For the Single Moms on Father’s Day

When society tried to make you feel guilty for leaving and raising your kids on your own, you persevered.  You knew that the damage would be greater if you’d made the choice to stay.

When you worried that you couldn’t do both jobs, you did your best.  When other kids went camping with both parents or rode bikes as a family, you created your own traditions.  And years later, when your oldest said, “Hey, remember when we used to play badminton in the street.  We did that a lot.  Let’s do that tonight,” you know you managed to create memories that will sustain your kids.

When you only had a blurred notion of what it is that a dad does, because your own dad was rarely around, you read the books on parenting and observed the good examples and tried to fill in, in the best ways you could.

When you couldn’t do it all, you sat your kids down and explained that you wished you could do more, but that you are one person doing both jobs, and while you are doing your best, you can’t do it all.  Through tears, you explained how much you love them, and that you understood that they were angry or hurt or sad.  When you were dog-tired from doing it all, you found enough to softly explain to them that they would be fine and you would always be there for them.

When you raged at the Universe for putting you in this position, you woke again to be thankful for it all, even when it kicks your butt every single day.

When you think you can’t handle one more issue or fix one more problem or make one more dinner, you flop on the couch between your favorite people, turn on the TV and order a pizza.  You laugh hard in that moment and tell yourself that what doesn’t get done today will find you tomorrow.  As the three of you try to agree on a show, you sip some wine and remind yourself that it’s all about the journey and this journey is creating healthy, happy, independent, functioning people who know how to navigate storms.

When you have those days when you doubt that you made the right choice, you will step back and watch your kids thrive in this safe place you’ve created for them.  You will see them for who they are allowed to be.  Those moments prove that you made the right decision.  (p.s.  As the years go on, you will stop doubting your decision.  Trust me.)

Once in awhile, remember that your kids picked you to be their mom.  They have things to learn that they can only learn with you. (You have things to learn that you can only learn from, and with, your kids.)

You’re doing great.

This is how it’s supposed to be.

Happy Father’s Day.

 

On Trust

She thinks back over her various failed attempts and decides they provide evidence that she should never trust again.

“He said that, but once we got close, he changed.”

“He did that, but once I moved in, he stopped.”

“We committed to x, but then he decided he’d rather have y.”

“See?  Men can’t be trusted!”

She reads posts about con men, psychopaths, users, liars and cheats.  She finds more reasons to never trust again.

 

But she has a son.  She can’t go around thinking the worst of men.  She lives with a prime example of all the good that can be male.  She bites her lip when she starts to say something disparaging about the opposite sex.  She doesn’t want her daughter to adopt her attitude about men.

The three of them talk of life, love, relationships, fishing, ice skating and the cat’s shenanigans.  They do not have many secrets.  Most families don’t discuss the things they discuss.  She’s a firm believer in communication.  She fesses up to her messes and never sweeps anything under the rug.

When she wants to talk with them about relationships and trust, though,  she stumbles.  Her track record is a wikiHow entry of what not to do in the romance arena.

What can she tell them about trust?  How can she teach them to give another a chance?  How can she protect them?  Are they doomed to make the same kinds of mistakes that she has made?

 

What is trust, anyway?

Is trust the ability to believe what another says?  Does trust happen only when we show our true self, and have that completely accepted?  How could she ever take that leap again?  Is trust simply having faith in the promises made by another?  When we trust, don’t we have expectations about behavior?  Is that fair?

But when is trust established?  At the six month mark?  On the third date?  Is it a gut feeling?  Is it a vibe?  How can she know, without a doubt, that she can trust another?

When does trust begin?

Where does trust begin?

Could her kids trust her to not make another scary choice in the relationship department?  Is it enough to say, “Never again?”

Is that the kind of example she wants to set for her kids?  Should she show them that it’s better to never try again than to risk trusting, and perhaps failing?

 

Can she trust herself?

 

That is the real question.

 

Can she trust herself to not settle? Can she trust herself not to put up with being treated poorly?  Can she trust herself not to put herself in another situation where she is taken for granted?  Can she trust enough in her own goodness to believe that she deserves better, even if being alone is the better she’s been looking for.

