the ghost of lobster dinners past

1993: as near as i can figure, lobster dinners started christmas of my junior year of high school. the original guests included my parents and me. the menu has changed little since that first meal: lobster, baked potato, and a salad, although the salad dropped off in the early 2000’s because it just got in the way of the lobster, and wine became a more prominent component once i reached legal-ish age. the dinners were designed as a way to welcome in the christmas season by taking a moment to be thankful and grateful as well as serve as a collective “introverted” moment for the immediate family. our extended family (which had grown crazier over the years) would soon be upon us, bringing with them all the stress and drama that turned the three of us into angry little balls of crankiness that we usually “spared” our family from by taking it out on each other. lobster dinner was just us and something to look forward to while we were preparing for anything else.

1998: 1998 was a big year of change for the dinners. the first guest at lobster dinner happened out of necessity. although there was some brief talk of making my new boyfriend sit in the other room while we feasted, he had travelled to dallas with me to visit my family and that seemed rude, even for us. there was much joking about the “outsider” while we ate, but it was clear to everyone that he was a permanent guest. this was also the first and only year that lobster dinner occurred on christmas eve instead of a week or so earlier, thanks to the timing of our visit.

1998 was also the year that the lobsters started growing in size. wanting to impress his guest (although he claimed this was all they had), my father bought slightly larger lobsters. the next year, when it was our turn to host, we didn’t want to “look bad” so we stepped up as well, likely with even larger lobsters. when it became my father’s opportunity again, he stepped up to show off, and so on and so on, until in recent years, one or more of us has been unable to finish our share. a decade later, the lobsters are a full pound larger than the original dinner, and that’s only because once you get over 2.5 pounds, they become hard to purchase and a logistical nightmare to cook (every year we tell the story of that one 5lb lobster my parents had back in the late 70’s).

2006: lobster dinners continued as an annual tradition for almost a decade without much changing except for the venue and the unfortunate animals startled by a confrontation with an angry lobster on their kitchen floor. In truth, there wasn’t much noteworthy about 2006, except in hindsight. The four of us lingered longer on how fortunate and healthy we all were. Although my dad was suffering from some strange pains in his stomach, this was not a particularly note-worthy event. He’d suffered from rheumatoid arthritis and the complications of the harsh treatments for almost 20 years, and was doing better than ever. i remarked that 10 years previous, when he was having heart attacks and the treatments for his RA weren’t doing much besides make him sick, that i hadn’t expected him to see 60 years old. “there’s still time,” my dad said, full of uncharacteristic mirth and optimism. “i don’t turn 61 for another 5 months.”

and because sometimes life is like a ridiculously contrived plot point in a “feel-good” christmas special, that strange pain in his stomach was pancreatic cancer and he died 5 months later. 10 days before his 61st birthday.

2007: lobster dinner added two more guests. the first was our daughter, who was less than 6 weeks old and might have been asleep before the bright red beasts made their way onto our plates. the second was my father-in-law. tragedy hung out for quite a while that year and my mother-in-law passed away as well. it just made sense to open the group up for him as well. i don’t remember much, thanks to the fog of new-parenthood, but i remember breaking a dish and finding it a few days later and generally being in a bad mood. i suppose it was understandable, given all the circumstances.

2008: tonight will be the first dinner back at my mom’s house since my father died. i didn’t really catch the significance of that until a few moments ago. while packing charlotte’s clothes for her over-night visit with grandma, i started telling her about lobster dinner and explaining some of it’s history to her. for a brief moment i couldn’t remember why her grandpa was coming. and then i did. and then suddenly i hated lobster dinner.

lobster dinner 2006 was the last night with my family before Everything Changed. it is the last moment before a wave of harsh anniversaries starts assaulting my family and although the intensity fades around june, it doesn’t really let up until september.

avoiding lobster dinner doesn’t avoid all of that, but there’s a small part of me that really wishes it would.

i am angry and ashamed of it

every time i see something about patrick swayze that doesn’t end with “passed away today” i am briefly filled with blinding rage. then regret. then supersadness. then more anger, because being sad doesn’t take away being mad. rinse repeat until i distract myself.

