Chateau Stables–Christmas in Hells Kitchen

A wonderful story of slowing down the pace.

Chateau Stables–Christmas in Hells Kitchen.

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Dear Grandpa….

My grandfather on my father’s side was a gentleman farmer of the truest kind.  He was a middle child born to Polish immigrant parents and he was 1 of 16 children of which there were roughly half boys and  half girls. For the whole of his working life, he supported his own growing brood. His first son was born in 1939, my Uncle Walt. My father was born 4 years later on the heals of a preterm pregnancy; an unknown aunt or uncle I’d never know. During World War 2, he did his time in supporting both his family and his country. I remember as I grew older, he would spend a lot of time watching the Old World War II documentaries. I tended not to bother him during these times because he always seemed lost in some far away memory and though I don’t think it made him sad, it seemed important at the time to let him remember those friends who didn’t make it home. He lost his best friend during that war. And in his honor, he took his friends first name and made it his middle name. As far as names go in Polish tradition, they were not given middle names at birth as American children are.  Sometime after World War 2, Walter Demick became Walter James Demick. Despite being something of a gruff man, grandpa’s true heart was soft like the stuffing of a well-loved teddy bear. I honestly think he wanted nothing more in life then to keep his family close to him where he could always keep in contact with them. He wasn’t one to get on the phone just for the sake of conversation.  

As the occasional farmer, as I liked to call him, the animals he kept on his farm came and went like people through a revolving door. He had pretty much all the animals you could possibly have at one time or another. He had a horse named Big Red that got his name from his physical size and coloring. He had numerous cows, goats, ponies, and an older than dirt, very special pony named Dusty. Dusty was the only animal that Grandpa ever owned that was always there on the farm. He would drive Dusty in the town parades and would often stop to pick up my sister and I to bring us home after the parade. Dusty lived out his entire life on Grandpa’s little farm.  As Dusty got older, he developed a personality much like his owner. To try riding him without Grandpa around meant learning how to ride like a bucking bronco. You held on for as long as you could, but Dusty was determined to leave you in the dirt. He was a good old boy, one that has a fun place in my memories.

Grandpa passed away in March of 1995, just 6 days after I moved home from Texas. It was a rough day. We got the call in the wee hours of the morning, telling us that Grandpa’s soul had moved on. He was found sitting in his chair at the head of the kitchen table, head on his chest like he was sleeping, which he was known to do. My heart was broken.  So many memories came flooding back to me that morning. I remembered the pony rides with Dusty, I remember him sitting with Grandma out on the rocker swing that sat overlooking the pond and fields, the sun was going down and they were holding hands. I thought at the time that their love was timeless. I remembered the hundreds of times he would sing Polish lullabies to the grandchildren and great-grandchildren, songs he likely sang to his kids and songs that were probably sung to him.
There was nothing he enjoyed more then rocking the babies and singing to them. I only wish that my children could have had this opportunity. His singing of the Polish lullabies was much like the baby sweaters that my grandmother knit by the dozen. If I could have recorded him singing and put it in a pretty package for those future generations not around to hear it in person, I would have.  I could never have imagined how valuable a memory this would be. Sung as they were in his native language, they were a soft and lyrical mix of sounds and rhythm.  Years after he passed away, my Aunt Barbara was told by Grandpa that one of the songs, once translated,  was actually about the death of a rooster. I found a translation for another about kittens.

So after all of that, here is what I planned for this post. Every so often when something significant happens in my life, I think about my grandfather and wish that I could tell him about what is going on in my life. I’m not sure what started this, maybe it was because I didn’t share enough with him while he was here and I’m trying to make up for lost time. But what I really think is that he wanted nothing more then to be close to his family and to share with them those important moments. As a farmer, he was always willing to share those farm moments with the children of the family. Now, with him gone for nearly 20 years now, I still feel the need to share these important moments with him. Periodically, you will see posts entitled ‘Dear Grandpa.’ I wish so much that he was here now to see what my life has become.  He would be 94 years young. I think he’d be proud. So this is a first in a series of things I would say to him, if I could.

April 28 2014
Dear Grandpa,
I hope this letter finds you well. It’s grandma’s birthday today but I’m sure you remember that. She’s doing well and seems to be staying healthy despite the chemotherapy that seems to have snatched up part of her memory. She still thinks that I’m about 12 years old and doesn’t realize that I have children of my own. It’s okay though. I just roll with the conversation and follow her lead.