 

She writes out the questions until she finds the answer:

She cannot learn to trust another until she can learn to trust herself.

 

 

 

The Girl in the Next Stall

She’s walking into the changing room with four items.  Three are from her usual color palette – shades of grey to black.  This time she found a pair of dusty pink capris in her size – 0.

 

She’s been talking of changing things up a bit.  She systematically cut all the long hair to shoulder length.  She didn’t cut it all at once, but over the course of a year, she had me cut two inches here, three inches there.  One afternoon, while listening to Pink Martini on Pandora, she had me cut six inches.  Between the two of us, Will and I always tell her she looks great, but I can see that she’s looking for other words.

She longs for words she’s heard before, only she wants them to come from someone who never says them.

 

Her style is all her own.  One day we were running errands and she mentioned Pastel Goth.  I had to ask her what that was.  She explained while we were stopped at a light.  I turned to her and said, “Is that what you are?”  She grinned and said, “Not really.  Well, maybe a little.”

She doesn’t dress like other girls her age.  That might have a lot to do with the fact that we homeschool.   Her style isn’t a copycat thing.

I’ve seen the girls at the skating rink staring at her.  As they pull their butterfly covered rolling backpacks over to the bench to put on their skates, I see them glance over at Jen.  I’d love to know what they are thinking.  “Her mom can’t afford butterflies and sequins.”  “Why doesn’t she wear pink or purple or teal?”  “How come her mom lets her wear black all the time?”

Jen told me of the time that a “Butterfly Skater” followed her into the locker room.  She stared at Jen the entire time Jen unlaced her skates.  The girl didn’t say a word.  Jen came out with a mixed expression – part fascination, part frustration.  “Mom, I think she was in there the whole time to make sure I wasn’t going to steal her stuff.”

Her choice in colors gets her looks.  She doesn’t always see the looks.  I always do.  I’m her mom.  I want to laugh at the other skaters’ moms.  They haven’t been the most welcoming group at the rink.  We don’t fit the type.  But when their daughters fall hard on the ice, mine is the first to ask if they are okay.

 

Which brings me to yesterday at the mall.  While Jen was in the changing room, I could hear that the girl in the next stall must have been on FaceTime as she changed clothes.  Weird, but whatever.

Times change.  Maybe this is the new selfie?

While I talk with my kids about absolutely everything, we all three respect privacy.  It’s been a lot of years since I was in the changing room with my daughter.  I browse the clothing racks as I wait, looking at business clothes I can’t afford.  I think of how many houses I’d have to sell before I’d ever even consider spending that kind of money on clothes for myself.  I see the clerk look at what I’m wearing, and realize I know exactly how Jen feels when the “Butterfly Skaters” are staring at her.

As Jen walks out, I try to read her expression.  “How’d it go?  Did you like any of it?”  She smiled her quiet smile, “Let’s go somewhere else.  The pants didn’t fit – too baggy in the thighs.  The shirt goes down too low in the front.  Sorry I’m so picky.”

“Don’t worry about it, honey.  We’ll find something.”

 

As we walk out of the mall I ask, “What was going on in the changing room?”

“A girl was trying on prom dresses in the stall next to me.  She was sending pictures to her mom and grandma and dad.”

“Too bad none of them could be there with her, but it is the time when most would be at work.”

Jen walked around to the passenger side of the car.  “She sent a picture to her dad and he said, ‘Oh, honey.  That’s so pretty.'”

I looked at her as I put the key in the ignition.  She looked at me and said, “Is that even real?”

 

Oh! The Problems

I’m not well-read.  I’m not one of those intellectual sorts – those cool people – who can quote verse or lines from a classic.  Could be that my memory sucks.

I tell my kids that I’m fun to watch movies with because I could have watched it last weekend, but by this weekend, I won’t remember how it ends.  So, yes, if you want to watch The Secret Life of Walter Mitty for the 47th time, I’d love to.  (But, seriously, that movie is a favorite.)

I’ve never gotten into poetry, which is weird because I love art.  I occasionally read a poem that clicks with me, and then I think, “See? I could get into poetry,” but I never pursue poets or collect favorite poems. What am I supposed to do with a poem?  What does it fix?  Does it make me better?

