Monthly Archives: August 2012

sure you’re in a relationship, but do you know how to “have” one?

My independent spirit, natural reserve, and aversion to needy men has often led me to men who are emotionally unavailable in some fashion or another.  Nice men, with one notable exception, but not really ready or able or willing to truly sink into a relationship, embrace it, and let it naturally evolve.  Sometimes these men were badly damaged by previous relationships (romantic or familial), sometimes they were shy to the point of being closed off, and sometimes they were just fun guys who had no real desire to go deep emotionally.  Whatever the reason, I have spent a lot of time in relationships in which I reached for my partner, only to have my hand close on nothing but air.

My therapist likes to talk about how some people simply “don’t know how to have.”  I refer to them in my head as “Have-nots.”  They basically are incapable of embracing and being genuinely happy with a new, healthy relationship, so they find ways to sabotage it.  These people often feel, deep down, that they are not deserving of a truly amazing relationship.  Guilt, shame, regret, or fear can cause them to pull away from anything that feels genuine and authentic.  Have-nots are hesitant to be really known by anyone, out of fear that rejection will somehow follow, and they worry that they won’t be able to sustain a real relationship.  Some Have-nots hide behind being “too busy” or “too hurt” or some other “too” to avoid really digging deep and creating something incredible.   It is easier and safer to be in something with clear and distinct boundaries and limits, so a deep and sincere intimacy isn’t ever really possible, but neither is heart-breaking pain.  When Have-nots encounter someone who is open and giving and loving, who attempts to create something real with them, they often react with irritability, confusion, or even anger.  Usually, their own inability to get close is blamed on the other person, who is often characterized as too demanding.

I think, like most emotional issues, this “inability to have” is a spectral thing, and I know that I have vacillated along the spectrum at different points in my life.  There have been definite and clear periods of my life when I have not been certain of what I deserved or able to give much, and other times when I have been open and loving and discovered myself involved with someone who was not.  Sometimes I have figured this out on the first date; other times it has taken months (or even years — yikes!) of mixed signals and roller-coaster emotions before I finally realized it.  Sometimes I’m the one sending the mixed signals, but more often I’m the one trying to decipher them.  Either way, it’s exhausting and unproductive and sad.

In fact, I have spent so much time in relationships like this, that I had pretty much forgotten what it feels like when it’s not.  I’d forgotten what it feels like when it flows easily.  When I don’t feel insecure about anything.  When I feel free to raise uncomfortable subjects and have them addressed.  When there wasn’t something hanging out there, like a dark thunder cloud in the distance, leaving me wondering how we’d handle that when it was overhead and whether it might do us in.

But I am, apparently, learning.

Somewhere in the darkness of my recent depression, when I wasn’t consciously analyzing anything, my subconscious was working out some really big questions.  And when I emerged from that darkness, I carried with me a quiet certainty, a soulful knowledge of what I wanted and deserved.  I didn’t feel like I needed to chase it down or apologize for it or worry that it wouldn’t show up.  It simply was, as much a part of me as my red hair or the freckles on my nose.  And then Pete appeared.

Pete could easily be a Have-not. The stories from his marriage, divorce, and subsequent life upheaval are epic and sad.  I can only figure that he survived them because he had two little girls depending on him and a strong core of integrity around his own actions and decisions.  He could easily have become bitter, resentful, and closed off.  But he didn’t.  He is open and present and available.  Steady and unwavering.  Patient and kind.  He has even, for his daughters’ sakes, negotiated a courteous relationship with his ex-wife; something for which I really admire him, especially given her behavior.

I think Pete’s ability to have — to truly, happily embrace our new relationship — is indicative of his strong sense of himself.  His unconscious sense of self-worth, of knowing that he deserves someone amazing and that he can be amazing, too.  He isn’t gun-shy about us, he doesn’t back-pedal or run away or over-analyze or freak out and blame me.  He doesn’t get defensive when I raise something touchy, and he goes out of his way to show me that I’m special to him, that he respects me and likes to spend time with me.  In turn, I don’t worry about anything — where our relationship is going, whether he cares about me, whether we can handle the challenges of four young girls while still carving out time for each other, and on and on.  I just know that we’re both here, happy and excited and wanting to see where it all leads, and applying our best selves to the effort.

I love that I can be every version of myself around Pete.  I love that he constantly surprises me by showing me more of himself that I wouldn’t have guessed at.  I love that we share an optimism about our relationship that allows us to playfully imagine lots of fun things in the future.  But I think the thing I like best is being able to finally be kind and loving toward a man and him wanting to have that, without reservation or holding back.  There is something particularly beautiful in telling someone how much you value them and seeing their face light up with delight, or doing some small thing for them and seeing them appreciate it without attaching some negative connotation to your motive.  These are simple things, but they are also the things that create trust in each other and faith in the relationship.  And I believe that those are the things that sustain you later on, when the initial blush of the new relationship fades.

So, I think being able to really have a relationship must also be important to its long-term sustainability.  I think that knowing that you and your partner both value what you have is huge.  And being able to look at each other and agree that you’re both lucky is priceless.  The rest I’m still figuring out, but that I know for sure.

Me and “Pete” 🙂

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blossoming

As every parent knows, transitions are hard.  We learn pretty quickly from our newborns that small humans do not like change.  Oh no, they like structure and predictability and safety.  But, later, some of them grow into risk-takers, adrenaline-junkies who push the envelope and seek the kinds of challenges that make a mother’s heart stop beating for a few seconds.  Those children face change straight-on, with gusto, even.

My 11-year-old daughter, Sabrina, is not one of those children.