Yesterday, my draft Horse Club had a  plow match. It was actually held at my friend’s farm this year because the college where we usually have it, was too buddy. I went up to compete not having any idea what I was doing. The last time I had tried this was 12 years ago before Jake was born. It was a steep learning curve. As it turns out, the ride-on plow lost a rivet and although we fixed it, I never got back on it to finish that part of the competition. I also tried the walk-behind plow but that was so unbelievably difficult, there was no chance of me being up for a ribbon. My friend Dave who is a life member of the club, drove the horses while I managed the plow. You know those old movies that show the farmers at sundown, plowing their fields? They make this look pretty easy.

Connecticut is full of football-size rocks that can make even the straightest furrows look like one was plowing blindfolded. Each person had a section that was 50 by 100 to plow under. I had a very brief lesson before I started that wasn’t enough. I just couldn’t remember all the how-to’s and why-for’s. As soon as the horses started to walk and that plow dug into the dirt, it kicked out of my unsuspecting hands and tangled in the reins. I have every intention of becoming proficient with that walk-behind plow. I just need the chance to practice and there are many in the club who are willing teachers.

My greatest accomplishment yesterday, was coming home with three ribbons, two first place blues and a grand champion ribbon. This was for competing in the obstacle course. The first part was to ground drive the team through a set of cones. I misunderstood the directions on the first part of the test but managed to get myself corrected after losing a couple minutes worth of time. The second part of the competition was to drive this same course with the horses hitched to a skid that was weighted. Now that I knew the course, it went much easier. I don’t think the girls had ever pulled this skid before. When they tried to go and realized that it wasn’t going to just roll behind them, that they had to actually work at it, I could see them lean into that harness and put their strong legs to work. We were the only team to do both parts of the obstacle course so we came home with that grand champion ribbon. I was thrilled beyond belief as that ribbon was handed to me. You should have seen the look on my face! I wish you could’ve been there. You would have had a wonderful time.

I haven’t even told you about the horses that I wasBonnie driving. Their names are Bonnie and jewel. They are Belgian draft mares. Bonnie is about 18 years old and was born and raised in Connecticut. Jewel is an Amish draft girl who is 13 years old this year. Jewel has a much more relaxed way about Jewelher and is often found not pulling her weight. Bonnie will only take so much of this before she reaches over to Jewel, nipping at her to get her moving. Jewel never seems overly impressed so I found myself needing to give her a little poke to step up her place. Jewel is pretty new to the farm as she is only been there for about 2 years. Before her was a mare named Sally but she wasn’t built with enough muscle to pull the big wagons that my friends have. Before Sally, there was Bell. When I first started at the farm there were two teams: Betsy and Millie and then Bonnie and Bell. Jewel is a good hand and a half taller then the other three and I’m pretty sure she was also bigger than Bell was, but despite all this, I think she just needs more time in harness, going solo, to work up to where the other 3 are. I, of course, have volunteered my services. It doesn’t seem so much that she doesn’t work hard, but she does like to take time to see the sights and I can’t really blame her for that.

Blue Slope Country Museum, the farm museum at my friend’s place, has many carriages, wagons, and Amish buggies but I don’t know if any of them are in working condition. Its one of those places where I wouldn’t mind being locked in for the night.

Its mid-May now and the trees are all leafed out. The sun is shinning, the animals are happy, and my hens have gotten back in the groove of laying eggs again. Life is good. Miss you Grandpa!

Misnomers

Everyone seems to have their own ideas about what ADHD is about. Many make assumptions that we can or can’t do certain things because of the ADHD. They also take these assumptions and spread them across the general populace, assuming that all of us who deal with it, have the same symptoms. I think ADHD has got to be one of the most confounding mental illnesses anyone can deal with. The number of different ways it can manifest, are as varied as the people who have it. Within my own family, it is me, my two sons, my father, and his father, who all have symptoms that vary within each of us. My father has never been officially diagnosed and my grandfather, who passed away in 1995, was never diagnosed either. However, when you live with ADHD everyday, you learn to recognize it in other people. There are people in my life right now who would probably never think about getting a diagnosis. They’ve lived with it for so long that there doesn’t appear to be a problem to them. Any difficulties they may have are chalked up to age, a bad day, being too busy, or any other reason that may seem appropriate at the time. I can’t tell you the number of times the subject of ADHD comes up. Whether within my own family or out in public somewhere, and someone will say:

