artist educator, singer songwriter, multi-instrumentalist
For the first time in my life, I wasn’t worrying about money. I wasn’t rich by any means, but I no longer wondered whether or not I could put food on the table. I started to relax into this newfound freedom. We went on vacations to South Carolina and Florida to visit one of Dick’s daughters and were going on regular yearly trips to Maine. I was able to do things for my youngest son that I hadn’t been able to do for my first two kids. It felt great. I even bought my own mandolin and started looking at options for recording a CD for the first time. I was so excited to buy a mandolin. I went to various music stores, trying out every single one they had until finally finding the perfect one for me. Dick tried to talk me out of it because it wasn’t the instrument he would have bought, but I stood my ground.
We got home, and I started dinner. I put potatoes on to boil and grabbed my new mandolin. The stove in our kitchen had a space heater on the side. It was a chilly day, so I leaned against the heater to stay warm as I played. Suddenly, I heard a crackling sound and wondered if the potatoes were burning. As I turned around, I caught sight of flames and realized that I was on fire. I remembered that you’re supposed to stop, drop and roll, but there was no way I was going to drop with my new mandolin strapped on. I quickly tried to pull the strap over my head while calling out to Dick for help. I could hear him in the other room sighing and saying to my son, “Go see what your mom wants.” Meanwhile, pieces of my burning scarf were dropping onto the floor starting small fires there, and I could smell my hair burning. My son, in his stocking feet, started trying to stamp out the flames on the floor and managed to set his socks on fire. Dick finally ran in and put out the fires. When it was over, the back of my sweater had a huge hole in it and my long hair was now burned to just above my shoulders. I don’t know how I escaped any burns on my skin or scalp, but I did. I cried when I looked in the mirror and immediately called a friend who cut hair. It was the first time in a very long time that I had short hair. Somehow, that incident was an eye opener for me and inspired a poem about feeling like a phoenix.
Like a phoenix rising,
I emerge from my own ashes
Reborn and wide awake,
Ready to take on my life
Like a fighter accepting a challenge.
My colors brighter than before,
My voice stronger and clear as a bell.
My wings unfurl and prepare for flight
As I stand on this precipice
Not knowing what lies ahead,
But knowing what I’m leaving behind
And what I choose to keep.
I realized that I was not happy in this unsupportive relationship where everything always seemed to be my fault and compassion seemed to be absent. I knew I needed to make a change, but I believe in commitments and loyalty. My friends have referred to me as a serial monogamist. Then there was the issue of Dick’s cancer. I didn’t want to abandon him in the midst of that, but I needed things to change. I was beginning to realize that I never learned to stand up for myself and started trying to figure out how to do that. Up to that point, I had been immersed in being a wife, then a parent and now a partner to another angry man. My two older children were out on their own and my youngest was thirteen. It was time to start looking ahead at how I wanted the rest of my life to be.
Then, I got a phone call on Christmas Eve that year from my older son. Their baby was coming. I raced over to their place and realized that the labor had just started and was very mild. I assured them there was still plenty of time, but Scout insisted on going to the hospital. When we got there, they sent her home. I could see that she was scared and not handling the discomfort well. I offered to stay, but she just wanted to be in the hospital, so back we went. I went home and slept a few hours until I got the next call that my granddaughter was born. I wanted to get there right away, but Scout wanted sushi. She was starving after working hard to birth her daughter and would settle for nothing less. I drove to the restaurant she had requested on Christmas Day morning, and it was closed, as I knew it would be. However, I could see that there were people inside, so I knocked on the door, explained the situation, and they made some sushi for me. When I arrived at the hospital, I was shocked to find out that Scout’s mother and aunt had been there for the birth, against her express wishes and had even filmed the birth. Then, I was told that I had gotten the wrong food and not enough of it. After having supported her throughout her pregnancy, driving her to the hospital twice then being told to leave immediately, I was extremely hurt by this treatment and almost walked out. Then suddenly, Scout insisted that her mother hand me the baby. As soon as I gazed into her eyes, I fell in love. She was so bright eyed and alert. In that moment I was only aware of the two of us, and everything else, all of the aggravation, hurt feelings and inconvenience was worth it all. They stayed in the hospital for a couple of days, then I picked up my son, and we drove them home. On the way home, Scout cried and kept saying, “All I’ve ever wanted was a family. Now I have one.”