Sabrina has always resisted change of any sort.  Even good change is not good change to Sabrina.  My former mother-in-law likes to tell the story of how she offered to buy my daughters a new playhouse to replace the decrepit hand-me-down one in backyard at the time.  My then-husband’s only pre-requisite:  that the existing playhouse would have to go to make room for the new one.  The new playhouse was amazing — big enough for all their friends and with lots of bells and whistles — while the old playhouse was small and faded and broken-down.  Bryn, Sabrina’s younger sister, was on-board immediately.  But not Sabrina.  She dug her heels in and refused.  She absolutely did not want to replace the old playhouse, even though she rarely played in it because she was already getting too tall to stand comfortably.  But she did not want it changed out.  No siree.  Not happening.  No way.  No how.  And the old playhouse still sits there, more than 4 years later.

So, when Sabrina went off to middle school last week, I braced myself. This was a huge change.  She wouldn’t have anyone she knew in her classes, would be riding her bike to school, and would have to navigate all the daunting aspects of middle school — lockers, switching classes, changing for gym class — all on her own.  I wondered what would happen, what emotional drama would ensue, how badly this change would set back her fragile self-confidence.

Instead, my little girl has faced her challenges with a grace I had not known she possessed.

Middle school is, almost by definition, an in-between, back-and-forth, mixed-up, confusing place.  Throw in a brainy young girl who prefers books to most people and it becomes positively cringe-worthy.  Sabrina is tall and awkward, and very, very aware of her awkwardness, especially by comparison to the “popular girls” she has quickly identified and is giving wide berth to.  And with only 8 days of school under her belt, she has already suffered one of the worst nightmares imaginable to a girl her age:  her Spanish teacher asked the children to pair up for an assignment.  My sweet Sabrina asked three kids to be her partner, and they each declined, including the one who chose to work alone.  When she told me the story, it took everything I had not to cry for her, and the mean part of me hated those children for hurting her that way.  I felt broken, but she, amazingly, persevered.

Sabrina is negotiating the treacherous world of Girl Politics, managing her much longer homework list, and making tentative forays to things outside her comfort zone.  She is genuinely trying to proactively command her own destiny, in her shy but determined manner, and she is positively in love with her new teachers, her new classes, and her new routine.  She is bubbly and glowing and excited about everything.  Somehow, someway, my quiet, cautious, sensitive little girl is heady with the thrill of her latest adventure.  She has even found her way to shrugging ruefully about her Spanish class mortification, and today she set off for school an hour early to try out for an elite girls’ choir that she stands little chance of making as 6th-grader.  But she is putting herself out there and trying and testing her personal boundaries.  And in between waves of feeling so grateful I could cry, I’m astonished.

Sabrina has been on a roll, actually.  She shocked me a couple of weeks ago, when we attended her first private voice lesson.  Her dad and I insist that the girls do a sport and an art or music activity.  After a few years of flute, Sabrina gave it up, claiming she was bored.  All last year, she resisted taking up another instrument, until finally, reluctantly, agreeing to play the guitar.  Then, just as I was shopping for a guitar for her, she hesitantly asked me if voice lessons would count towards music.  Assured that they would, she was then adamant:  voice or nothing.  Her dad and I were skeptical. True, Sabrina had done well enough with flute, but neither of us had ever heard Sabrina really sing.

But again, she surprised us.

Who knew that my daughter has nearly perfect pitch and the ability to sight-read music?  Who knew that she possessed such a lovely, clear, strong singing voice?  Who knew that her range was so broad?

Sabrina bounces out of her voice lessons as if she has springs in her sneakers.  “I love, love, LOVE voice lessons, Mommy!” she sings to me.  She is so visibly elated and pleased with herself that I can’t help but laugh out loud.  This is my child who so often stands in the shadow of her charismatic and out-going sister, my sweet girl who struggles with self-esteem and self-identity, my precious baby who clings to all that is safe and known.

One of the things that I love about parenting is how often it kicks my butt and shows me how much I don’t know.  No matter how certain I may be that I understand my children, can predict their behaviors, know all their talents and short-comings, they always seem to be able to surprise me.  Nothing pulls me up short more than to discover something new and unexpected in my children.  Sometimes it’s a delightful discovery, like Bryn’s writing ability, while other times it’s discouraging, like Sabrina’s capacity for lying.  But no matter what it is, I’m always left a little dumbfounded, wondering how the hell I hadn’t known this about someone that I literally manufactured from my own cells.

Watching Sabrina blossom over the last month has reminded me that none of us truly knows how much we are capable of or what we might accomplish if we only try.  We can never be fully known because there are always new pieces to discover, new aspects to explore.  Even at 11, Sabrina had begun to define herself in static and not often flattering terms, and yet she has surprised all of us, including herself, again and again this month.  And she has faced her setbacks with grace and determination, which is all that any of us can hope.

I have often found myself in awe of my children, wondering at their talents that I do not possess, admiring their attributes that I would do well to emulate.  I am overjoyed to watch my little Sabrina bloom into the fine young woman she is becoming, and so very grateful to be along for the ride.

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target date

Last night, after I attended two Back-to-School picnics with my daughters, Pete and I stole away for some special, quality time alone.

At Super Target.

That’s right, folks.  We went grocery shopping together.  I helped him pick out a new shower curtain, and he stood gamely by while I picked up a new blush compact and some bagels.

This is what passes for romance when you’re both single parents of two small children each.  Sexy, no?

But, to be honest, it was really nice.  We strolled along, him pushing the cart, me holding his arm.  I poked around through the handbags (I can’t resist handbags anywhere) and he weighed in on the ineffectiveness of using 3M Command Strip hooks to hang up towels.  We kicked off our shoes to test drive the bathmats, and he made jokes about what a shame it was that the bedding section didn’t actually have any beds to, you know, “try out.”   Weaving through the aisles, we chatted aimlessly about the kids and work and various bits and pieces that I don’t even remember.

