched my husband become diminished, and at times it was impossible to see past the darkness.

Today, we received some of the best news possible: the post-chemo PET scan Michael underwent last week showed no more cancer. This is what all the hell and pain and misery were for, this big payoff.

It's interesting how in the face of something so horrible, you can end up feeling very lucky and grateful. We dodged a bullet there. It could have been so much worse.

Some things I've learned through this ordeal:
  • You learn who your real friends are when something like this happens. Some people will distance themselves. A lot of others will stick by you like glue, always there with an ear, a shoulder, and a helping hand.
  • People like to help. As hard as it is to ask for help, or to accept help that's offered, it helps to realize that they get something out of it too - it makes them feel good. Needing help does not equal weakness, and giving help does not equal pity.
  • Insurance companies suck. At least Anthem Blue Cross does. Despite the sentimental ads, what they really care about is their bottom dollar. And they really couldn't care less about the emotional distress their shenanigans cause, on top of dealing with a devastating illness.
  • When planning a family, it would be wise to consider how many children one could handle as a single parent, because one never knows what life might throw at one. Not saying I regret my overly large brood, but I've discovered how difficult it can be to raise them with a sick husband, and I think I have an inkling of how exponentially more difficult it would be to raise them with no husband.
  • A good cry is cleansing. Swearing and drinking can sometimes help, too.
  • You gotta laugh. You just gotta.
There's probably more, but those are the biggies.

So, where do we go from here? Michael goes in for some somewhat minor surgery tomorrow, which is the final phase of treatment. He'll be in for a few days, and although I'm going to miss him, the mind-numbing anxiety that preceded his first surgery back in June is absent. I want to say that we are ready to live again, but the truth is, we never stopped living. The kids have continued to grow, the sun has continued to rise and set, the bills and junk mail have continued to find their way into our mailbox, and we've still managed to have plenty of laughs, and even a few dinners out, over the year.

Life will never be exactly the same as it was before cancer. Fear of recurrence, I think, will always be lurking, and the scars from this ordeal will linger. And appreciation? Yes, there is so much of that.

Saturday, January 16, 2010


Kevin approached me the other day telling me that he wants to volunteer at the local public library this summer with his friend. What a fabulous idea. Then he said, "D's mom said he'll be able to ride his bike to the library . . . do you think I'll be able to?" "Wow, ummm, I don't know," I said, picturing in my mind the blind hills they'd have to navigate and the busy street they'd have to cross.


Yesterday, late afternoon, Kevin told me he was headed to the schoolyard with his basketball to shoot some hoops. "By yourself?" I asked. "Yeah, Mom," he said, rolling his eyes. "Ummm . . . well, okay . . . I guess," I said, adding "You know, I know you're thirteen now and everything, but the rule about talking to strangers still applies, okay?" "I know, Mom," he said, rolling his eyes again.


Today, Kevin tagged along with me to run some errands, and in the truck he said, "Hey, Mom, do you think it's okay if I get a pocketknife?" "What?!" I replied, a little horrified. "What in the world do you need a knife for?" "Well, you know, just for stuff. It would be handy sometimes," he said. "And Dad thinks it would be okay." What?!? He does?!?


Do you see what's happening here? He's growing up. My god. What happened to the little boy who held my hand when we crossed the street? What happened to the little boy who carried a stuffed goose and a stuffed parrot - his buddies - everywhere with him? What happened to the little boy who was convinced that there were monsters lurking in his closet, and who believed that the spray bottle of water I squirted into his closet really was anti-monster spray?

I'm clearly having a bit of trouble with this whole growing up and letting go thing. I mean, Kevin is a really great kid; he's never gotten into any trouble and has never given us any reason not to trust him. But it's not him I don't trust, it's the world. I've probably been a little on the overprotective side of parenting, not letting him walk home from school on his own until he was 11, not letting him go more than a couple blocks from home on foot or on his bike, still not letting him play outside after dark, that kind of thing.

I worry.