Things went well for a few days, then Justin had to go back to work, leaving Scout home with Tabitha. I had agreed to be their support person and checked in every day. One day, when Tabby was about two weeks old, I got a hysterical call from Scout. There was a dirty diaper and no baby wipes. She didn’t know what to do. I urged her to use a washcloth, but she refused and insisted that I drop what I was doing and bring wipes. Another time, we needed to change a dirty diaper when we were out grocery shopping, and she couldn’t deal with the mess. She started gagging and walked off, leaving me with the baby. When I wasn’t available during these minor crises, she called Justin making him leave work. I was beginning to worry. Often, Scout's aunt or I would have Tabby for a weekend. Then, when she was only a couple of months old, I got a call at 6 am one Sunday morning from Scout screeching, “You have to come right away and get the baby out of this badness!” I threw on my clothes and raced over rescue her. Her mother, covered in blood from her own doing, was admitted to a psychaitric hospital, and Tabby lived with me for three weeks. Soon after that incident, Justin moved out, taking his baby with him. We went to court and got him physical custody. He lived with friends for a while then eventually moved into our communal house.
Scout came regularly for a while to see Tabby, but the visits got less frequent as she fell deeper into her distress. Although, she didn’t always call ahead, I always knew when she was coming. Tabby would be playing quietly when suddenly she would shout, “Mama!” Sure enough, a few minutes later, Scout would show up at the door. I was amazed at the strong psychic connection between the two of them. I tried to include her in as many things as I could. I knew she loved to swim, so I invited her to come with us to the beach for Tabby’s first experience in the water. I tried to keep her in the loop about developmental milestones and related funny anecdotes. In spite of my efforts, Scout never stopped believing that I wanted to steal her child from her. That was the last thing I wanted to do. I had already raised kids from the time I was just barely twenty-two years and wasn’t even finished yet. I was fifty with a thirteen-year-old still at home and certainly didn’t want another baby. But I was totally in love with this beautiful child and wanted her to have a good start, so I did what I could while continuing to try to reach out to her mom. I still held on to the hope that her mom would figure out how to escape from her demons.
Then one early May morning, Tabby woke up crying. Nothing seemed to be wrong, but there was no consoling her. It didn’t seem as though she was in pain, but she was incredibly upset about something. She cried for hours. Sometime in the mid-morning, just as I was considering calling a doctor, I got a call from Justin. Scout had died that morning. It seemed as though that psychic connection between mother and child had kicked into high gear. Once I understood, I just sat and rocked that seventeen-month-old, cooing and singing to her until she calmed down. Her dad sat with her for most of the day, both of them taking comfort in each other. It was a whirlwind of activity filled with drama from many sides.
It was May of 2005, my grandbaby’s mother died suddenly, and her dad gradually fell apart, leaving me to pick up the pieces. I’ve always been good at forging ahead, making plans, organizing and seeing things through. This was a whole new experience. Now, I had to figure out how to support my son while also ensuring the care of his daughter and caring for my young teen. When Tabby was born, everything had been put in Scout’s name. She was unable to work and was on disability with Tabitha included on her health insurance. She had been so distressed for much of that time, they had fallen behind in well visits and immunizations. I tried to help my son weed through the bureaucracy, but he was rapidly sinking into a severe depression. He wasn’t working, slept past noon and was neglecting his child. One day, Dick took me aside and suggested that I needed to take custody of Tabitha. “What!? No, I can’t take on another child right now,” was my reaction. He insisted. He made me see that I was the most reliable and familiar person. I asked if he would help and was told that he would not help in any practical way but would try to be a moral support to me. For days, I wrestled with all of the options. I wouldn’t let her go into foster care. A friend had offered to take her, but I couldn’t face giving her to someone else. Although, I was doing well at the time, I wasn’t sure if I could handle the extra financial strain and knew I couldn’t count on getting any child support. Scout had not worked, so Tabby was not eligible for Social Security survivor payments, and Justin had no reliable income. I would have to find daycare for her so that I could work and would have to find a way to pay for it. It all seemed impossible, but I knew I had no choice. I couldn’t abandon her. I also knew that I couldn’t do this immense job with her dad living in the house draining my energy and resources.
I went to him with a proposal. He would have to leave and try to get his life back together, but I wanted him to leave Tabby with me. I would go to court and get shared custody with physical custody going to me. He sadly and reluctantly agreed. As soon as I had the custody papers in hand, I arranged for health insurance and made her first doctor’s appointment in almost a year. I found a friend who ran a home daycare and happened to have a spot available and offered me a discount. I did not go back to the songwriting camp that summer. I didn’t do any extra things for myself and had no vacation. I found I couldn’t take on the extra work I was so often offered, so each month, I slowly fell further into debt with all of the extra expenses of a young child. I was also facing the anger and demands of Scout's family and friends who were convinced that I had done something wrong, and no one offered their help. I was fifty when she was born with my life finally starting to go in the direction I had always wanted. Now I struggled to keep up with her energy, exhausted at the end of each day and wondering how I would go on. But I was also fulfilled knowing that I was doing the right thing. I loved her deeply and could see that she loved me. That gave me the strength to reach out to my village to help raise this child and I gathered up resources and support.
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