What I do remember is how nice it felt.

When my marriage was in shambles, I read a book that very plainly laid out, in question form, whether your marriage had the necessary ingredients to re-establish a good union.  One of the points that struck me — hard, in the gut — was the question of could you do nothing with this person and still feel that you passed the time pleasantly?  Without the benefit of a fun schedule of activities, the company of friends, or expensive toys or vacations.  Could you, quite simply, just be with that person and still feel fulfilled?  When I read that section of the book, I felt my heart sink.  My husband and I had long ago reached the point where, without some pleasant distraction, the air between us was heavy and sad and tense.   It seemed like it had been ages since we had been able to just be together — just us — and enjoy each other.  I didn’t know where we had gone wrong or how we had gotten off track, but when I looked over my shoulder, I saw that the road behind us was thick with overgrown problems and resentments.  There was no going back.

But from that sad moment, I extracted a valuable lesson:  to cultivate and nurture the simple times.  When a couple is first together, everything is fun because you’re still learning about each other, hearing stories, exploring your relationship.  But later, after the first few months or years, it is all too easy to begin to disengage.  To begin dividing chores and duties, spending less time together and more apart, developing common interests and experiences with people other than your partner.  Until one day, you have traveled so far away from each other down divergent paths, and the road behind you is too thick to find your way back to each other.

One of the gifts of divorce, if we choose to embrace it, is the chance to be more mindful in our choices and our patterns; to make different mistakes than we made the first time; to recognize how patterns established early on will influence and direct the course of the relationship in the long-term.  We can do things differently, and hopefully find a different result.

I’m not talking about being hyper-vigilant or over-analyzing everything and suffocating the natural evolution of a relationship.  What I’m getting at is recognizing and acknowledging the good stuff you share and protecting it because you value it, making course corrections as necessary to preserve it, and not allowing the noise and stresses of life to distract you while the relationship goes off the rails to crash and burn in a fiery divorce.  I get that this isn’t easy, but I don’t think it’s supposed to be easy every day, all the time.  I know that when my ex-husband and I married, we understood that there would be “hard times,” but we imagined them to be akin to the struggles we faced with my daughter’s health, and the financial scares of my husband’s lay-offs.  We congratulated ourselves on weathering those times quite well and solidly as a couple.  But we didn’t fully understand that perhaps the hardest part of a relationship is just keeping it healthy.  Healthy bodies can sometimes withstand even a severe, acute illness, but unhealthy bodies can be laid low by simple viruses.  Our divorce was definitely precipitated by lots of small viruses, rather than one, massive heart attack.  I believe the same is true of relationships —  and it is far harder to restore them to health once they are unhealthy than it is to maintain their health in the first place.

So, I am busy noticing the easy things and the simple times and remembering that it’s important to nurture the aspects of a relationship that you love and value; to not take them for granted as somehow being inherent in relationship, unchangeable and constant.  Because even those wonderful elements that come so easily in the beginning can fall away over the years like sand through our fingers unless we are conscious and present in our attempts to keep them full of life and energy.

I know that some days will surely suck — we’ll argue, we’ll be sad, or we just plain won’t like each other that much.  But the only thing I can do to protect us from those days’ damage is to celebrate and reinforce all the awesomeness we’re creating now.  Even when that awesomeness happens in the aisles of a Super Target.

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Filed under dating, divorce, love, personal growth, pete, relationships, single mom

creating space for the love you want

One of my favorite bloggers, MyJourneyMyRules, published a post today that was, in part, about her struggle to stay focused on a guy she’s just started seeing who may have some potential, when she is being seriously tempted by a “bad habit” crush of hers.  As she points out, nearly all of us have experienced that push-pull of what we know is good for us and what tempts us to be naughty.  While oftentimes our surrender to the naughty side is harmless and fun, it also — at least as far as dating goes — can beget some pretty ugly emotional hangovers.

I remember when my youngest was a toddler — I could watch the push-pull play out across her face as she struggled with what she was supposed to do versus what she wanted to do.  Her forehead would crinkle in concentration and her eyes grow serious, and then — even before she’d made a move in either direction! — the chosen path would be announced by her expression:  disappointment and resignation if she decided to be a good girl; a stubborn set to her chin if she’d embraced her inner bad girl.  Because, even at the age of two, we all know what we’re supposed to do.  It’s doing it that’s harder.

My blogging friend knows that she needs to give this new guy a chance.  She knows that she needs to eliminate the distractions of men who are not good for her and what-if scenarios that undermine her attention to her new relationship.  But she admits that she’s not sure which path she’ll chose, and while I have no idea what she will do, I know that in my experience, hesitation has always meant that I knew full well that I was going to be bad girl, but I hadn’t decided to acknowledge it just yet.

My friend Katrina once got an invitation to fly up the coast and meet up with a hot, former professional athlete that we’ve known since high school.  For a couple of weeks, she insisted that she hadn’t made up her mind whether she was going, even though we both knew full and well that her mind was made up as soon as she received the invitation.  I mean, it was just too tempting, and with no strong counterbalance weighing against going, it was a done deal.

I think the challenging thing about doing the right thing when dating is that often “the right thing” means doing nothing.  Sitting alone, sleeping alone, moving through your day wondering if or when someone great might saunter into your life.  Doing the right thing rarely means going out with that superhot guy you know damn well is NOT going to call you next week.  And that’s the frustrating part, isn’t it?  Doing nothing does not feel empowering, it feels passive.  Doing nothing does not feel strong, it feels lonely.  But the truth is that sometimes doing nothing is making an affirmative choice.  And a hard one at that.

