Boxtops and Breakdowns

This morning started off like every other morning does. I woke 15 up for school, I made coffee, I woke her up again, I drank the coffee, I woke her up again. Status quo. When I emptied the coffee grounds into the garbage, then took the garbage out to the garage, I found a Boxtop. For those of you who don't have kids in the school system, Boxtops are those little square things on cereal boxes, tissues and other packaging that are worth a dime to your school. I've been cutting them off of Cheerios since 18 was 5. It's almost like my brain is programmed to do so. I collect them and send them to school so that school can make money.

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Let me be clear: only elementary and middle schools in our area participate in the Boxtops for Education program. My kids are in college and high school. Yet, still I cut them. Still I save them. I'd hate for a school to lose a dime. When I get enough of these Boxtops I give them to my neighbor who still has a child in middle school.

Let's get back to me in my garage. I saw a Boxtop on the floor. I bent over and picked it up. It was covered in garage goo, so I brought it into the kitchen and I RAN IT UNDER WATER TO RINSE IT OFF. I rinsed off a piece of cardboard so a school would not lose a dime. I have officially lost my mind.

In the past two weeks I have run the gamut of emotions. I saw 18 (yes, she's 18 now) for the first time in a month and I didn't think I'd ever stop crying. When I got to spend four minutes with her during her break from marching in the WVU football game with the Pride of West Virginia Marching Band, I could not stop touching her. I rubbed her back, I stroked her hair, I kept my arm around her. It was like, if I stopped touching her, it wouldn't be real, she wouldn't really be there. God I missed her.

If seeing her for the first time was the ultimate in joy, saying goodbye to her just a few short hours later was the ultimate sadness. And seeing her sister have to say goodbye to her all over again broke my heart into tiny little pieces.

I saw my mom recently and spent a weekend with her. She broke her arm at the beginning of the summer and I spent a week with her then. This time it was good to see her again under better circumstances. When I saw her this time, she and I discussed her living situation and how concerned my brother and I were that she is so vulnerable in her apartment. She's 77, living alone in a senior citizens high rise apartment building. Many of her friends are gone and we are concerned about her, God forbid, tripping in the apartment and no one knowing that she needs help. So we discussed the possibility of moving her to an assisted living facility. I explained to her that she would still have her freedom, but that there would be someone there to check in on her. It's one thing for me to call her everyday to say hi and chat, but I'm four hours away. I am of no help if, God forbid, she falls in the tub. She seemed receptive to the idea and agreed that when the time felt right to her, she would let us know.

Then I began the search for affordable assisted living facilities, and guess what! THEY DON'T EXIST. I'm looking at places in Philly because she wants to be closer to my brother and her own brother. $3500 for a studio apartment in an assisted living facility. $1800 if she wants to share a semi-private room.

As I drove to 15's volleyball game last night with a car full of snacks for the team, I chatted with mom. We discussed the unbelievably ridiculous cost of taking care of a senior citizen who wants to remain independent. We discussed my commitment to my children and my family. She told me that I needed to slow down and stop trying to be all things to all people. And I cried. I cried because as much as I say I'm fine, I've got this, I can handle it, I'm lying. I really don't have this. I really can't handle it. I want my mom to be safe, I want the best for my kids, but I need to realize that I am NOT solely responsible for everything and everyone. I need to learn how to say the word "NO" and mean it.

I washed off a Boxtop this morning and realized that I've lost my sense of me. The Boxtop doesn't matter. I'm gone. Put my picture on a carton of milk, or better yet, on a wine bottle. I need to stop worrying about Boxtops. I need to stop worrying if I've got enough snacks for everyone on the volleyball team (including the managers!), I need to take a step back and remember that I'm a very important piece of this puzzle, and if I don't take care of myself, everything else falls apart. I'm going to take a step back and let someone else do the legwork. Let someone else do the worrying for a little while.

And I'm not going to feel guilty if a Boxtop goes un-redeemed. In the big scheme of things, there are so many other things that are much more important than a dirty Boxtop.