the pity party’s over

Admittedly, I was feeling like a bit of a brat earlier this week. The moment I got over my bad mood, my focus turned to other tasks at hand…namely, some baking and other preparations for an event to benefit a neighborhood family whose son has cancer.

In other words, I am reminded once again that I am blessed beyond measure. My children are healthy. I am healthy. And that is enough for me to be content.

to hell in a handbasket

Mostly I’ve been feeling great lately — confident and optimistic — so it’s been frustrating for the past couple of days to full stuck in the mud, overwhelmed…as though this place is going to hell in a handbasket.

Yesterday, I came home to towels and sand everywhere and a messy kitchen (thank you, nanny!). Naturally, as I tried to clean up, the disposal crapped out. Suddenly, I felt completely overwhelmed…both tactically and financially! I don’t have the time to accomplish all I need to, nor the resources to hire it done. I’m paying for a car and a new roof for the house and the garage, full-time summer childcare, I’m trying to find a way to take the children on a road trip, and I just don’t need any more stuff to go wrong right now. Between working full-time and parenting full-time and scheduling the oil changes and dentist appointments and haircuts and planning a vacation and the weather, when in the hell am I going to cut the grass, much less fix something I don’t know how to fix?!

I hate feeling this way…and, worse, I hate myself for allowing myself to feel this way!

It is at this point (in my self-pity) that I realize that there is a part of me, deep inside, that resists trying to solve this problem. I simply expect a man to come along and fix it. That’s what my father always did. And that was certainly a part of what I expected of my mate…who is no longer my mate, of my own volition. I am a run-of-the-mill, Disney-variety damsel in distress, a caricature! (Enter more self-loathing…) It was not always entirely this way…I was all about diving in to ownership (in every sense of the word) when I bought my first condo…

I am nothing if not resourceful, I tell myself, so I reach out…My social networks tell me to try hitting the reset button on the bottom of my disposal and, if that doesn’t work, get an allen wrench and try to give it a crank to see if it gets unstuck. Reset fails. There are several sets of allen wrenches in the basement, I’m certain, yet I can’t find a single one, much less an entire one of those handy-dandy sets I know I’ve seen down there before. And I do mean plural…my father has seen to that.

And now, though I asked him to leave, this is when the anger and resentment at my ex percolates back up:  I am alone without my male rescuer. The basement is a complete mess, and he just left it that way. I can’t find anything! I don’t know what he’s left here or what he’s taken with him. I blame him for allowing the children to take over the “workshop.” I blame him for the disposal not working. I blame him for my being in this completely overwhelming project of a fixer-upper house…this was the house he wanted above all others, while I wanted to keep looking. There, I said it. Clearly, despite efforts to that end, I have not yet purged all of the baggage of “us,” and I have not entirely accepted full responsibility for my life. I am a victim. (Ewww…that feels so gross!)

Yes, the self-pity came on strong. I wanted to throw my hands in the air and say, “I can’t do this!” And then, maybe, through releasing the fear, doubt and hopelessness out into the atmosphere, it would dissipate and the fearless woman in me would prevail…

As I happens, I made a healthy dinner, got a start on the lawn, a helpful neighbor fixed my disposal and I gave the roofer a final check for his work, which will be complete tomorrow. And, while I can’t be entirely sure that check won’t bounce, my outlook is so much sunnier now!

independent, with nagging doubts

Happy Independence Day! It’s an incredibly beautiful day here, and I’ve spent the first part of my day enjoying the sunshine and cool breeze, chatting with neighbors, puttering about doing some household projects, and reflecting on all I have to be grateful for this long, holiday weekend to myself.

This weekend, my daughter has gone with a friend to their family cabin. This is her first long weekend away with anyone other than family…and it kind of scares me.