As with any general rule, there are some exceptions — the time I spent dating without commitment immediately following my divorce was necessary and useful to my personal growth.  I definitely went out with guys I wouldn’t give the time of day to now, but at the time it was fun, and fun was the only pre-requisite.  And I knew that I really didn’t have much to offer besides being fun myself at that point, so it felt appropriate for the time. But, for the most part, most of the time, dating players and other versions of the commitment-phobic is not a good idea.

The blogosphere is rife with posts railing against the admonition that “It will happen when it’s right,” and I have certainly contributed my share to this body of work.  The thing I hate about this platitude is that it seems to imply that love (or whatever good fortune you’re seeking) will come along when you have all your metaphorical ducks perfectly in a row.  I resisted this because I can quite sincerely tell you that I have never, not for one minute of my life, had all my ducks neatly in a row; inevitably, there is always some corner of my life that is a hot mess.  So, the idea that payoff for being a good girl making good choices was only going to come once all my ducks were in that row was more than a little discouraging and frustrating.

But I’ve lately been contemplating the possibility that the adage actually means something more like “It will happen when there’s space.”  In other words, when you make emotional space in your life for a change or transition or addition, then it will be more likely to appear.  I think this is why we intuitively know that as long as we’re playing with Mr. Wrong, Mr. Right isn’t going to show up.  But in the absence of a direct choice between Mr. Wrong and Mr. Right, most of us think, “What the heck — I might as well have fun with Mr. Wrong while I wait for Mr. Right to finally get here!”

I think that the reason that Mr. Right doesn’t show up as long as we’re playing with Mr. Wrong (or even multiple Mr. Wrongs, as the case may be), is because there isn’t any real room.  The space is taken.  Our emotional energy and attention are split or even entirely focused on that relationship with Mr. Wrong, however unfulfilling or meaningless it may be.  It’s only when we fully clear the decks and truly open ourselves affirmatively in the direction of our hopes that something good shows up.  It’s almost like the presence of a go-nowhere relationship in which we’re still invested serves as a repellant to a relationship that might actually make us happy.

I have written about how the noise in our lives can be so distracting that it’s hard to find our emotional focus and center.  I’m a firm believer that some time alone — and by this I don’t just mean boyfriend-less, but truly alone with ourselves and our thoughts — is the only way to find the peace in the silence, to fully realize who we are and what we ultimately want.   It’s not easy to say no to a date that might offer the immediate gratification of attention and laughter in order to hold our space for something deeper and more sustainable, but I suspect that that is precisely what we have to do in order to create the right space for that something.

I am not saying that when we are ready for love we should cloister ourselves away from the world and not date or go out or proactively seek our happiness — I am simply suggesting that we probably shouldn’t spend our precious time and energy traversing roads we already know to be dead ends.  I think if we want The Real Deal, we have to make room for it and be open to it.  Fully and completely.  We have to decide, once and for all, that our long-term happiness is more important than short-term fun and respect our needs and desires enough to reject anything that doesn’t move us toward that goal.

Easier said than done?  Sure.  And life can be a cruel temptress.  All too often she shows up and says, “Are you sure you don’t want a little bit of this?”  As if to prove my point, as I was about 1/2 way through writing this post, Coach texted me to ask me out for this weekend.  I declined and told him I was dating someone now.  I declined, but not because I had to; because I honestly, finally wanted to.  Just as I did the last he contacted me, in June.  And just as I will the next time he asks me out.  He is fun, to be sure, but I want fun and a whole lot more right now.

Knowing what you want and making the space for it in your life are two different things.  It’s so much harder than people who are happily ensconced in relationships will acknowledge, because loneliness and fear are strong motivators to settle for less than we deserve.  I’m obviously no expert at resisting temptation, but in the past couple of years, I’ve learned the hard lessons that come with surrendering to what I know isn’t good for me.  So, I’ve been working on creating space for the stuff that’s good for me.  And you know what?  I’ve discovered that sometimes in that good space you even get to be bad.

Jackpot.

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the wisdom of Todd Akin

I don’t usually reblog posts, but this one had me both fuming and laughing out loud, so I thought it worthy of the compliment. 🙂 Enjoy whatever it brings up for you….

Views from the Couch

Todd Akin, a certified fuckwit, made a statement this past week, giving his thoughts on “legitimate rape”. Apparently, mother nature knew all too well that we women were going to be reckless and irresponsible and end up getting ourselves raped so, in her infinite wisdom, enabled our bodies to make the distinction between “legitimate rape” and “buyers remorse”, the former which would cause our reproductive functions to shut down to prevent pregnancy from resulting from such an event.

Sure, he has since back pedaled but, at least for me, there is no coming back from that bullshit. It is indefensible. It got me thinking, though, about how prevalent this thought process is throughout society. Not this exact line of thought but just the victim blame mentality that colors public opinion. In regards to rape cases reported in the media, men and women alike will often refer to or inquire…

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dating in the shadow of the Disney princesses

When my daughters were toddlers, my then-husband and I tried our best to resist the Disney princess phenomenon, but faced with the marketing juggernaut that is Disney, coupled with 5 sets of grandparents (you read that correctly), it was a losing battle from the outset.  So we surrendered and decided to fight the battles we could win, like potty-training and eating food with utensils instead of fingers.

For those of you who have not raised daughters in the last 15 years or who did so while living under a rock, the Disney princesses reign supreme among preschool and early elementary girls.  Their stories, songs, personalities, and clothes are committed to memory and little girls’ fascination with and loyalty to them eclipses anything witnessed during the Beatles or N*Sync crazes.  The princesses are a pastel brigade to be reckoned with.  Truly.