You probably love poetry, and at this moment, you are typing a response about how poetry leads to escape, and transformation, and understanding and beauty.

And one day, when I’m not the mom and the dad and the realtor and the teacher, I’ll find time to read poetry.

Maybe.

 

I start a lot of books, and read until my mood changes.  I have several different books laying around the house – non-fiction, self-help, fiction and more self-help.  Depending on my mood, I’ll pick up one, read a bit, run out of tea, make a cup, and come back.  By the time, the tea has brewed, my mood has changed, and I pick up a different book.

Maybe I have commitment issues.  (That made me laugh.)

A few years ago, I declared that I was done with self-help books.  I checked out two at the library last Tuesday.  I never will be done with self-help.  It’s an addiction, like coffee and complaining.  All three feel good, even if they aren’t always good for me.

So it’s no surprise that when I was driving to the office with the muffled sounds of public radio filling the car, thinking about phone calls to make, and documents to download, Garrison Keillor read a line from a novel that I wasn’t familiar with.  (Garrison Keillor could very likely make me enjoy poetry, but I digress.)

 

“Never sleep with a woman whose troubles are worse than your own,” from Nelson Algren’s novel, A Walk on the Wild Side.

 

I was pulling into a parking spot as he read the words.  Luckily I didn’t scrape the car next to mine.

My mind raced with, “How come I’ve never heard that before?”  “Sure wish someone had told me that 45 years ago as I was about to venture out into the dangerous world of relationships!”  “Now you tell me?

(To be clear, I changed the gender to make it more applicable to my experience.  Never sleep with a man …..)

As I set up my laptop to get some work done, I thought through the list – it’s not a long list – of “relationships” and their problems.  Okay, the list of problems was long.

Yep.  He had more issues than me.  Whoa, he had way more problems than me.  Uh huh, he had problems that I shouldn’t have touched with a 10-foot pole.

And then I thought about all my problems.  Who’d want to touch those with a 10-foot pole?

WE ALL HAVE PROBLEMS.

Gawd!  Why do we bother sleeping with anyone?  Show me one who doesn’t have problems!

The worst part is, the problems aren’t revealed until the vulnerability sets in, and that’s usually after we’ve jumped in bed.  Could we really discover those issues beforehand?  On a first date:  “So, here’s my list of issues.  See that one there?  I’m working on it.  That one there, well, honestly, that’ll never be resolved, no matter how much I throw at it.  Show me your list.”  He reaches into his jacket pocket.  “Here’s mine.”  Some are highlighted.  One, in particular, has been crossed out so much she can’t read the letters underneath.  “What’s that one?”  He winces, “Oh, that’s too embarrassing.”

They shake hands, split the bill and decide they would be better off not sleeping together.

Right.  Like that is part of any relevant reality.

 

I’m still chewing on the line from Algren’s novel, as the last stack of documents come off the printer, warmed by the process of tumbling through the machine.  I decide, “Yep.  Never getting into another relationship again.  Never.  Never.  Never.”  Too scary.  Too many problems.  Too much isn’t revealed until it’s too late.  On my side, and his.

I could take up poetry, learn to paint as well as 14, listen to more of Keillor’s soothing voice, become well-read, or learn to love fishing like 18, and keep my list of problems to myself.

 

 

 

Life as Art

She’s been a painter since she first dipped her fingertips into tempera.  Over the years, I’ve seen her work evolve.  Her early work was more realistic – good, strong, proportional and deliberate.  Now, as she’s matured, I see more of her soul in her work.  The colors are richer.  The light has depth.  I can see she’s more confident in her style.

I got to introduce her to Jen and Will.

We stumbled through the small talk about how crowded the art show was, how many years had she been doing this, and Gee! how about the weather.