While the girls have been discussing this potential for some time, I had cautioned my daughter that I hadn’t yet connected with her friend’s parents. First, I would have anticipated a call from them inviting my daughter to go along with them. And then I would have anticipated detailed information:

  • Where is the cabin?
  • At what number can my daughter / they be reached?
  • Who will be there?
Because I hadn’t heard from my daughter’s friend’s parents, I assumed they had made a decision that their daughter would not be bringing friends along for this “family” weekend. (Let me add here that I have at least met the parents, though I don’t know them well compared to other families of my children’s friends.) When my daughter brought it up during the week, I told her she needed to call her friend and begin the conversation. She never did.
Still, I suppose I should not have been surprised when my daughter tearfully called late Friday afternoon saying that she and her friend were still conspiring for this weekend trip. I expressed my concerns with my daughter and with my ex, who was “responsible” for the children for the weekend. While I allowed for him, my daughter and the friend’s parents to make this decision, I gave him a list of information to acquire in the process. He, of course, protested that I should have called the parents and gotten this information during the week. However, to my earlier point, I assumed the friend’s parents had no intention of including my daughter — and how weird is it to call someone and say, “So, are you planning on taking my child to your cabin this weekend? Because I have some questions…” It’s like calling someone and saying, “So I heard you’re having a party; am I invited?”
I have since heard nothing. So, while I would feel more responsible if I called my ex and asked him if he got all that information I’d asked for, just thinking about it makes me feel like a nag. And I’ve never considered myself a nag, never wanted to be a nag and have only occasionally found myself driven to nag under circumstances such as this, where there was no communication nor action. And I shouldn’t have to. My wasband should be as concerned for our daughter’s welfare as I am, and he should have the decency to fill me in on the details.
So, while I enjoy the weekend, I also occasionally stew, wondering if I should have been a firmer parent and just said “no” and being irritated with my ex for his lack of follow-up. Meanwhile, I trust in my daughter’s solid sense of self and her excellent memorization of my phone number.
At some point, we have to let go and trust that we’ve taught them well, right? I’m just not entirely certain I was ready for this yet.

I’m gonna be a cool grandma

There are women out there who, when they take on the title of Grandma, will be able to share stories with their grandchildren about their epic life-long love affairs with Grandpa. They are the women who celebrate 50 years of marriage and more.

Having clearly failed this feat (which I assume stands a 50% chance at having been a miserable endeavor even for those who stick it out), I am resigned to be the cool grandmother. I’ll be the grandma with whom my granddaughters can talk about boys and sex. Assuming I am blessed with granddaughters, that is. Heck, I’d talk to my grandsons about sex, too, if it didn’t creep them out too much.

I’ll tell them stories of escapades with men, far-flung crushes and long-distance loves. I’ll tell them about “The Good Ol’ Days” when people met on an archaic dating site called match.com. And I’ll marvel with them about how far we’ve come.

But all this is a long way off…I’ve yet to have any such talks with my own elementary-age children!

how is life better now?

About seven months ago…

Chi-guy and I were in my hotel room, on the bed, fully clothed. He said, “I just don’t understand what about her life could be better now… without me.”

I was a good six months ahead of Chi-guy’s divorce timeline. And I’d had time to process my feelings and make decisions before asking my ex to move out. (One of my girlfriends, a therapist, has often told me, “Grief does not give credit for time served.” Some days I’m pretty sure she’s right.)

I thought about Chi-guy’s question for a long time, and here’s what I think based on my experience of being a single mother and homeowner:  Life is certainly not easier or necessarily better now that I’m single parenting in addition to all the other responsibilities and obligations I’ve been managing, for the most part, alone. I can’t just call and say I’ll be home late because I’m going to join some colleagues for happy hour. I can’t just stay late at the office because I need to put in some extra time at work. It’s much more difficult to make plans. I basically have every other weekend “off.” I drop my children off at the bus stop, and pick them up from child care after work, losing 30 – 60 minutes of work productivity per day in the process. I’ve got to cook a balanced meal every night. I have to shovel snow, mow the lawn, take out garbage and sort recycling.

But the exhaustion I feel in trying to meet these constant, everyday demands is offset by no longer managing the emotional drain of living in an unfulfilling relationship. I was lonelier in my marriage than I am single. Living with someone who would not (or could not) demonstrate love or commitment (at least not in a way that met my minimum requirements) provided constant reinforcement for every insecurity I’ve ever had. While this forced me to grow and heal in many ways, it would have been more life affirming to have chosen a more supportive partner.