My ex-husband and I have spent countless hours correcting the values, norms, and expectations spoon-fed to my daughters by the Disney marketing division, and we ultimately agreed that surrounding them with strong, authentic, amazing women who lead lives that do not involve tiaras or talking animals was probably the best antidote to the Disney Kool-Aid.  I still believe that, but there are times when I realize the dizzying power of the tulle and fairy godmother set.

Case in point:

On the way to the airport for our family vacation a couple of weeks ago, my 9-year-old daughter Bryn announced that she and her BFF, Amanda, Pete’s daughter, had decided that Pete and I should date now.  Furthermore, she revealed, in order that she and Amanda could become sisters, we should also marry.  This would, apparently, create no hardship on either Pete or me, because the girls had already planned the wedding.  Nine-year-olds are selfless that way, I suppose.  Unbeknownst to them, of course, Pete and I had already had our first date without any facilitation on their part.  (Surprisingly enough, sometimes grown-ups manage this without the help of 4th-graders….)

Then earlier this week, Pete’s daughter Amanda asked why I was being invited to yet another family dinner.  In his typical matter-of-fact way, Pete replied that it was because we were dating.  Amanda made an “icky” face and that was the end of that.  Or at least until after dinner, when we were parting ways and Pete, in full view of his parents and children, planted a sweet kiss goodbye on my lips.  His 7-year-old daughter, Amber, squealed and commenced teasing him as I walked away, smiling to myself.

The following day, I received a phone call from my daughter Bryn, who is with her dad this week.  She was breathless and so excited her voice reached pitches that surely only a dog could hear.  She was, of course, calling for confirmation that Pete and I were dating, having heard the news from Amanda.  I confirmed the news to her, and then experienced the ear-drum piercing scream that is unique to 9-year-old girls who are exceptionally happy.  I allowed her to revel in her joy for a minute and then tried to remind her that dating is merely about two grown-ups trying to decide if they like each other in the way and to the degree that would cause them to want to a be a real couple.  She acknowledged my words, but I could hear her mind already planning wedding gowns and horse-drawn carriages.

The next day, Bryn was at Pete’s house (again) playing with Amanda, and they treated to Pete to a performance of a hip-hop routine they’d composed called, appropriately enough, “My Mom and My Dad Are Dating.”  Poor Pete.  Thank goodness he’s not the kind of guy who gets scared off easily, or these two would have him in a dead sprint away from me for sure.  Fortunately, I had warned him that this would happen, having been through it once with James.  “Remember the Disney princesses,” I told him.  “Right,” he replied, “they fall in love at the ball and get married the next day.  Happily ever after.”

Yep.

Once I get my kids back, I’ll remind them about my many lectures on dating and falling in love and choosing a mate.  It will likely have little consequence at this juncture, but it certainly bears repeating.  After all, I’m competing with years of animated bliss and immediate devotion.  No amount of repetition is too much.

In all seriousness, though, one of the silver linings of being a divorced, dating mother, is the opportunity to show my girls first-hand the trials and tribulations of dating.  Obviously, I don’t share the nitty-gritty details, but the general outlines of what dating is, how it plays out, the risks we take and why we take them — all of these things are useful lessons to young girls who will someday experience the same joys and heartbreaks they witness in me now.  And, hopefully, their memories of my experiences will lend me a credibility when providing dating advice, guidance, and rules that I would be less likely to have were they to think I had met their father an eon ago across a crowded ballroom and married him the next day.  Their friends are already more likely to confide in me their crushes than to tell their own mothers.  Apparently my dating status assures them that I’ll better understand the fragile happiness and humiliation of crushes, and I honestly think I probably do.

So, while Bryn and Amanda are busy overseeing the animal menagerie that is creating my wedding dress and selecting the palace we shall all reside in after the happy day, Pete and I will continue to laugh about it and get to know each other the way real people do — one date a time.  No glass slippers needed.

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heart of stones

Earlier this year, a young mother drove her small Subaru from the larger city down below, through the canyon and up the mountain to the little town where I work.  She parked her car in a dirt lot and climbed out into a night that was cold and dark.  The spring thaw had come astoundingly early, sending the snow from the mountainsides melting into the creeks and lakes, swelling them to unusually high levels, but the nights were still freezing.  The mother sat at edge of the creek for some time.  Then she filled her pockets with the heavy river rocks that line the creek bed and banks, and waded into the icy water.  Fed by the melting glaciers of the Continental Divide and rushing toward the reservoir 100 yards downstream, the creek water was cold enough to induce hypothermia in a submerged body within a minute.  The rocks did their job, and the young woman was dragged down, but not before she’d had a change of heart.  Clawing desperately at the steep embankment, she struggled to pull herself from the rushing water.  But ultimately she succumbed.  And in the early light of dawn, her body was discovered nearby, facedown in the water, by hikers who alerted town officials.

When the police chief informed my office later that morning, we all stood and stared at each other.  We are a very small group, working in a very small town, and no tragedy passes unnoticed.  This was particularly painful to absorb:  a young mother in her twenties, going through a divorce, leaving two small children behind in her death, so desperately sad that she chose a terrifying and permanent solution to her pain.

Perhaps the next day, perhaps the day after, a young man appeared at the site along the creek where the mother’s body had been recovered.  He sat on the shore, in the bitter cold, and cried.  Then he came back the next day, and the next, and the next after that.  Until we all in town came to expect his daily vigil.  Sometimes he was alone, other times he was with his parents or just his father.  Occasionally a friend accompanied him. His grief was public and overwhelming.  Residents reported that he often seemed to sit there all day long, crying.  The police were dispatched to help.  They determined that the young man was her estranged husband, father to her children, grieving a loss he could neither understand nor accept.

