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Tuesday, May 6th, 2014
Joe DeProspero has two sons, a wife, and is complimentary birth control for anyone who sits near him in a restaurant. His writing has been described as “outrageous,” “painfully real,” and “downright humiliating.” Author of the dark comedy fiction novel “The Boy in the Wrinkled Shirt,” Joe is currently writing a parenting humor book. He lives in New Jersey and can be found on Facebook or followed on Twitter @JoeDeProspero.
As a child growing up in a house with two parents who barely spoke a word to one another, much less showed affection, there was always a part of me that dreaded holidays. Because they included an outing, whether it was a dinner, a show, or even a simple 15-minute car ride to grandma’s house. And an outing meant almost assuredly that I’d be without one of my parents. They “stayed together for the kids,” but we were still left scratching our heads when Mother’s Day arrived and we went our separate ways to two different gatherings.
Looking back, I get it. Neither of them wanted to be apart from their children permanently, but holidays (and vacations) were sort of a reprieve from the day-to-day awkwardness. For them, and truthfully, for my sister and me.
But I resented it as a kid. I knew my parents didn’t have the kind of relationship most did, so I would sit restrainedly glum at the dinner table, feeling like we were a broken family. Frankly, because we were. And even as a child, I would try to give mom gifts as a way of distracting her from the failing marriage we all silently knew was eating at her. I just never felt like it was enough. So I told myself I’d eventually show her my appreciation for all she’d done for me.
As a teenager, not much changed. However, I began to establish more of an understanding about my parents’ marriage, and particularly, the sacrifices they were both making for the sake of seeing their children grow. Once I comprehended that, I was able to make peace with it. But that didn’t change the fact that every Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, or anniversary I’d look at other married couples giving each other flowers and singing each other’s praises, and I’d be angry that my own parents weren’t showing the same kind of gratitude for each other.
As a young adult, the separation wasn’t as outwardly apparent. I’d gotten married, moved in with my wife, and by that time, my parents had officially divorced. We still got together for Mother’s Day, of course. But because we no longer lived together, I enjoyed that time with her even more. We took her to dinner, gave her gifts we thought were meaningful, but I still didn’t feel like it was enough. I told myself I’d eventually show her my appreciation for all she’d done for me.
Then, I became a parent myself. And my life was turned upside down. I was fortunate enough to watch my wife blossom into the mother I always knew she’d be. But it wasn’t all play dates and bedtime stories. It was hard. Sometimes, it felt nearly impossible to keep our cool as we navigated the treacherous, uncertain road of raising a child, then later, a second child. I began to develop a deep, thorough understanding of how having children can test the strength of not only your character, but your marriage. I looked back on my childhood and imagined how difficult it must have been to deal with a faltering marriage while also trying to manage a career and, oh yeah, two growing children. Despite the realization, I told myself yet again that I’d eventually show her my appreciation for all she’d done for me.
A couple of short years later, a week before my oldest son’s third birthday, mom suddenly passed away. She was 59. I was blindsided, irrevocably damaged. And if it isn’t obvious, I never did tell her how much I appreciated her. Maybe I grazed past it once or twice in a greeting card. But the thoughts I tucked into a dark corner of my brain, the raw kind of emotion that you’d normally hear bellowed in a Janis Joplin song? She sadly never got to hear that.
This weekend, I will celebrate my third Mother’s Day since her passing. Naturally, I’ve been receiving an enormous amount of marketing communications (spam) from major retailers urging me to “Make mom happy!” and “Save 25% just in time for Mother’s Day!” And trust me, nothing would please me more than to do exactly those things. But the fact of the matter is that I’ve simply got to suffer through this. And unfortunately, my wife does, too. I’m trying, but my instinct is to reject that this Sunday is even happening, to remain restrainedly glum at the dinner table while others clink glasses around me. Because even more than I regret my own lack of verbal appreciation, I regret that my children won’t get to know their grandmother like I did. Put simply, I can’t stand Mother’s Day because it reminds me of what could’ve been. For the sake of my wife, though, I have no plans to crawl into a corner and cover my ears.
So, do yourself a favor this Sunday and skip the vague platitudes we typically scribble into an overpriced card and opt instead to be real…so very real that it makes you uncomfortable even. I can guarantee it will feel better than holding it inside until you’re giving a eulogy.