Once the awkward was out of the way, Jen shared how she doesn’t like the pressure that comes with a commissioned piece.  I know she was relieved to hear that this artist felt the same way.  When working on a commission, it’s as if the Universe is standing by, ready to put the brakes on the flow.  You could be tuned into your playlist, in the zone, broad brushstrokes creating magic, and suddenly you remember that you have to please someone with this piece.   *Cue the sound of screeching brakes.*  Now the process isn’t full of ease.  You become overly critical and self conscious.  The harsh words line up to whittle away at your confidence.  “They’ll hate that color.  That’s not what an owl has ever looked like.  Who said you could paint?”

Side note:

When you are passionate about something – the kind of passion that happens when all you want to do is think/talk/breathe about that thing – find another who is passionate about the same.  Talk of that thing together.  Feel how the air is sweeter and your lungs fill all the way up.  See how when they mention something that you’ve experienced, you feel like you are now a member of a secret group.  Finally, you belong with others who speak a private language that not many others understand.

If your kid is passionate about something, and you are privileged to watch her engage with another who is passionate about the same thing, then you will get a glimpse of why this passion lights her soul.

 

We talked of style changes.  We talked about color and layering and subject matter and technique.  We talked about when it’s hard to create – commissioned pieces.  She told of the few times she gets inspired and starts a piece in the late afternoon, finishes the next morning, and has this crazy desire to look over her shoulder and ask, “Where did that come from?”

She laughed about how she might dislike something she’s created, only to have someone call her, months after they’ve seen it, to tell her that they can’t quit thinking about it, and ask if it is still for sale.  She could drive herself nuts trying to figure out why that happens, or she could just keep painting.

I asked how she would describe the evolution in her work.  She mentioned that when she looks at older pieces, she’ll either be horrified or amazed.  “Who painted that?  Or, wow…  that’s good!  Really good!”  She grinned as she said that her work has always reflected her different moods.  “You can tell when I’m in a happy place, or when I’m in a funk, based on the colors I’m using at the time, but I don’t really know what explains the evolution.”

We thanked her for taking the time to share with us.

 

The three of us talked of our favorite styles as we walked back to the car.  Will wants to learn to print larger photos.  Jen likes the miniature watercolors.

As I drove across the bridge, I started making comparisons between painting and writing, and that led to life.

I thought of the different chapters of my life as different artists.  There was the Jackson Pollock phase in college when I tried everything I could think of to see what would stick.

I enjoyed the single mom’s version of a Norman Rockwell when the kids and I were on our own and enjoying a simple rhythm and a set routine.

Then, of course, there was a brief period that I would categorize as The Scream.  Okay, maybe more than one period.

Several years remind me of a Russell Chatham – pleasantly hazy, comfortable to look at, evoking a certain mood, and not sharp enough in detail to make me want to look away.

If we are lucky, we evolve, like the artist’s work.  Many times, we look back and we’re shocked by some of the “work” we’ve done.  Other times, we may be pleasantly surprised.  Like the artist, we often don’t know what explains our evolution.

 

When you look back over the years, what comes to mind?  Can you think of a particular artist’s style that represents a group of years, or maybe a single year?  I’m betting we all have our own version of The Scream.

We are all works in progress.

It’s good to think of ourselves as works of art in progress.

On Mixed Messages and Secrets

Her foot was in that temporary boot they apply when someone has broken their leg.  And because I knew her, I said, “Oh my! You’re the one who is always working out and staying in such great shape.  What the heck happened?”

She was in tears as she told the story.

I said, “Do you ever wonder why the Universe can’t deliver messages in a more gentle fashion?  Maybe you’re supposed to slow down?”

She wiped a tear and shook her head.  She’s not the type to slow down.  I probably shouldn’t have mentioned that.

And as I sat in the curtained room waiting for the results of the EKG, the blood work, the urine sample and the foot-long swab that actually fit up my nose, I wondered if the words I’d directed at her were really meant for me.

How many times have I written about stress?  How many signs have I received that clearly tell me to slow the hell down?

I guess I’m not the type to slow down either.

And so after being told that my heart was fine, I stood in the waiting room, watching for Will.  I’d insisted he drop me off, so he could get to school and focus.  But then he insisted on picking me up.  So much for his focus.  As I watched for his truck, it was my turn to cry.

The tears were a mix of relief, embarrassment, frustration, and defeat.