As the days passed, the young man continued his vigil, but also brought with him his wading boots.  Despite the chill, he waded into the creek and created a large heart — approximately 5′ tall x 4′ wide — in the creekbed where his wife’s body had last rested, using the same kind of stones that had sealed her fate.  He stacked the stones five or six high in order that they be seen above the top of the water.   The task and its completion seemed to offer him some solace, and his grief resolved itself into a quiet sadness.  But still he came.

In the weeks that followed, a small makeshift memorial grew on the edge of the creek, with a cross, laminated letters, photos, and personal touches.  Some locals added to it, others merely stopped by to offer a prayer or meditation in front of the heart of stones memorial.  A few residents complained to me that the memorial was “in poor taste” or “unseemly” or that it “made people uncomfortable.”  I listened to their complaints, then told the police chief and town manager that I did not plan to remove the memorial.  Death makes people uncomfortable, for sure, but I’m not sure how making that discomfort go away is my responsibility.

So, on my order, the memorial stands.  I have proposed a memorial policy that will allow the family to install a commemorative bench on the site.  I visited it today, for the first time, to document in photographs its existence for town records.  We are now in the waning days of summer in the mountains, with sunny, warm days surrendering to chilly nights.  The creek is at nearly its lowest ebb, and the heart of stones stands in strong relief to the shallow waters around it.

While I was standing there, a young man turned the corner from the parking lot and approached me, smiling tentatively.  I could tell by his attire that he had come a long ways to reach this spot.  I stepped aside and he walked to the edge of the creek, where he squatted.  His lips moved silently, as if in prayer, as he gazed at the heart of stones.  I turned away, offering him some privacy.  Then he stood, and I turned around.  He smiled at me, and his somber eyes said thank you.  He walked away and I was left alone again.

I did not know this woman, nor did I know anyone who knew her.  I don’t think I ever saw her husband or his family or their friends.  But her death affected me this spring.  It reminded me how much each life — and sometimes its end — touches so many people.  How can we possibly fully appreciate the ripple effect of our choices?  How do those choices permanently alter the direction of someone else’s life?  It’s impossible to know, isn’t it?

Everytime this spring that someone came into town hall to tell me that the man and his family were still there, I wondered about him.  Why did he keep coming?  Had he still loved her so much?  Was his grief based on regret… remorse… guilt?  What story had they shared?  What will he tell his two small daughters?

And what of that young mother, who made a choice she could not repeal — From wherever she was, could she see the pain her death had caused?  Was her soul at peace or was it anguished?  Had she had any idea how many people loved her — those ones who traveled so far to create a personal monument on a creekbed in a strange town?  What does she think of the beautifully poetic memorial crafted in her honor on the site of her last breath?  And what will become of her memory when, next year at the thaw, the force of the creek scatters her stone heart?

The answers to those questions don’t really matter, but they are the things I pondered occasionally as the winter gave way to spring and then spring to summer here in the Rocky Mountains.   I hope that her family finds peace soon, and that her soul does likewise.  I will not likely forget her anytime soon, this young woman I never met.  I wish so much that she had made different choices that cold March night, but I understand the world is unfolding around me just as it should, and that my lack of understanding does not make that any less true.

And I hope that someday, when I die in my comfy bed of natural causes as a very elderly woman, someone who loves me builds me a heart of stones in a beautiful creek somewhere.

Don’t you?

The Heart of Stones Memorial

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Filed under divorce, healing, love, marriage, relationships, sadness

sunny days and the kitchen sink

It is said that you must taste the bitter to appreciate the sweet.  Earlier this year, I was drowning in the bitter. But now it’s raining sweetness.

When I take stock of my life right now, I am amazed and grateful.  I wonder at how blessedly different the landscape looks now than it did this winter and spring.  The first half of this year was punctuated by loss, regret, and fear.  It seemed that every time I stood up, I was knocked backward by yet another setback.  I lamented to my friend Katrina that I felt like I’d turned into a giant whiner because every time she talked to me, it was one sad tale after another.  She immediately pointed out that I wasn’t whining — it was the crazy reality of my life.  From appliances failing one after another, to work stresses that sometimes played out in the newspaper, to the on-again/off-again game with James, to tax bills from hell, to deaths and divorces, it seemed like I couldn’t get any relief from the onslaught.  Even just thinking about it while typing has made my heart start pounding again.

BUT….

Then I remind myself that I am — thankfully! — in a different place now.  Granted, life is not perfect, but after all that bitter, it sure does feel sweet.  There are so many pieces of sweetness that I’m appreciating right now, and I could write gushing posts about every one of them, but today I’m going to treat you to the bit of sunshine that is occupying my mind the most lately:

I’m going to call him “Pete.”

Pete is a man I first met 4 1/2 years ago at his daughter’s birthday party.  We were both separated, but did not form an acquaintance until a couple years later, when his daughter, “Amanda,” and my daughter, Bryn, became BFFs.  The usual playdates and sleepovers ensued, but I had started dating James and so didn’t think about Pete — or any other man — in terms of dating material.  We would talk on the soccer sidelines, and about the girl drama our daughters and their friends engaged in, and occasionally, we’d run into each other at outdoor summer concerts, where we’d chat and dance a little bit.  It was, basically, a friendship borne of connection through our kids.

And then I decided to replace my kitchen faucet.