You know, I probably have ADHD but…

I did a lot of thinking after I was diagnosed. I sat down and thought about the number of jobs that I’d had up until the time I had been diagnosed. I figured that I had never had a job longer than 2 years by the time I was 38, and actually, 2 years was generous. I worked for one woman at a bank and she had no trouble wagging her finger at me telling me that I was a daydreamer. She moved my workstation away from the window so that I was right in front of her where she could keep an eye on me. In one doctors group where I worked, we were broken up into teams but there were so many people in this one big room that I could always hear what the other teams were talking about and who they were talking to on the phone. It made it difficult for me to think about the person who I had on the phone when I could hear everyone else so clearly. Then at another doctor’s office, I didn’t have a lot of contact with patients and my hours had me coming in early and staying late. I thought this would work well for me but the need to be able to multitask was essential, as it usually is in this environment, and that has never been one of my finer points.

It is at this point that some people make the assumption that people with ADHD should not work in a busy office environment. That is totally not the case. I know this environment does not work for me but that’s not to say that it won’t work for somebody else. For me, the noise, the busy-busy-busy all the time and the constant hustle, was exhausting. Even though the pay was good, the stress on me was not worth it. In the first instance, the company went bankrupt and I was left jobless. In the second case, they let me go, as others had.

It wasn’t until I moved to Connecticut and found a job on a farm, that I realized where my true calling lie. Working with the animals had enough of the routine I needed to keep me moving forward. The family that owns the farm, were willing to teach me whatever it was I wanted to learn. It has been nearly nine years since I first worked for them. I had a high risk pregnancy at the time and was only able to spend a year on the payroll but I have spent the last 8 years volunteering at the museum they have and working with their four draft horses. Just recently, I spent 3 months working back at the farm filling

Apollo staying warm.

Apollo staying warm.

in for family members who were out for various reasons. The smell of the barn and the warmth of the animals brought immediate peace to my troubled mind. With the ongoing issues here at home, trying to get my home organized and keep my marriage intact, time at the barn gave me a much-needed self-esteem boost. It allowed my wounded pride to heal a bit and it gave me a sense of accomplishment and knowledge that I haven’t had in quite a few years.

I’ve been asked many times, why can’t you apply that same drive to the tasks you need to get done at home? The answer to that is this: I am more likely to do a task when I am thanked and praised. I am also more likely to do a job that raises my self-esteem and gives me a sense of pride as compared to a job where I don’t get these things. This is why it may appear that I, and others like me, hyper focus on certain tasks. Doesn’t it make sense that we would continue to do things that raise our self-esteem and sense of pride? It isn’t that we don’t like to do the other things but, we often spend so much time struggling to do the things that everyone else does without any effort, hyper focusing feeds our mental needs. Though it helps us to feel quasi normal, we are criticized for ‘intentionally’ ignoring those other things that need doing and our sense of accomplishment is shot full of holes. It can become a vicious catch-22. It becomes a struggle between trying to meet our own needs and still trying to raise up to the bar; we are damned for trying to meet our own needs and damned for not being more efficient.

When I step back and realize how much praise I need even now, how so much of what I’ve done in my life has always required some kind of approval and yes, praise, I feel quite immature. I am 42 years old but mentally, on those ‘off’ days, I sometimes feel more like I’m five. I just want to be told that I something right the first time. As important as praise is, a big no-no is to never follow praise with “but.” I’ve had this a lot, my husband is the biggest culpret. When this happens, a well-meaning pat on the back becomes a critique. So whatever the words are coming out of the other person’s mouth, all I hear is, “You did it wrong…again.” I yearn for the day when I am no longer corrected, reprimanded, scolded, or otherwise judged based on my daily activities. However difficult it may be to live with me and my issues, one will never know, truly, how difficult it is to live up to the standards of the status quo, without spending a day in my shoes.

I desperately yearn for a small farm of my own but I am constantly met with: you can’t, you shouldn’t, it’s a lot of work, it costs money to do that, you’ll never make a lot of money doing that but here again, is where we come back to that sense of pride and feeding our self-esteem. The farming isn’t so much about how much money I make or even how much money I spend on the endeavor. It’s what it does for me on a mental level that will allow me to be successful in other aspects of my life. Having a small farm here at home will not only fulfill the emotional needs that I have but will also resolve other issues like having to be home to get the kids on and off the bus. It would be so much easier to develop a routine that will work day-to-day, much like working at my friends’ farm. I would become more resilient and more successful just by mixing my farm stuff with the house stuff; alternate all day long with a bit of each. The only trouble, getting my husband to believe it will work.