Will dropped me at home and went back to school.  Jen offered to cook me dinner, but I let her clean up instead.  (I can only admit to so much defeat in one day.)  We watched mindless television and waited for Will to get home.  I got sick of them asking me how I felt, but hugged them because they asked.

I slept the night through.

This morning I read a post about secrets, and how unhealthy it is to keep secrets.  I didn’t search out this post, it appeared on my laptop the way some gentler messages from the Universe do appear.

Soon after, my brother called to check in.  He listened.  He asked the right questions.  He re-framed what I told him.  He put a new spin on possible solutions.  He made my secret seem less foreboding.  (I realized that my big secret is feeling like I’m a failure.)  He made different choices sound less like defeat, and more like a new route to success.  His suggestions lightened my load.

Then I did the stretching and the poses and listened to the tapes.  My back feels better.  Of course it helps a lot that I’m not worried about the classic signs of heart disease in women.

But I see the pattern.  It’s what I’ve said so many times.  When I allow myself ease – the ability to slow things down, I feel better.  Duh!!

But admitting I can’t do it all is like some f’d up version of defeat or failure.  ‘Ease’ was not part of Wonder Woman’s vocabulary.  Imagine how much better she’d have felt if she had eased up on that belt a little.

Today’s lesson:  Do as I say, not as I do.  Oh, and get the stress test.

 

 

Out in the Open

Hello!

Thanks for being here.

I’ve had a bunch of new posts churning around in my mind for several months – new posts for this new blog.  I’d given thought to starting out by writing something shiny and motivating and positive.  As much as I’d like to focus on that side of me, it’s just not where I am every day.

At least I’m honest.

I tend to gravitate to the intense or the darkly funny.  (I avoid scary at all costs, if I can.)  Sometimes I get on Pinterest and pin to manifest a new life by the beach with a stack of books and a beverage.  When I read, it’s most often about how to sort out the human drama and make sense of why things happen the way they do.

Recently, Jen and I were discussing the fact that humans are riddled with contradictions.  I’m no different.

I do like motivational quotes, but we’ve been force-fed those for so long that we become desensitized to them.  Maybe that’s just me?  Take a rock, a babbling brook, add a quote from some guru and magically your life will change.  I don’t think so.

I do know, that every day brings an opportunity to learn something that helps us along our way.  Maybe it’ll be something positive.  If we’re lucky, it’s an exchange with another who might be working to make progress along his or her own path.

Sometimes we’ll be presented with something funny.  Yesterday, I used the restroom at the ski hill.  A mom was helping her four-year-old use the potty and wash her hands.  Her daughter was resisting the process.  Each time her mom urged, the daughter replied by meowing.  The mom was clearly frustrated, and the daughter replied to her mom’s frustration by saying, “Meow, meow,” which clearly made the mom more frustrated.  As they turned to walk out of the restroom, the girl looked at me and meowed.  I meowed back.

 

It occurs to me that I could use that approach with more things in life.

 

This morning I read this line from J K Rowling’s, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix:

“He only knew that he did not want to see their looks of horror; that would make the whole thing seem worse and therefore more difficult to face.”

Immediately, I thought of children.

I thought of all the things kids might experience, and the hard decisions they make when figuring out which of those experiences they might discuss. Whether they choose to discuss with friends or family or their teacher, doesn’t matter.  If only they’d bring that stuff out in the open, they might get the support they need, or they’d learn that others are frightened by the same thing, and that they aren’t weird for being afraid.

And I thought of adults, who are really just kids with responsibilities.  I thought of the things adults refuse to discuss because they are afraid that if the light shines on what they have to deal with, they won’t have the strength to continue dealing.  How many are buried under the weight of stuff they think they can’t handle? Of course there is risk in bringing their stuff to light, but if they don’t, how can they ever be met with understanding, or an offer of help?

Maybe we need to be the vulnerable girl in the restroom who doesn’t care what anyone thinks.  We need to risk meowing to see if anyone meows back.

And, perhaps more importantly, when we hear a meow, we need to look up from our phone, put down the latte, and acknowledge the person brave enough to meow.

On that note, I’m going to meow at this messy house, and go back to reading Harry Potter.