Under normal circumstances, that might sound like a non sequitor, but if you’ve been following my blog for any length of time, you’ve surely noticed that my life reads more like an episode of “Friends” than a Disney princess movie.  So here it goes…

Financial constraints had set me on a do-it-yourself bender, and I decided to finally tackle the ugly and old faucet in my otherwise acceptable sink.  I watched a YouTube video, pulled out the “Handyman’s Guidebook” my dad had sent me, laid out all the necessary tools, and set to work.  Two hours later, I was hot, sweaty, and in tears.  The nuts holding my faucet to the counter were corroded and not budging.  I had pushed and pulled and made two trips to Home Depot for new wrenches before I gave up and called Annie to announce my failure and lament having to call a plumber because I couldn’t loosen a few nuts.

A — “Don’t call a plumber just to do that!  Call a guy we know to just help you unscrew the nuts.”

TPG — “Okay.  But who?  And you know I’m not good at asking for help.  And don’t say James.”

A — “What about Pete?  He’s such a nice guy, I know he’d do it for you.”

So, I hung up the phone with Annie and called Pete.  After stumbling through an awkward explanation of how I really don’t like to ask people for help and he shouldn’t feel obligated at all and no hard feelings if he said no, I told him about the nuts and asked for his help.

P — “Sure.  I’ll come over tomorrow night.  What time?”

I audibly exhaled my relief and promised him a beer for his trouble.

The next evening, after loosening the nuts in two quick tugs, Pete stood in my kitchen, Corona in hand, and talked to me as I finished installing my new, shiny kitchen faucet.  As I completed the task, my mind turned to the long to-do list still awaiting me that night, but Pete continued leaning on my counter.  Hmmm…

TPG — “Ummm….. Want another beer?”

Another beer in the living room turned into dinner at our local Mexican restaurant, and I went to bed that night with my to-do list untouched and wondering if maybe, just possibly, I had been overlooking a great guy right in front of me.

A couple of weeks later, we both helped move Annie into the house she’d bought (Yay Annie!!) and Pete introduced me to music by my now new favorite band, and shortly after that we had our first date at an outdoor concert.  I left two days later for a trip to visit my dad, which could have signaled the quiet fade-to-black that often follows first dates when there’s nothing to go on, but instead I heard from him every day.  Sweet, funny, consistent texts and phone calls that made me want to know more.  And since I’ve been home, that’s what I’ve been doing.  Spending time with Pete and his daughters (and even his parents, who were visiting), getting to know him better and discovering lots of delicious sides to him that I’d never have guessed it.  He is solid and smart and honest and kind and has the prettiest green eyes I’ve ever had the pleasure of gazing into.

It has only been a short time, and I have no earthly idea where this is going or how long it will last, but it is beautiful and sweet and fun.  A part of me hesitated to share it here, because it is still so new, but I think it can be useful to see the beginnings of things, as well as the ends.  So much of blogville is devoted to heartbreak; I thought I’d offer a little sunshine to my small corner.

Besides, I promised to be real here and this is really where I am.  I am happy again, for the first time in a very, very long time.

Life is good.  And so am I.

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Filed under dating, pete, relationships, single mom

the abyss that is depression

I began this post multiple times over the last couple of months.  The most progress I made on it prior to this weekend was a late night writing session following three vodka tonics, which sufficiently braced me to put letters to screen about a subject I find particularly painful and shameful.  I know this post is lengthy, but I believe this issue is deserving of the time and space, so I hope you’ll bear with me.

Much of this year has found me facing a daily struggle within myself.  I was unable to write.  Unable to play my guitar.  Unable to enjoy many of the things that I used to enjoy.

Because I was severely depressed.

Those of you who have experienced depression are already nodding along sympathetically.  You know the heaviness of it, the hopelessness of it, the monotony of it.  You know how it robs you of any optimism or happiness.  You know how it makes you irritable, critical, and jealous of the good fortune of others.  You know the tears that appear out of nowhere and the endless sense of grinding through day after day.

Those of you who have not been intimately acquainted with this particular demon are likely wondering why I couldn’t just snap out of it — go do something fun!  Go dancing or to yoga or on a date!  Watch a bunch of funny movies, take a bubble bath, bake some banana bread!

But that’s the problem, and that’s why I decided to finally write this.  In the hope that someone would find an understanding they hadn’t had before… and that someone who might be suffering would realize they are not alone in their silent pain.

Let’s be very clear:  Depression is not sadness.  Oh no.  I wish that it were.  Sadness is painful and acute and sharp.  It is felt and experienced and then overcome.  It can be addressed with fun times and laughter with friends.  It can be overcome with sunshine and delicious food and lots of hugs.   Sadness is usually the result of something happening: a break-up, a death, a terrible day at work.  It can be cognitively processed and massaged away with good feelings and good times.  Sometimes it lasts moments, other times weeks, occasionally even months.  But it has a quality that tells you that it’s temporary.  And, more than anything, sadness makes sense.

Depression is not sadness.  It is dull and slow and heavy.  It feels like it will never go away; indeed, hopelessness is one of the keystones of depression.  Being depressed, even if you’re “functional” as I have always been, is like slogging through quicksand.  All day, every day.  Merely going about the most basic functions of a day until it’s time to sleep like the dead for as many hours as possible leaves a depressed person physically and emotionally exhausted.  The body feels achy and stiff and sore; the brain fuzzy and distracted; the soul empty and dead.

Depression is like an emotional cancer — it eats the very parts of you that could best defeat it.  There is no energy to do the things that might help you feel better.  And like an anorexic who looks in the mirror and truly sees a fat person, clinically depressed people are fundamentally unable to envision a better time, a time when the depression has lifted.  The underlying, cold fear is that life will always be this way, that you will succumb to the depression and dissipate over time, until you are a lonely, isolated shell of your former self.