Thanks for reading, and a genuine, uncomfortably long hug to all you moms out there making life worth living for your children. Especially to my wife, whose natural abilities make me look like a rookie on a daily basis.
Tell Mom she’s the best this Mother’s Day with this Most Valuable Mommy coloring card!
* Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.com
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affection, death, divorce, dysfunctional family, family, Father's Day, janis joplin, marriage, Mother's Day, parent dying, parenthood, parenting | Categories:
Joe DeProspero, Losing a Parent
Thursday, August 22nd, 2013
Joe DeProspero has two sons, a wife, and is complimentary birth control for anyone who sits near him in a restaurant. His writing has been described as “outrageous,” “painfully real,” and “downright humiliating.” He talks about the highs and unsettling lows of parenthood while always being entertaining and engaging in the process. He has written the fiction book “The Boy in the Wrinkled Shirt” and is working on releasing a parenting humor book. He currently lives in New Jersey with his wife and two sons and can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org or followed on Twitter @JoeDeProspero.
It’s something I never imagined I’d have to do while my children were so young. In most cases, it’s a role we’re thrust into without so much as a day or two to Google some helpful tips to prepare for it. But on April 14, 2012, my whole world changed, and I was faced with an insurmountable task: dealing with an unthinkable loss while simultaneously teaching my oldest son what death means on a level he might understand.
My 83-year-old Grandma Helen called me that Saturday afternoon at about 1:00, concerned that my mother (who lived alone) wasn’t answering her phone. This was not like my mother, who called my grandmother every single morning religiously. She wasn’t answering my calls either. About an hour later, I stopped by her place which was only 15 minutes away. And I found her on the floor. She was dead at age 59. And just like that, life as I knew it was dramatically changed forever. I was then tasked with breaking the news to my grandmother, who in turn suffered a severe stroke and also died two days later (yes, really). I was crushed. But feeling sorry for myself could only last so long; my son Antonio’s 3rd birthday party was the following weekend, and I now had two gaping holes in the family to explain to him. We would end up holding a double funeral for them the day before the party. But how was I going to explain all of this to a child whose beloved grandmother AND great grandmother suddenly vanished without saying goodbye?
My immediate reaction was to avoid any mention of “Grandma Linda” or “Nana Helen.” I had no idea how to approach their deaths with my one son who was old enough to ask about them (my younger son was 10 months old at the time). But neither my wife nor I wanted him to wonder why they hadn’t bothered to show up to his birthday party. My wife, Sonia, did her best to convey the losses in a way his young mind could comprehend. So she pulled him aside one night that week.
“Honey, Grandma went to heaven. She’s high up in the sky now and is always watching, but you just won’t be able to see her anymore.”
I’m paraphrasing because I wasn’t present for the conversation, but that’s basically how it went. A bit of a high concept for a toddler, but we were trying. And it was obvious that he didn’t understand a word of it. He simply smiled and continued mashing the buttons on his Buzz Lightyear. But while he didn’t understand, as days went by, he could clearly tell that something had gone awry. If we brought up Grandma, he ignored us. It got to the point where he wouldn’t even say her name, purposely avoiding having to bring her up, much like I did at first. Then, one day, in my car on the way to drop him off at day camp, he asked the question I’d been dreading for weeks.
“Daddy, is Grandma ever coming back?”
I froze for about eight seconds. It was like being on a job interview where you’re asked the one question you weren’t prepared for. And as the seconds ticked by, it became clearer that the truth was my only option.
“No. Honey, I’m sorry. She’s not. But she loves you and she’ll always be watching. And hey, remember that pillow fight we had with her? Wasn’t that fun?”
I was nervous, so I reached for a distraction. He nodded solemnly. But over the following weeks and months, I realized I had two jobs when it came to the death of my mother: Don’t fall apart and don’t let mentions of her yield anything but a smile.
So far, I think my wife and I have been fairly successful. We started by showing my son video footage of the aforementioned pillow fight I’d captured on my iPhone, then with watching our wedding video and asking him to point Grandma out. Then, after attending a birthday party, my wife accidentally let Antonio’s helium balloon slip out of the car and into the sky. Naturally, Antonio was not pleased. But he was certainly intrigued when we determined that the balloon wasn’t lost at all, but it was merely “sent up to Grandma.” To this day, he associates balloons (one of his favorite things) with my mother. And he smiles.
In recent months, instead of asking if Grandma is coming back, he instead asks questions about heaven.