it’s not that i don’t like him. it’s not that i wish him ill, or any other person who is suffering from any kind of cancer and is fortunate enough to survive long enough to reach some level of acceptance with “life as a cancer victim/survivor.” i really don’t. i know lots of people who lived with/are living with/are survivors of all sorts of cancers and do not begrudge them anything they and their loved ones have that my father did not. i think it’s fabulous that science is catching up and so many common cancers are no longer short or long term death sentence. i’m just jealous and bitter when it comes to pancreatic cancer and unfortunately mis-focusing it on patrick swayze.

the thing that makes him different is that he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer a year ago and instead of dying like 90% of the people who don’t make it a year is so fine that he gets to go make tv shows now. every article feels like a slap in the face. “this guy lives and your dad died” they say to me. “this guy beat the insane odds and your dad didn’t.” and most importantly and tragically which makes me feel like kant, “if this guy would have died quickly and violently like your dad did, there would have been national attention and donations given to pancreatic cancer which might be saving other people’s lives right now.”

that makes me feel terrible. i’m tired of keeping it inside, though, where it festers, so i’m exploding it onto this page in the hopes that getting it “out there” will decrease a bit of the pain the reaction causes me.

2007: in review

so, how’d i do?

drink less soda (maybe 1 a day?)

well, i’m not sure what “less” was before i got pregnant, but due to pregnancy and breastfeeding, i’ve cut back to 1-2 “doses” of caffeine a day. that’s certainly less than the “triple venti” mornings i used to have. i’d call this one accomplished    

drink way more water (some in the form of tea)

went above and beyond while pregnant. i could stand to drink a bit more water than i do right now, but i know it’s way more than i used to. accomplished    

wean myself mostly off of caffeine by march-ish

heh. one or two cans or a single grande bevvy *is* weaned for me. accomplished    

exercise regularly (once week by march, adding a “once” every week every quarter)

heh. no. missed    

read one book a month (pitiful goal, i know, but considering i read about 3 all 2006, it’s not an unrealistic one)

also no. i think i managed about 6 books total, and all but harry potter 7 were pregnancy/labor/baby related. so very missed    

write (at least 6 hours a week)

oh god no. if i couldn’t find time to read, there’s no way i could find time to write. i tossed a few blog posts out there, but as far as *writing* goes, 2007 was a wasteland. missed    

eat better (one “take out” meal a day, healthier choices in general)

while pregnant, i only gained 15 pounds. since giving birth i’ve lost almost 40. i’ve been healthy the entire time. while i’m not eating rabbit food, i have drastically redefined what a portion is. i’m closer to my goal weight today than i have been in almost 6 years. i’d call that accomplished    

take my vitamins

can’t build a healthy baby without ’em! accomplished    

finish ryan’s scarf before spring

oh. right. i remember that scarf. missed    

and the lofty “i have no control, really” goals:sell the house

finally happened in february. accomplished    

move into the loft

sold in june, moved in during july. accomplished    

get pregnant

healthy, beautiful baby girl was born in november. accomplished    

find a cure for various forms of cancer

missed this one and lost so much as a result.    

take a really-real vacation (or two, or three, or more)

made it to seattle. nobody went to florida. had to skip out on the NY trip, and i barely remember wanting to go to mardi gras except to not be here. mostly missed    

buy some shiny new apple things (won’t be able to help myself)

…i think i bought an ipod? will probably get a new laptop this year, depending on what apple brings. accomplished    

earn lots of money to support all these goals ;)

…i managed to not get fired, despite my horrendous attitude, multiple week-long absences, and drastically decreased productivity. heck. they even gave me a raise! accomplished    

…you know what? looking back, i feel almost satisfied. i have a feeling my 2008 goals are going to look quite different, but i’ll save that post for another moment.

2007 mid-ish year recap

wherein kelly throws herself a whiny pity party and decides upon review that she really doesn’t care about the tense shifting and inconsistent capitalization enough to do anything about it.

let’s recap, shall we?

January
bad: found out my dad’s “spots” were very terminal pancreatic cancer

February
good: *finally* sold our damn house.
bittersweet: found out friends were pregnant (what? i’m not allowed to be happy and a wee bit jealous?)
bad: work-related stress comes to a serious head, resulting in more than one panic attack.