But I'm also starting to realize that we've got to let him spread his wings a little. If I shelter him too much, he'll never learn how to handle himself, and I might risk sabotaging the very things I've tried so hard to foster: his safety and good judgment. I know from personal experience that suffocating a kid with rules and restrictions pretty much guarantees rebellion and foolish behavior.

Ahhh, this parenting thing. It never gets any easier, does it?

What's that line from that old .38 Special song?

Hold on loosely,
But don't let go.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

How Paper Snowmen Became the Bane of My Existence

This week, in addition to the usual homework of journal-writing exercises and worksheets, the twins each brought home two paper plates accompanied by a note from their teacher that they were to create snow-people out of them.

Oh fun! An art project! (Imagine sarcastic tone.)

Okay, let me just say that I really, really, really, really do not agree with or understand the point of kindergarten homework. It's kindergarten! Sure, it's an important learning year - my goodness, they're learning to read, which is amazing. But they're still little, immature kids who tire easily, get bored easily, and in my estimation, should not be made to sit down and do more school work at home after having already spent several hours at school. And honestly, I don't want to spend the time I have with them breathing down their necks, setting timers, and entering into battle with them over homework. It's kindergarten! And we have plenty of things to battle over already. Like putting their dirty clothes in the hamper and eating their vegetables and not picking their noses.

However, since I don't have the time, the energy, or the resources to fight the system and change an entire policy, this is how we spend our afternoons: doing homework. And it's almost never a pleasant experience for anyone involved.

The snowman project started out okay. I stapled their paper plates together and cheerfully laid out a plate with raisins, Cheerios, and various sundry with which to create their snow people. I refuse to become too involved - I'm not going to decorate their snowmen for them (even if I could do a fabulous job). I don't want to be their teacher, I want to be their mom, so I try to just play the role of a consultant. Still, I end up being referee, because it was only a matter of minutes before they were fighting over glue and raisins. It escalated to the point that it was clear that we needed to put the snowmen away for the day (and the girls still had their journal pages to write and their worksheets to do).

This scene played out exactly the same for three afternoons running. Actually, Daisy, who is more self-directed than Annabelle, finished her "snow princess" on the second afternoon. Annabelle dawdled and became frustrated and demanded more time, more things with which to decorate her snow person, and I steadily grew to hate that damn snow man/person. I was extremely close to committing snowmanslaughter and chucking it into the garbage more than once. Every afternoon ended in tears and a mess of glue and glitter and stuff at the kitchen table. Finally this afternoon, I called it a day on the whole snow man project. Enough is enough. Here are the final results:

Annabelle's - the one that took THREE afternoons - is the one on the left. I don't know if you can tell, but it's almost bare. I'm almost (but not quite) embarrassed to send this to school with her tomorrow. It's not that she's not bright, and it's not that she doesn't have the ability - it was just a frustrating, stressful proposition. And honestly? Honestly, I have wracked my brain, and I still don't get the point of it. What skills or knowledge was this supposed to reinforce?

I'd like to tell her teacher how tough this was. How utterly stressful. I've already talked to her about the problems I have getting Annabelle to cooperate with homework, and she suggested some strategies which were helpful for a while, but Annabelle is balking even at those now. And I'm afraid that if I keep bringing up the problems Annabelle has with homework, she's going to be labeled a Problem Child, and that label is going to follow her for her entire school career. Okay, maybe I'm getting ahead of myself.

But really, what is the point of homework for kindergartners???

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Smells Like Teen Spirit

It's official: we now have a teenager on our hands.

In my head, I hear all the usual plaintive laments: where did the time go? It seems like just yesterday . . .

However cliche those sentiments are, they're true and very real to me suddenly. Kevin was a baby, and then I blinked, and here he is, a teenager. If I close my eyes and concentrate hard enough, I can almost convince myself that I'm back there, when Kevin was tiny and sweet, and all mine, his personality yet to develop and be discovered. I can almost touch it. I remember thinking at certain times when he was very small, "I wish I could put this time in a box and pack it away, so that in the future I could take it out and re-experience it over and over." But of course, life doesn't allow you to do that.

Kevin's babyhood, and a good part of his childhood are gone forever. And suddenly I wonder, did I kiss and hug
him enough? Did I read enough stories to him? Did I cuddle him enough? Because that time is gone.