How did she get all the way up there?
Where does she sleep?
Does she still have my balloon?
Frankly, the questions break my heart. But if he never asked at all, I think it’d be worse. So I answer him as cheerfully and imaginatively as possible.
She has special flying abilities that take her up, up, up into the sky, and she uses a cloud as a pillow. And of course she still has your balloons. She always will.
In a way, I feel like I’m writing a fairytale on the fly. This magical lady who flies with the birds and sleeps above the raindrops. Sometimes I even get caught up in the fantasy of it all, detaching myself from reality for a moment. I suppose I do it for me as much as I do it for him. I don’t want her to fade into a memory for either of us.
So if you’ve recently found yourself in this unenviable position, know that you’re not alone. And also, don’t be afraid to tell your children the truth. Or as much of the truth that you determine they can handle. Ignoring my mother’s memory around my son was not the solution to my grief or to his understanding of this dreadful situation. Honoring her memory and reminding my son of how wonderful his grandmother was (and magically continues to be) is a step in the right direction. Because while I will always be saddened by any mention of her, my children deserve to know how much she loved them. And she deserves it, too.
Antonio and my mother, two weeks before her death. Strangely, she already looked like an angel.
I truly hope that you either found solace in reading this or will think back on it if you ever need to explain the unimaginable to your children. In closing, here’s a picture of the inside cover of Green Eggs and Ham, as inscribed by my mother to my son. I always point it out when I read it to him.
Feel free to share your stories by adding a comment below.
* If you prefer my humor-based posts, forgive me for the seriousness of this one, as I felt it was a story that needed to be told.
Read more about how to talk to your kids about death and tragedy:
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buzz lightyear, death, death of a parent, explaining death, grandparents, green eggs and ham, heaven, joe deprospero, parenting, tragedy | Categories:
Fearless Feisty Mama, Joe DeProspero, Losing a Parent, Mom Situations, Mom Tricks and Tips, Must Read
Monday, October 15th, 2012
…right before you get on a plane with your husband, you email your closest girlfriends, your aunt and your brother a document titled “Final Wishes” that spells out exactly how you want your children raised, what type of schooling they should have and what sort of life you want them to live should you perish.
Yes folks, it’s called rock bottom crazy and I hit it last week.
Phil and I were flying to a wedding in Sante Fe. This is the first time we left both kids behind. Something I regretted and vowed to never do again. (Though drinking until 1 a.m. at the wedding and then sleeping in was a treat so I may retract that sentence.)
Earlier in the week I had our will all updated, legal guardians set, etc. But then the what-ifs started to creep into my brain. In a last minute frenzy I typed up the document and sent it out. Thing is, I didn’t feel crazy. Still don’t really. It made me feel saner.
After my cousin was killed earlier this year, I figured that having your bases covered was prudent. My aunt and brother agreed. My two girlfriends told me to go back to my shrink (who happens to be a hypnotherapist). I am heeding their advice, but more for my general need for a tune-up.
Needless to say, we got back safe and sound. My heart was aching for my babies and I said I wouldn’t leave them again. Then a work gig came up and 48 hours later I found myself flying to New York. Ack. But it was a quick 1-day shoot and I was back. My plane didn’t crash. And Phil didn’t go, so at least one of us would be around, god forbid.
My next trip is in a month. To Vegas. With one of my best–and most fun–friends. (Yes Dena, I’m talking about YOU!). Phil will stay home, so I’m covered. But after that, I swear, I’ll never leave my kids again… or on second thought, just seek the professional help I clearly need.
Anyone else want to tell me their version of crazy to make me feel better?
Airplane picture courtesy of Shutterstock
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children, crazy, death, final wishes, hypnotherapist, legal guardians, neurotic, travel, will | Categories:
Have Baby, Will Travel, Mom Situations, Mom Tricks and Tips
Monday, August 20th, 2012
My first cousin was killed in a freak accident. Yeah, I know this isn’t a great way to start off a blog post. But I don’t know what else to do or how to write about it. He was 44. A great dad to two sons, ages 12 and 13. His mom, my Aunt Nancy, my Baba Yaga, is “my person.” She is perhaps the one I am closest to in the world. In a mother-sister-best friend kind of way. No one will ever understand our connection. And that’s okay. We kind of like it that way.