And when I realized that, even if I did all the counseling and emotional work I need to fix myself, my spouse still wasn’t going to change anything about himself, I gave myself permission to admit failure.

my shit, your shit

My ex used to describe me as Teflon; nothing sticks. He wanted to push blame and responsibility for everything wrong in our relationship onto me. He also described my personality as swinging wildly between Deepak Chopra and Leona Helmsley. Frankly, I’m actually somewhat proud of that description — it makes me sound such a unique combination of serene and fierce!

Through it all, I developed a great sense of clarity when it came to “his shit” and “my shit.” We all bring it in to relationships, and the best of us own our own baggage.

Yes, I screw up. I don’t always do things right. But if you’re willing to point out to me where I’m going astray, I will happily take stock and try to do right. My ex wanted a mind reader. I went about my business assuming I was being a decent partner until he blew up about my not arriving home before six each evening or some other offense that I might have remedied eons ago, if only I’d known it bothered him. Truth be told, I would have liked to learn how I might have been a better partner to him. It might have helped me in future relationships, as well.

He made interpretations about me and my actions that were so far removed from anything I said or meant or intended that it was crazy-making! In other words, he heard my words or saw my expressions through a filter that had nothing to do with me, but then assumed that meaning was fixed, forgetting that there is intent and tone and nuance to consider.

I was reminded of all this over the weekend, when he picked up the children, criticized my housekeeping and told me I hadn’t created anything in 15 years. It was tempting to tell him about the 130 odd posts here on this blog, among other things. But let him learn the hard way or remain blissfully ignorant. He may still get a rise out of me, but I’m able to care a lot less about it than I used to.

Bottom line:  I’ve got plenty of shit. I uncovered a lot of it all by myself. But I sure wish I’d had a partner who could have helped me see, heal and shovel more. And I’m sure hoping I can find someone more encouraging and life affirming, who will let me know directly when I misbehave, with whom to share my future!

on developing dating clarity

Earlier, I wrote:  “The brilliant thing about failure is that, with time, it brings about great clarity. It is because of the experiences I’ve had — my failed relationship, my attainment of a mediocre position in my career — that I now know more clearly than ever what is truly and deeply important to me. I have a fairly well-developed grasp of my own strengths and weaknesses, and have discovered what makes me feel whole, fulfilled and alive. I am grateful for these lessons learned.”

I am grateful for the lessons learned, but I find myself laughing at this sense of clarity I seemed to have for a moment in time. Refining one’s sense of self, sense of other and desires all seem to be ongoing processes. Perhaps at that time I had a great vision for what I didn’t want, and maybe that felt like clarity to me then. It’s the knowing with certainty which direction to go, which next steps to take — in relationships and career — that is the challenge.

Long ago, maybe even before my ex moved out, I began a list of qualities that I’d like to find in a mate. In truth, I probably began developing my list in a somewhat reactionary manner, including the many of the desirable qualities my ex lacked. Or any qualities in direct opposition to those he possessed. Whatever.

As time went on and I began to see the beauty in the world again, I saw more wonderful qualities to add to this list…

And then I worked on myself and spent some time acknowledging what I know about me and what I need and what I know I want, and I added more to the list…

By now, I have a pretty clear picture. Yet, I continue to meet, interact and spend time with men to keep refining and adding clarity. And, though I have silly notions about what kind of car he might drive or what clothes he might wear or how tall he might be, I do genuinely recognize how little importance those things carry. The substantive stuff has to do with the way he thinks and carries himself through this grand life journey.

In other words, I’m listening very closely to the language he uses and how he expresses himself, observing his manners and witnessing my own feelings when I’m in his presence. Most of my list is about truly noble qualities, rather than external factors such as looks or cars or career or income.