I am well-acquainted with depression.  I first experienced depression as a teenager.  Like many young women, the onset of puberty ushered in an unsteady emotional time, and my life circumstances during my teens and early 20’s worsened the depressive episodes.  But they were still relatively short-lived.  The birth of my second daughter was followed by a vicious case of postpartum depression that necessitated, for the first time, the use of medication in order to defeat my demons.  But worst of all was an episode  toward the end of my marriage that was so long and dark that my doctor actually evaluated me for hospitalization.

Yes, depression is  a familiar enemy.  I can see it coming… creeping up on me like a figure emerging from the shadows.  Over the years, I have come to recognize the cocktail that is most dangerous for me:   one difficult, sad event (a break-up, a death, some enormous, temporary stressor) that I could otherwise manage as well as anyone else, coupled with an underlying emotional struggle of some magnitude that is already sapping my energy (ongoing difficulties at work, trouble in a relationship, health issues, etc).  The one-two punch, so to speak, knocks me far enough off-balance that the nasty ephemeral figure of depression is able to get a firm grasp on me.  With my depleted emotional reserves, I cannot fight him off, and I succumb.  And I can literally feel vertigo as I tumble into the black hole of the depression.

I have been more fortunate than many people, however, in that my depression has never been debilitating.  I have never not been able to get out of bed, or go to work, or care for my children.  I have never lost friends, or boyfriends, or jobs because of my depression.  I have always managed to function well enough to conceal — oftentimes from even my closest friends — the depths of my despair.

And I have also been fortunate to have had the kinds of friends and family who have propped me up and encouraged me and held me when I cried senselessly.  I suspect that those who lose their battle with depression to suicide feel so isolated by the disease infecting their soul that their friends and family cannot break through to reach them.  I have never gone that far into the dark, and I pray that I never will.

Due to its classification as a mental illness, depression still carries some stigma, and I will admit that I am even guilty of stigmatizing myself.  When I get depressed, I am ashamed of myself.  Ashamed that I didn’t see the monster coming, didn’t fight off his grasping, icy hands as they dragged me down.  Terrified that my friends and family will cease to regard me as a strong, accomplished woman.

But I also wholeheartedly believe that depression IS a mental illness, although perhaps a temporary one for most people.  It is irrational and sometimes disabling.  It alters your sense of what’s real and true and possible, and, if left untreated over time, it can destroy the best and brightest parts of even the most amazing person.

My exit from a depressive episode is typically prompted by some triggering event that serves as an emotional course adjustment.  Such an event, along with the help of therapy, medication, friends, and some proactive personal choices, enabled me to emerge from the black pit I was in for so much of this year.  But each visit to that place takes its toll.  I am tired and a little unsteady and still recovering, as you might be if recovering from a lengthy and debilitating physical illness.  But I am also peaceful and secure and genuinely feeling hopeful and empowered again.

Many mental illnesses have an upside (yes, you read that correctly).  Some of history’s greatest minds and artists likely suffered from bi-polar disorder and, during their manic phases, created some of the most original work and art known to man.  Similarly, I have discovered the silver lining of my depressive episodes:  I emerge from them with increased clarity.  It is like someone has wiped clean my third eye, allowing me to see perfectly clearly the people and situations before me so that I can chart a considered and thoughtful path based on rational reasoning and authentic intuition.  I am not sure that I can say that the benefit of this clarity is worth the suffering of depression, nor do I have any idea if others experience this after a depressive episode.  But I do, and I am grateful for it.

I fully recognize that I am not forced to write any of this.  I get to choose what of my life remains private and which persona I chose to share or create for my blog readers. And certainly, for those who do not know me personally, it could be fun to be the blogger with the answers — the easy, breezy, confident woman who saunters through life and work and relationships with nary a misstep or hesitation.  But that is not me.  And I don’t actually have any desire to be that woman because I suspect that that woman would neither relate to nor provide any real value to the wonderful souls who read the words I share.   Easy and perfect are not useful or instructive; it is only through our shared struggles and accomplishments that we experience our true humanity.

And so, if I have shared too much here… if I have alienated or disappointed some of you with this revelation, I am sorry that you have experienced this post in that manner, but I am not sorry for having shared.  Because I sincerely suspect that for every person who doesn’t understand, there is another who does and finds solace in being understood and acknowledged here.  And to those souls I say this:

If you are depressed right now, you are not alone.  Your current situation will not always be so.  Life will change, eventually and with certainty.  Hopelessness is a symptom of the disease, not a part of who you are.  Just do your best each day, in whatever small way feels like a victory, and be gentle with your struggling soul.  Seek help — tell friends, call your doctor, call a therapist.  Don’t allow the isolation to swallow you whole.  Don’t allow the depression to rob you of your life.  You are beautiful and you are loved and you have a future in front of you that you cannot imagine right now.

Please try your best to remember that the sun will come out again.  I promise it will.  It always does, if only we hang on long enough.

40 Comments

Filed under healing, personal growth, relationships, sadness

hello again.

I have not written for a while.  A long, long while.  Since July 8th, to be exact.

But I never truly left.  I continued reading the blogs that inspire and console and teach me.  I rejoiced in the victories I read and prayed over the hardships.  I have not commented much, but I have been present.

In upcoming posts, the reasons for my absence will likely be obvious.  I will not relate them in detail here, now, but I will also not hold back.  I have begun writing again and have new insights, new experiences, and new perspectives to share with my readers.  I still don’t have any answers, but I renew the commitment I made when I started this blog — to be sometimes funny, sometimes thought-provoking, sometimes sad, but always real.

Stay tuned,  and thanks for your patience.

The journey continues…

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Filed under general musings