In 2007, Nancy and I went down to Florida for what we called “Rehab Tour 2007.” My mom had been in a drunken blackout for a year. Crack, alcohol and god knows what else. There were dog feces everywhere. There were three huge talking birds with feathers and sh-t covering every surface. There was a dead rat embedded in the carpet. And this is just the quick summary. It was too much for us to tackle alone.
We went to the bank, pulled out as much cash as we could, then picked up day workers and begged them to clear out her place. Even the refrigerator and stove went. We hired cleaning ladies who worked side by side with us, pouring buckets of bleach on the walls. We went to thrift stores and bought replacement furniture. Nancy had just survived Hurricane Katrina and we kept saying, “Pretend we are helping Katrina victims.” It made it more of an out-of-body experience.
That mantra and some amazing martini’s got us through.
At one point I said to Nancy, “If we can tackle Mount Mom, why don’t we climb Mt. Kilimanjaro?” A friend had suggested the trip to me the week before. Nancy said she’d think about it.
After three days of hard labor, we picked up my mom from rehab. We took her shopping for groceries; we put together a “schedule” for her to follow; we went to AA meetings (I loved them so much, I briefly wished I was an alcoholic). But as we said goodbye, neither of us were that optimistic.
Ten days later she got on her scooter, went to the liquor store and bought a bottle of vodka. She was hopeless.
But Nancy and I had each other. Even though our mission ultimately failed, we felt invincible for what we had done. The Mountain was now calling.
Fast forward six weeks. We are in Tanzania, caked in mud, trekking up the Shira route. For 7 days we battle rain, wind, snow, sleet and bitter temperatures. Nancy is 64 years old and has lived at sea level most of her life. Our guides call her “Super Mama.” I could tell on summit day they were skeptical if she would make it. But on March 7, 2007, she was the first to reach the summit. At 19,343 feet we stood on top of Mt. Kilimanjaro, arms in the air, touching the wind. We knew we could do anything. Or so we thought…
But burying your son isn’t supposed to be part of that equation.
Justin was so proud of her for climbing that mountain. He, too, had his mom’s sense of adventure and determination. He was a kindred spirit in that way. Words can’t describe the loss. Healing–even acceptance–seems like an insurmountable mountain to climb. But carry-on we must. What choice do we have?
Mothers aren’t supposed to bury their sons. Children aren’t supposed to bury their fathers.
We hurt. We grieve. It’s the price you pay for having loved so hard.
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AA, addict, adventure, alcohol, Baba Yaga, climbing, crack, death, drugs, drunken blackout, freak accident, funeral, Hurricane Katrina, Mt. Kilimanjaro, summit | Categories:
Fearless Feisty Mama, Losing a Parent, Mom Situations
Thursday, June 7th, 2012
A year ago today my mom died. I woke up this morning not sure how to feel. Glad she is out of her pain? Glad she is no longer a burden to me? Relieved that her tragic life ended so peacefully? And yet, I’m sad. It’s hard to know how to feel when your heart is so full of conflict. From my tween years on, she was an addict. For three decades I simultaneously loved, hated and worried about her. Months went by with no communication. Years went by where I didn’t see her. But towards the end, we were all with her. I was able to whisper my final goodbyes.
In those last days she and I made a pact. We would communicate through lilacs. When Phil and I moved to LA, I realized lilacs don’t grow as abundantly here. But a few weeks ago, we went to the Descanso Gardens. I knew she would be waiting.
Phil played with Fia while I walked privately with Emmett.
I carried him up to the purple blossoms.
“Hi Mom. This is Emmett,” I whispered.
She reached out to us. I felt her smile. I felt her. God she would love him. She would be so happy that I had a son. She always talked about how my brother, her firstborn, was such an easy, good baby. How instant that love was. Mom, I know what you mean! I have so much to tell you.
But as I start to think about what could be, I know in my heart what could never have been. Tethered to tubes in the hospital for a year, free of illicit drugs and alcohol, I got glimpses of the mom I had in the early years. I’ve written about it before–how she was the best of them. That is, before the demons took over.
So on this day, I feel a conflict between my head and my heart. Between what I know and how I feel. I say to the good mom, I wish you were here. To hold him. To smell him. To hug me. I say to the tormented mom, May you rest in peace.
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addict, addiction, alcohol, bipolar, death, drugs, grief, illicit drugs, lilacs, losing a mom, Losing a Parent, mortality | Categories:
Fearless Feisty Mama, Losing a Parent, Mom Situations, Must Read