My dating experiences continue to inform this list, especially as I consider the type of man who might integrate into my little family. And I think this is particularly true of men with children. For example, I went out with one cute, quirky, computer geek who has twin boys who are younger than my children, one with ADHD and the other on the autism spectrum. I could see loving a man like this. I could even see welcoming challenging children into my heart. But I would likely view trying to integrate such a bunch into my mellow family as too disruptive to my own children. So add that to the list…

My last post was about resonance and dissonance — the things that we can vibe with or not. The thing is, I have a pretty broad, open mind. And I often allow myself to be talked into things. But I know what I like, what resonates. And if you try to persuade me to go out with someone who’s not a match, I’ll probably be convinced to give him a chance. It’s just that in the end, I usually find out that I was right to begin with.

dating with children

Let me begin by describing my children:  they are healthy — free of allergies, asthma and chronic conditions. (Knock on wood…we should all be so blessed.) They are energetic and love to run and play. Each has a mellow and sweet disposition and both are well-liked. Also, they are beautiful. Sure, I have parenting challenges like anyone else, but I am blessed beyond measure to have these bright, loving and cooperative children to nurture.

I try to be a halfway decent mother (despite, at one time, having had the inclination to write a series of parenting manuals called “The Bad Parents’ Guide to…” Shoulda.). Therefore, it was pretty important to me to try to take the high road (as much as I could) during the dismantling of my marriage.

Part of this, in my mind, meant limiting my children’s exposure to my interpersonal relationships with other men. I didn’t want them to see me going from one relationship right into another. However, from the moment my ex moved out, this proved a difficult task:  Male friends seemed to come out of the woodwork in my first days, weeks and months of becoming single, stopping by to see if I needed something done around the house. One fixed the radiator on my car and another thanked me for a project I’d voluntarily done for him (well over a decade ago) with an envelope of cash. Others took us on outings to amusement parks or to the movies.

Children are keen to pick up energy, and mine sensed no hanky-panky as these were strictly platonic relationships. No harm was done — and, unfortunately, this volunteerism quickly tapered off.

As I’ve begun to date, however, I must be more vigilant about what I say and do around my children. They are my nearly constant companions and, at times, my confidantes. I try to maintain appropriate parent/adult-child boundaries yet, I have to confess, this can be difficult. My children are exposed to some prime time television, so they are not oblivious to the notion of crushes or liking others of the opposite sex or adults wanting to kiss. So they have witnessed a small handful of my (telephone) interactions with Chi-guy, for example. They were in the car when I called to wish him a happy birthday, and also when I asked him to take me on a date. They probably catch glimpses of my online dating site, but I doubt they understand what it is.

I feel blessed to be able to have open conversations with my children about having a boy for a friend but also having a crush on him. We speak in terms they can understand, and they have an opportunity to voice the requisite, “I wish you still liked Daddy.” Me too. That would have been much easier on all of us.

So what do my children know of my dating life? They know I have a friend in Chicago who I have a crush on. They know I want to meet men and find a life partner. They know I want to be married and live as a family together with a man other than their father, and that might mean with other children, too. And they ask questions about these things: “What will he be like?” He’ll be kind and loving. “Do you think Daddy might have a friend you’d like?” Um, I don’t think that would be a very good idea. “Will he like children?” He’s going to have to. And then I remind them about staying with Max and his family and how his step children snuggle right up to him.

The day I met more-like-it, my children got off the bus and my son asked how my day was. I told my children that it had been a great day — in fact, I’d met a really cool guy that morning for coffee. (I did not mention that it was a date.) My son asked, “Mommy, do you think you might have made a new friend?” I hope so, I told him.

I think I’ve managed all this pretty well so far. I have yet to date anyone seriously, so no love interests have been brought into my children’s lives. And I intend to err on the side of caution, dating on the weekends that the children are with their father. I plan to wait until a relationship is heading toward commitment before introducing any man into their lives. These are bridges I’ll cross when the time comes.

Meanwhile, my biggest fumble so far is leaving my sanitized vibrator on the counter top to dry and realizing it was still sitting there when my daughter dumped her water bottle in the sink after school. Oops! Not sure we’re ready for that conversation yet…

where have all my friends gone?

The upheaval in my life in the past year and a half is not limited to divorce, single parenting, quitting a job and starting a new one. It’s social, as well. In fact, I can hear The Jayhawks singing right now…

If you asked me today who my best friends are, I’d list the usual suspects. Most are my single girlfriends (you know who you are), and I’ve been able to reconnect with and lean on these girls much more than when I was trying to manage a family life, especially a deteriorating family life. So there has been a lot of shifting in my friendships, and not all of it as positive as I’d like.