For the last week or so, Michael and I have been taking the video camera out and about with a project in mind: to video tape random people wishing Kevin a happy birthday. We burned it onto a DVD to give to Kevin for his birthday. We got about 30 people, both friends and strangers, saying happy birthday and imparting words of wisdom to Kevin as he embarks on being a teenager. A couple days ago, Michael and I took turns taping each other leaving messages for Kevin. I didn't realize how significant this all is to me until Michael turned the video camera on me, and I suddenly broke down crying. That came out of left field! But it just hit me - my baby is turning thirteen. He's really growing up.

I suspect that this is going to be a year full of changes. I won't be surprised if Kevin grows to be at least as tall as me over the next year. I'm sure he will be dealing with some other physical changes, if the mood swings he already has are any indication. I know that he and his dad and I will continue to butt heads - he's at the beginning of a long process of trying to figure out who he is and what his place in the world is, so I know that clashing with us and testing the boundaries constantly are all part of that. I remember my teenage years as not being easy ones, and there is a part of me that feels sad that Kevin will be experiencing the confusion of not being a child, but not being an adult either.

He's thirteen today. Thirteen. I am very proud of the person he has grown into, the young man he is becoming - proud in a way that cannot take credit, but more in a way that feels a full heart and a sense of satisfaction. Kevin is a great kid. He is loving and loyal, he's brave and will take a stand for what he believes in, even at the risk of being unpopular. He's a good friend to his friends, and a good brother to his siblings. He's sensitive and compassionate, and he has big dreams for himself. These are exactly the things I've always wanted for all of my kids.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Cancer Awareness

There's this thing going around on Facebook right now, where you're (assuming you're female) supposed to post the color of your bra in your status - just the color, and nothing else. And then you're supposed to have all your female FB friends do the same. It's supposed to get people talking: "What's that all about?" It's supposed to get people talking about breast cancer. The last line of the message going around says, "Check your tatas, ladies, and pass this along to all your women friends."

Breast cancer awareness has become almost hip, with all the pink ribbons, pink awareness bracelets, pink merchandise, and t-shirts and bumper stickers with cute sayings like "Save the Tatas." There are walks and runs and parades devoted to raising breast cancer awareness, and raising money for breast cancer research. There's the whole wear-jeans-to-work day in support of breast cancer awareness (are they still doing that? They were when I was still working, which was, ummm, quite a while ago, actually). Celebrities talk openly about breast cancer, and I think they've helped de-stigmatize breast cancer.

I'm all for this. It's wonderful, it truly is. I have a couple of friends who have lived through breast cancer, and I am so thankful for the money and research and awareness that are all probably why my friends are still alive to tell their stories.


There are other types of cancer. Lots of other types. Like the cancer my family has been living through for the past year.

Did you know that colon/colorectal cancer is the second most deadly cancer? Without doing any scientific research, I have to believe that a contributing factor is that nobody wants to talk about it. There are no cute t-shirts or slogans, no celebrities going on Oprah, no special-colored merchandise, a portion of whose proceeds go to research. No fun little Facebook awareness games. Who wants to talk about their colon? Who wants to even admit if they notice a problem with their nether-regions? Heh, if you're like me, you probably would rather pretend you don't even actually have a colon (or a rectum, for that matter).

There is no good kind of cancer. There is no pretty cancer, or popular cancer. It's all ugly and horrible, and it all has the power to steal lives.

So listen, people: check your butts. Seriously. Or better yet, have your doctor check it. Be aware of your body. Run - don't walk - to your doctor if you notice anything out of the ordinary. If you're 50, get a colonoscopy. Younger if you have a family history of colon or colorectal cancer. It's not fun, it's not pretty, but it is necessary. Take care of your body, and all its parts.

And pass the word, okay?

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Negative Me

That last post . . .

I suspect my husband will read it (or has already read it) and say "Another negative post." He's been known to kind of bring this to my attention, that I tend to post things on my blog leaning towards the negative. And it's true.

