Sunday, March 6, 2016

For that One Particular Fly, Nana. . . Families and Health

Throughout my pregnancies -- so 30 and more years ago -- there were some tests available to ascertain the health of the fetus, but not nearly as many as there are now, nor were they as readily accessible. Like most of the moms I knew, I pushed my worries back down when they surfaced (voicing them aloud, even to my husband, felt like inviting trouble, like bad luck), and relied on youth (I was only 32 when my last was born) and an obviously healthy genetic bank evidenced clearly in mine and Pater's many siblings and in the large families on both my paternal and maternal sides.

With each birth, then, all that worry whooshed out with baby, made itself known for a split second, just long enough to be assuaged with the results of the Apgar score.  They all regained their birth weight within a week, nursed readily, grew healthily, crawled, learned to talk, to walk, to sing, to read, to play happily with others. One suffered a green-stick fracture at his ankle; another, barely two, was almost hospitalised for dehydration during a particularly bad bout of some nasty virus; I had to search out unbleached 100% cotton socks for another because the skin on her feet peeled and cracked and fissured in any synthetic.  Oh, and three of the four spent a few years in braces after having a few teeth removed to make room for straightening. All four needed to be coddled through the post-op weekend (my son stretched that to nearly a week!) wisdom teeth surgery.

But otherwise? We have been blessed with sturdy, attractive, healthy working bodies in our family, and these bodies and the lively, bright, creative, resilient, thoughtful minds and souls these bodies act for and through attracted four other such bodies, similarly connected to, powered by, intelligence and goodness and thoughtfulness. So very lucky. And between them, these four healthy couples have taken the terrifying and wonderful risk of having their own babies. If your children have had children already, you'll know how much those pregnancies, those approaches to the moment of birth, are filled with excitement and unvoiced fears, amplified exponentially from when it was our own baby we were waiting for. The relief, waiting on a bench outside the Birthing room, for news from a nurse hustling by, taking pity on our obvious tension, giving us the thumbs-up.

We're four decades into this parenting gig now, and we've lived through five grandbaby births, and we've never been complacent about our good luck and our overall good family health. But while we've regularly registered appreciation (nervously nodded thank-yous to the heavens without wanting to draw much attention?), we've probably come very close to taking it for granted, just because too much energy is needed for the day-to-day realities of family life to be wasting much on worries. Push them down whenever they surface. Don't ever speak them aloud, even to your spouse.

Things shifted, this past week. Someone else is in the centre of the story, so it's not mine to tell, but I'm changed at the core, yet not, somehow. I suspect part of me, of him as well, was always preparing. Had to be. Not stupid, after all. We're regrouping, figuring out the most efficacious responses. Everyone still looks and functions well (the grandchildren are all fine), prognosis seems very positive, specialists are setting treatment plans.  And I keep seeking context.

It was always the deal, right? I mean, I know so many stories . . . I've hugged so many friends. . .

My wise and very sensitive 7-year old Granddaughter visited, as you know, last weekend. At one point, we were talking about going out for breakfast and she giggled a memory of her dad eating an inchworm that had somehow traveled onto his plate in a salad. From there, the conversation migrated, as it will with a Seven, to people who eat bugs, to cultures that include insects in their diets, and then, somehow, she was talking about how sad she feels sometimes when her parents kill a fly. She told me that they respond to her sorrow by pointing out that there are billions of flies in the world,  thus suggesting both that flies are pestilential and that the one is no great loss. I'll admit I was nodding agreement with their perspective, and so she looked at me very solemnly and said, "But for that one particular fly, Nana . . . "

And this week, after a very emotional phone call, hugging consolation into and from each other, reminding ourselves of context, of how many have already had to do this for much longer, in much more difficult circumstances, the losses, the worries, the pain of others surely more deserving of tears and fears. And yet. For these particular flies. . .

Even writing this much, I'm worried I'm overstepping boundaries. Not my story. But it is, as well, if only from the margins. In fact, perhaps, a story, from my perspective, of the margins, another instance of Liminality as life's inevitable condition. The way a mother's life, a mother's self, is in thrall to another life, that a mother's story changes the instant her child's story changes. The way that the Child's story is the Mother's story if the child is young (until what age?), but the Mother's role in the story changes, shrinks, as the Child becomes Husband or Wife, Father or Mother, Doctor or Lawyer or Mechanic or Climber. . . .