As you might imagine, with small children, much of my family’s socialization was right here in the neighborhood, with other couples who had children of similar ages. Some, I was surprised to find, seem a bit suspicious of me following the split…as though perhaps my ex went on a bit of a public relations campaign before moving several neighborhoods away.

In fact, this PR campaign was confirmed by a local wife over a bottle of wine one night. It wasn’t as though she came out and told me he had done this; rather, she hung around until after the other women had left and literally grilled me. In the process she happened to mention that my ex had been over and told his side of the story. And I doubt he stopped there.

Most adults recognize that there are two sides to every story. I was hoping not to have to air my grievances about certain of my ex’s betrayals, simply because I preferred to take the high road. It was over; the damage was done. Dissing him was not productive. In fact, one neighborhood wife had the grace to say, “We saw in your ex the man you fell in love with.” While I knew it was a lie, I appreciated her generosity and refusal to talk bad about him.

I mentioned other broken relationships in the neighborhood — one of those to whom I was closest moved away and, after having spent several years as an at-home mother, now manages half of the parenting, a long-distance relationship and a full-time job. It’s simply become harder to stay in touch. Another close friend moved to the coast. My neighborhood is a lonelier place than it was before.

There is no question that the disruption inherent in divorce extends beyond the family circle and daily life into broader social circles, often making friends feel as though they have to choose, take sides or spare you the knowledge of the party they held last weekend to which your ex (but not you) was invited. And then there’s the couples vs. singles dynamic, where you’re no longer invited to be part of the group because you’re an odd number or a single or you just aren’t thought of by the well-meaning folks thinking of which couples to invite. Divorce forces those around us into an awkward situation.

Recently, I experienced probably the worst possible incarnation that this dynamic might take — its impact on my children.

One of my daughter’s friends invited her to a backyard bonfire and barbecue. As they sat talking about it, my daughter assumed that her brother and I would also be welcome to attend as a list of neighborhood attendees were rattled off. Whispering ensued. I could hear the girlfriend complaining that they didn’t want so many people. This friend has been known to be manipulative and generally prefers to exclude my son, if at all possible. But it seemed there was more…

Later, when we were alone, I expressed to my daughter that sometimes it was a challenge for me to know how to respond to her friend. She agreed. We talked and, as I uncovered more about this dynamic, I had an intuition and asked:

“Did you friend tell you that her parents don’t like me?”

“Yes,” she confessed.

“When?” I asked.

“Awhile ago.”

“Is that why you haven’t been making plans with her for the past several months?”

“Yes,” she answered.

“Does that make you feel uncomfortable around her parents?”

“Yes.”

My stomach dropped. I was, of course, hurt. I have been kind, generous and respectful of this couple. Certainly, we have had moments of difference as it relates to our parenting styles, but I would never exclude them or treat them differently for it. By far, though, pure rage outweighed my sadness. Regardless of what this couple thinks of me (and they’ve made plain their sympathy for my ex), one would think they’d have the discretion to limit what they might say in front of children. And, while I doubt this couple actually said the above verbatim, they need to know how grossly inappropriate and un-friend-like it was for their daughter to say something like this to mine. How dare their words be used to so callously injure my daughter’s self-esteem!

Add another difficult conversation and more social awkwardness to my to-do list…

Update:  It should be noted that these friends later told me I’d done the right thing (in getting rid of my ex).

musings about Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day is this weekend. The children will be with their father (until I choose to pick them up); my mother and aunt will be crowded in to my grandmother’s assisted living space, so I am imagining how I might like to spend this special Sunday morning by myself.

Ideally, I would receive flowers. Tulips, perhaps, something seasonable and bright, not too fussy. And I’d grab a latte to go and walk around one of the urban lakes with a friend. Of course, all my friends are likely to be either with their own children or with their mothers, so I’m not entirely convinced this plan will work. (When they’re older, I shall anticipate spa services.)

Might be nice if that friend who gave me flowers and took me for a walk were a gentleman…

Just sayin’.