March
bad -“the flood” -work falls to bitty, bitty chaotic pieces
bittersweet: found out my cousin was pregnant (see above)
good: found out I was pregnant
(it should be noted that the flood, rachel’s pregnancy and my discovery were all the same damn day)
bad: dad spends the month in and out of the hospital thanks to pneumonia, random fevers, and life-threatening blood clots.
bad: low progesterone issues threaten my pregnancy
bad: trip to new york is cancelled.
worst week so far: the one where it looked like i was going to miscarry, my dad was going to die, and we should have been spending a great week in newyork with my inlaws.

fuck march

April
good: low progesterone issues taper off as i enter the second trimester
bad: my dad dies.

fuck april

May
bad: my dad’s first not-birthday
good: the first annual “Bob Valentine Memorial Day at the Casino”
bad: Nancy (my mother in law)’s cancer has spread to her brain.

fuck the hell out of may.

June
good: baby and i pass the 18week checkup with flying colors, even if we didn’t discover the gender
good: trip to seattle with 4 of my closest friends (oh, and ryan)
good: work seems to be turning around with the help of some restructuring/new hires
bad: my mentor leaves the company, leaving me at “the helm” of this new restructuring
bad: my first birthday in 20+ years where my father doesn’t call me at 10:50 to say happy birthday
good/bad: the radiation treatments clearly help Nancy, but greatly fatigue her/cause complications

seattle aside, fuck june, too.

July
bad: blockage in Nancy’s digestive system is irreparable. she comes home to die.
bittersweet: more rushed than we’d like, we move out of our crappy apartment and into our sexy loft. loft is largely empty as we left most of our stuff behind.
good: baby is officially declared a girl
bad: my grandmother (the only grandparent i have left) is diagnosed with chronic pulmonary distress.
good: looks like she’s just an 89 year old woman with 89 year old lungs. it’s not great, but it’s not life-threatening.
bad: Nancy dies. her wake is 3 months to the day that my father died.
good: we register for “stuff” at babiesrus as a helpful distraction.
good: will and gina arrive a week early.

i’d fuck july if i had the strength.

August
good: will and gina’s presence in our home makes it feel like home.
bad: the week i took off to support my family throws the restructuring at work out of whack. yes, there were other reasons, but had i been there…
bad: stress of life and work and physical stress of baby causes painful acid reflux and i loose a weekend to feebleness and vomiting. takes a week to get my appetite back.
good: when we can squeeze it in, we move forward with baby things like building furniture and registering at target.
good: we find almost a week where we can focus on our loft and our upcoming baby. there is still much to do.
bad: life and work stress, coupled with the fact that i’m less and less physically capable of doing things, cause me to start having panic attacks again.
good: i start taking anti-depressants after talking with my doctor.
good: surprise trip to peoria to see nickelcreek and fiona apple.
bad: very close friends who’ve been together for 5 years end their relationship.
second worst week of the year: watching a friend grieve over the loss of her relationship and trying to help when she wants to be left alone to die. feeling more helpless than with either death.
good: my replacement at work is a rockstar. it gets easier every week to let a little work-stress go.
bad: nancy’s father (grandpa fritz) is diagnosed with colon cancer.
good: grandpa fritz has a very successful surgery to remove the cancer. is pronounced “good for 10 more years”. he is 91.
bad: grandpa’s sutures fail. he returns for additional surgery. it is successful (thusfar), but requires a ventilator, feeding tube. none of which he wants.

fuck august.

fuck it harder than any other month, in no small part because of all the months that have come before it, weighing it down so heavily.

september – december
good: apple day
bad: the first apple day with no nancy. the first apple day in 5 years with no fritzs because they’re all in chicago watching over grandpa’s beside.
bad: grandpa will likely not see halloween.
good: impending births of many loved children, including my own.
good: declaring myself “pagan enough” to count halloween as the new year and hopefully separating charlotte’s birth from the year that preceded it.
deathly frightening and exiting: charlotte’s arrival
bittersweet: there is still so very much to do.
bittersweet: showers for charlotte, which will have a few palpable absences.
good: will and gina will likely still be in town when charlotte arrives
bad: will and gina will leave days later for their new home in DC.
bittersweet: thanksgiving, christmas and so many alterations to loved traditions.
good: there will be a tattoo on me in some form or another to mark this year on my skin as permanently as it’s been marked on my soul.

may it be that i find the serenity to accept the things i cannot change, the courage to change the things i can, and the wisdom to know the difference.