The stories are so hard to tell, the intimate relationship politics governing ownership, the mother-child relationship especially vulnerable to the vagaries of boundaries, the difficulties of this social medium, the cultural conditioning that makes us wary of exposing sorrow and fear, of appearing to invite sympathy. . . But let me leak a little truth today, if that's what I manage to do.

And I'm not inviting sympathy. I think they've got this (Child and Spouse) and we have much support together, our family, and there are so many needier, more troubling stories. In fact, I debated disallowing comments for this one post. Not sure why it makes me squirm so much. . . But I realise that I'd welcome distraction and companionship. Any thoughtful and particular advice, considered stories you're willing to share. Any expansion of my thinking about how our role as Mothers (or Fathers, although I rarely hear a male voice here) and Grandparents changes with the health or happiness of our children and grandchildren (that saying that we're only as happy as our happiest child . . . the reality of that, its repercussions, when we live long enough that the odds play out) . . . Thank you in advance.

64 comments:

  1. No advice...just thinking of you, your family, and your particular fly. x

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    1. Thanks, Georgia. The thoughts (kind energy) much appreciated.

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  2. I hear your pain, Mater and cannot presume to feel it. When I had my first child, my mother said to me, You will never know a day without fear now. I was not hugely pleased to be told this in the first week of my motherhood but I have thought about it a lot since. So while I am busy reading between the lines, know that I understand your anguish and ineffable love. We all dread The Call. Let us too hang onto the fact that modern medicine is one of humanity's great achievements. You know what I will say, don't you? Have a drink. Tea, coffee, gin or wine. Steady the nerves and on we go.

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    1. I wouldn't have appreciated hearing that so soon after becoming a mother either -- but in a way, your mother was demonstrating part of what I'm experiencing. She could only be on the margins of whatever you experienced as a mother, and yet the change was central to her in some ways...

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  3. That news, when everything changes, when we realize how our love endures. That news we wish we could lift off our loved one and-as I said to my nephew-fighting a rare, aggressive leukemia for the last 4 months-if only we could all take a piece of it from him, onto us. I understand your debate about comments. Just to let you know others have recently faced the same Call, and stand with you.

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    1. Oh absolutely. If only I could just shift this from my Child's body to my own. Thank you...

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  4. I've no experience with this journey but I see your pain in your words. And I've had friends go through variations on this theme. Thinking of you and your family, when words cannot suffice but will have to do anyway.

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    1. Hmmm, you may not have experienced this with a(n adult) child, but I know your life changed drastically when George's symptoms were first noted, then diagnosed.... thanks for the thoughts and words.

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  5. Great post, F. And I have to say that I believe that this is your story (in a totally different way than it is your child's, admittedly, but it's just as much yours). I understand your concern about overstepping boundaries. We all draw those boundaries in our blogs, though we draw them uniquely. I hope that you can find a way to feel comfortable sharing your experience of this because we care about you and would like to be able to support you! The moment my kid was born, I was crushed by the loss of innocence. I glibly liken it to (though it's far more pedestrian) the experience of having been inexorably changed by war. The scales are gone and there will never be any way to reaffix them. What I can say is that, as a child, the mother's story is also the child's. When my mother was working through breast cancer I felt very invested and like I had to talk and share. I checked with my mum to ensure she was ok with that. I know it was meaningful for her to read about my experience (and to gain support from my wonderful readers). Illness (our own or that of loved ones) changes us as it brings us closer to our selves. Giving you lots of good thoughts and love. xoxo

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    1. Loss of innocence, or perhaps of a preceding lack of awareness of vulnerability. And perhaps we've been waiting for a shoe to drop ever since, but thinking perhaps we'd squeaked by for good. . . Mortality and its many symptoms have always been part of the deal, so much tougher to acknowledge with those we hold so close. Thanks for your thoughtful words.