Here's the thing: usually the urge to write comes when I need to get something off my chest. When something's bothering me, or I'm turning something over in my head, grappling with it. Writing is an outlet for me. Sometimes I try to put a humorous spin on it - I do like to go for the yucks sometimes. Seeing the humor makes things seem not so bad, not so serious.

The fact of the matter is, though, that I'm a cynical, pessimistic girl at heart. One of those people who has a thin skin, takes things very much to heart, and tends to see the glass as half empty. These are not necessarily things to be proud of, but it's who I am, and I'm honest about it.

That's not to say that there aren't a million wonderful things in my little world, or that I'm not aware of them or grateful for them. I am. I'm just not very much into the Pollyanna-ish view of things, and frankly the wonderful things usually don't inspire me to write as much as the crummy things.

And really, people want the dirt. It's true! It makes people feel better about their lives, and it gives them an opportunity to feel superior: "I'm glad I'm not that negative!"

So really, I'm providing a service here ;)

Monday, January 4, 2010

Cleaning Out My Closet

I'm in purge mode again. I usually engage in The Great Toy Purge every year before Christmas - you know, out with the old, broken, ignored, in with the shiny, new, novel. I didn't get to it this year before Christmas, however, so now I'm itching for it. More than toys, though; I am determined to go through this house room by room, closet by closet, drawer by drawer, cabinet by cabinet, and get rid of everything that is just taking up space.

I am finding that this urge to purge is extending to people, too. I know that sounds harsh, and cold, and extreme. But there it is: there are people in my life who are just taking up space. Or at least people on my Christmas card list. That's what I'm really talking about.

Thoughts about this have been on the periphery of my mind for some time, but the issue became concrete today when I received a belated Christmas card from my dad's brother and his wife. It was clearly an afterthought. And it's not like I'm close to these people, so I'm not hurt, exactly. Just disappointed. And ready to let go and move on.

My dad's family - his parents and his brother and sister - moved back to Illinois when I was very young. I must have been only 3 or 4 - I know I wasn't yet in school when they moved away. Before they moved, I think we were fairly close. I know my grandparents babysat me and my brothers frequently, and I have vague memories of being at their house. When they moved away, though, it was like they put us - me and my brothers - out of their minds for the most part. My parents divorced within a year or two of their moving away, and perhaps that had something to do with it, too. Anyway, over the next 35+ years, I saw my grandparents exactly three times: once, when we drove to Illinois because my dad was to be in his brother's wedding; once when I was in my early 20's and my grandparents were out here in California visiting; and finally, at my dad's funeral eleven years ago. Now my grandparents are both gone; they died within a few months of each other a couple years ago. When they died, I wasn't even sad - how could I be? They were strangers to me.

And so it has been with my dad's brother and sister. When my dad died, though, I tried very hard to make a connection with them. I wrote to them, I gave them my email address, hoping they would keep in touch. I think I wanted to somehow keep a connection to my dad in this way. But for whatever reason, they were never interested in keeping in touch with me, except to exchange annual Christmas cards.

I sent my dad's siblings each a holiday card this year - weeks ago. And like I usually do with far-flung friends and relatives, I wrote a letter to them letting them know what's been going on with us over the last year. I even told them briefly about everything we've gone through with Michael having cancer this past year. They're family. Right?

But when I got my uncle's belated Christmas card today, it just became very clear to me that I am wasting my time. There was nothing in it but a signature - no words of support or concern. Not that I was looking for pity when I told them about Michael's cancer - but, they're family, right?

Really, they're not. We're strangers. And it's probably nobody's fault. But why do I keep trying?

There are various other people on my annual Christmas card list who I wonder why I keep trying to have this connection, however minor. "Friends," who really aren't friends at all. People who I call "friend" out of habit more than anything else. People with whom I'm really not in touch anymore, people with whom I have little in common, people who have faded away, people with whom I've had big, tearful, dramatic endings with, people who I don't even feel good about when I think about them.

And yet, I keep sending them Christmas cards every year. Why?

So I'm going to purge. I'm going to whittle it down to the people I really care about and have positive relationships with. What's the point otherwise?

Life is too short.