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  6. Like Annie, I hear your pain Frances .... I haven't been where you are at this moment but like you I'm grateful for my healthy children, partners ... no grandchildren yet. It's definitely best to respect their privacy but only human to feel for them and wish you could lift this from their shoulders whilst needing support yourself.....
    Take care, be kind to yourself whilst doing all that you can to give physical and emotional support ....I just know, you'll be doing this already ...
    Thinking about you ....
    Rosie

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    1. Thank you so much, Rosie. We are trying to make some time to look after ourselves and each other, so that we can be there fully when needed.

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  7. Thank you for sharing what you did with both honesty and discretion. I'm not a parent so I can't know how you feel, but as an empathetic human being who has endured many worries, please let me offer my support and my ongoing thoughts. Even the support of relative strangers can make a difference, I've found, and make us realize how all our lives are connected. With love to you and yours.

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  8. Thank you for sharing what you did with both honesty and discretion. I'm not a parent so I can't know how you feel, but as an empathetic human being who has endured many worries, please let me offer my support and my ongoing thoughts. Even the support of relative strangers can make a difference, I've found, and make us realize how all our lives are connected. With love to you and yours.

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    1. It's so true, Beth. It helps to tap into that well of goodness that exists in humanity, despite so much going on that sometimes convinces us otherwise. Only connect.... Thank you!

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  9. Your granddaughter is very wise, indeed. Your pain and worry deserve all the sympathy and support to be had, because they are particularly yours. As the mother of a grown up son I know the fine line between maternal care and violating another person's privacy (and still sometimes overstep it). But all the growing up and all the respect for this boundary do not reduce one bit the anguish in a situation like yours. Thinking of you with love.

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    1. Thank you for validating my awareness of that fine line. . . it can be tricky territory, but we moms sometimes need our hands held (virtually) as well...

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  10. Frances, I've got nothing to offer but my thoughts and affection - both are yours. If there's anything else I can do, please just let me know. I'm sorry for the distress and disturbance and worry. I hope all goes well in the end.

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    1. Thoughts and affection mean the world, Lisa. Thank you.

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  11. By sharing, you give each of us a chance to stand with you in some small way. And for parents I think this standing with and sharing means a lot since no one else can take over the job.

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    1. It does mean a lot; I can sense you all out there, beside me somehow, mucky though that may sound...

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  12. I hope it helps a little to know there are people scattered around the world , people you've never met but who feel touched by your friendship , people who are caring about you & yours at this moment . I hope all goes well
    Wendy in York

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    1. Yes, it does help. It's quite wonderful really, isn't it, that complete strangers feel bound enough to write a word or two. Onlookers might scoff at the ephemeral nature of the connection, but I find it sustained here, over time, and sustaining. Thank you.

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  13. Wendy says all that I would want to say.

    Standing with you and yours

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  14. Hi Mater, I relate very much to what you said, the Child's story is the Mother's story. I'm a worrier anyway, but I do feel it intensely if my boys are going through something. I just wish everyone all the best; yours is a strong family, there's no doubt that this fact will carry you through.

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    1. Thanks so much, Patricia. I don't know that I'd want to leave the impression that the Child's story is the Mother's story, but she's part of it, and it's a part of her story. They overlap, certainly, and even when they diverge drastically, part of the Mother is so often following the other's path in her imagination (often worrying as she does! ;-) I do believe we're strong and will get through this -- thanks for saying so!

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    2. Thanks so much, Patricia. I don't know that I'd want to leave the impression that the Child's story is the Mother's story, but she's part of it, and it's a part of her story. They overlap, certainly, and even when they diverge drastically, part of the Mother is so often following the other's path in her imagination (often worrying as she does! ;-) I do believe we're strong and will get through this -- thanks for saying so!

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  15. I'm sorry to hear this, Frances, and I hope that you'll continue to share discreetly what you can so that you can lean on your community of readers.

    A good prognosis, a team of specialists, and capable principal actors (Child and Spouse) sounds very promising. But I do understand the worry, of course.

    Much as we may ponder the shifting of family roles as children grow up and forge their own families, I think that in these kinds of situations the old, fundamental roles can sometimes be a comfort. I remember one Saturday morning, nearly twenty years ago now, during the time that my mother was undergoing cancer treatment (she is fine and healthy now, but I still knock on wood every time I say that), she wanted to make me pancakes for breakfast. I thought: sit down, Mom, you just had chemo 12 hours ago and I'm in my early twenties now, I can make the pancakes! But she insisted, and it dawned on me -- this wasn't really about pancakes. So I hope you and your family can also find some comfort and courage in that durability of the parent-child bond. Much love and many good thoughts to you and yours.

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    1. A lovely story, and so pleased to hear that your mother's health crisis had a happy ending -- you were a wise and sensitive young woman to recognise her need to occupy that comforting role.

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  16. The ache of motherhood waxes and wanes with the well-being of our children. I'm sorry for this shift in your life, Mater. The strength of your family and the bonds you have created over the years will be called into service through this, and grow even stronger.
    Hugs, and a prayer.

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    1. Thank you, Lorrie. I love your last sentence, and believe it's true.

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  17. Dear Frances, Child's story is Mother's story forever.
    I am so sorry that you have to deal with this
    And,I can say, with my experience,things that happend to my son (thanks to God,nothing serious) and my parents were worst for me than my own.
    My father had a massive stroke 18 years ago. Never completely recovered. Never ill before,nor a cold from his patients. He lives with my mother,I live in another flat in the same house.
    Couple of years ago, two of my very close people- one young- had non Hodgkin Lymphoma. Can't say more because of their privacy,but I was very involved. It was hard for them,but everything ends well.
    A year after that- my father gets Non-Hodkin Lymphoma,too
    Two operations after,a lots of severe treatments,he gets well.
    I have a friend who is world class hematologist-it helped a lot,not only in healing but in approach,as well
    Why am I writing all this- there are happy endings! We lived through it,it was not easy- but we were not waiting for the end of it,we lived all the way.
    Wendy said everything- you have my love and support,and if you want to talk,we are here
    Dottoressa

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    1. Thank you so much, Dottoressa, so many happy endings here, the kind of context I like to hear.

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  18. I know the fine line you walk, but it's your story too - your child, your grandchildren, your efforts to support, your dreams, your fear. The best advice I have is to let your child see your belief in him or her. Believe in your child's strength. Believe in your child's ability to come through this.

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    1. Thanks H. This is very good advice -- My Child and h Spouse are so strong, so amazing together, that there's no doubt they'll get through this. And we'll all learn important stuff in the process. (although personally, I'm rather thinking Ignorance might be Bliss! ;-)

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  19. She's right about the fly. I send my prayers to you and your family.

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    1. Thanks Mme. I was so surprised by her insight when she spoke those words, I must say. She is so right!

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  20. Frances, I think a part of me is always alert for the news that something has happened to one of the children. I'm sure that's true for most parents.

    You are such a strong and close family and will certainly be there for each other and there is great comfort in that. Thinking of you x

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    1. It's true, isn't it, there's a part of us that always waits in readiness. Those calls in the middle of the night that mostly turn out to be wrong numbers . . .
      Thanks for the kind thoughts.

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  21. A mothers love lasts forever....my own Mother still worries about me. When I am sick, even if it just a cold she calls me to check up on how I am doing....I can only imagine what your are feeling right now. Hope that the specialists can deliver speedy and positive results. Waiting is very difficult and once treatments starts you can deal with the day to day challenges. When my husband had cancer I was a wreck. He came through it and we moved on...sending you a big hug.

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    1. Can't help envying you having your sweet mom still checking on you. Must have been horrid going through that period with your husband, and good to know that these crises can be survived. Thanks for the hug.

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  22. A moving post. Life can be so cruel on many fronts. My thoughts are with you and your family.

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  23. Across the miles from the Los Angeles area, I send my prayers for this sweet and poignant expression of family love. I am in waiting mode also for medical test results in Seattle.
    Charlene H.

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    1. Thanks for thinking of me while you're worrying/waiting as well. I hope you get optimistic results

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  24. Frances, I am sorry for this pain finding its way into your family. I think your post yesterday is absolutely on point. It is important to reach out to people and to hear their words of comfort. Brenda

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    1. Thanks, Brenda. The reaching out is both against and with instinct or impulse, in some odd way, and I'm glad I resisted the impulse to hold it in. The words of comfort really do make a difference.

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  25. My thoughts are with you and your family. May the Universe send you support to get through this difficult time.

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    1. Thank you so much, NM. much appreciated.

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  26. Frances, a quick note from a train on the US east coast - I am so sorry about this bad news. You have every right to feel the way you do; please don't apologize for being a mother. Your writing is exquisite, reflecting your deep and profound thoughts. I am a medical researcher and have access to journal articles and specialists in a few fields. I'd be happy to help if I can. Lisa has my email.

    She is really your grandchild, isn't she?

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    1. What a kind and thoughtful response, Marie. I'll make a note of your offer as we may be trying to help sort through information and possibilities.
      And yes, I think she is. Poor dear, sometimes that level of awareness is tough!

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  27. The respecting of other's privacy is a difficult thing in blogging. I found it hard to get right as my father declined and have said very little about my brother's major stroke for that reason. So I think we all respect those boundaries but I am also glad you have given me the chance to tell you that I am thinking of you and that I am sure that the strong, loving and resilient family you have built will be a help to you all. I did not think that anything could deepen the bonds I have with mine and yet I find that my bond with my sister and with my husband somehow reaches even deeper into me as a result of this last couple of years and the love and support I have had from my children has carried me along when times were very hard. Your family sounds like a good place to be, in good times and hard ones.

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    1. Thanks very much, Elizabeth. I'm sorry you've had to go through so much family illness the last few years, but I know precisely what you mean -- my own siblings and I grew much closer as we cared first for my father and then my mother.

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  28. I'm late here, but much support and concern. I certainly remember the day we found out that one of our sons had a chronic illness at age three -- the world changed for us, but everything else seemed the same. With patience, lots of study and the right doctors (after a terrible one)he has done very well. It brought us closer to some people, but I think it scared others. I am so grateful for my parents' and the employer who let me work nontraditional hours. I'm glad I got to pay them back in their last years. I think these experiences made me a better teacher today -- more empathetic and less willing to judge. Your family sounds wonderful and so supportive.
    Lynn

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    1. Thank you so much for sharing this, Lynn. That sentence "the world changed for us, but everything else seemed the same". . . yes, I get an inkling now...

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  29. Frances, I imagine this must be so difficult, to balance the sharing of your feelings with the protection of another's privacy. I'm remembering something a friend once said, that having a child is like having your heart walking around outside your body, and that feeling never goes away. My thoughts are with you, and my wishes for healing and health for all.

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    1. Given your own experience, Sue, this is such a generous response. Thank you.

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  30. I can not imagine the long nights trying to jump over time to the all-is-well future, but I can imagine the pain of waking everyday to push those thoughts down deep enough to allow you to delight in the daily joys of your very strong family. Frances, my heart is with you.

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  31. Frances, I can only echo the wise and caring comments above. After experiencing difficult health issues in our own family, I am even more convinced of the value and benefit to sharing emotions and stories with those caring people around us. You are surrounded by love and generosity. Thank you for your sensitive and insightful post. Sending you healing thoughts from Oregon.

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    1. It's not always easy to share this stuff, is it? There's more value given, it seems to me, to restraint and independence, but I believe I'll be much better at giving the support needed because I've received so much generous support myself. Thank you!

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  32. I am so sorry to hear of distress for your family. Although we have only "met " recently I feel for you. It is so hard, inhabiting that borderland between wanting to take all the pain onto yourself, and standing back just enough to let these adults cope as you yourself would cope. Joining others in sending you love and strength and calming of your worries.

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    1. Yes, it's a very fine line between helping out and allowing independence. But we try to remember that our goal, when we had children, was to raise adults . . . Thanks for the warm and thoughtful support. It's much appreciated.

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I'd love to hear your response to my post. Agree, disagree, even go off on a tangent, I love to know you're out there, readers. Let's chat, shall we? I apologize, though, for the temporary necessity of the Word Verification -- spam comments have been tiresomely numerous lately, and I'm hoping to break that pattern.

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