Monthly Archives: December 2012

2012 in review from wordpress…

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

WordPress does this nifty little thing each year where it tells us some general stats about our blog and page.  For those of you who like numbers, this is my end-of-year gift to you.  😉

Click here to see the complete report.

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Filed under general musings

the not enough place

There is a very dark place inside some of us.  I think of it as the “not enough” place.  It is a space in our psyche in which we are consistently less than adequate, always falling short of expectations, never quite good enough for the task or person we are striving toward.   This place has no light.  It is heavy, pregnant with expectations never met, people never pleased and ideals fallen away.

For some people, this place was constructed early, as part of some childhood experience — an emotionally distant or highly-critical parent, physical abandonment, or unstable family dynamics.  For others, it appeared suddenly, maybe even overnight, the result of an intensely traumatic experience that shattered their sense of personal safety and value.  Whatever the cause of its appearance, once present it is a difficult place to dismantle.

The not enough place is where all our worst personal demons are housed.  Once in the room, we are treated to a litany of our short-comings, a veritable laundry list of all the ways in which are less than we should be.  Our imperfections, in all their stark, harsh realness are on display, brightly lit for all to see who enter.  It is in this space that we are told that we are now and always will be unworthy, unlovable, not necessary, a human mistake.

Sadly, it is often those we trust most who first thrust us into this place, slamming the door behind us and subjecting us to the torment of our worst thoughts about ourselves.  Parents, extended family members, teachers, coaches, boyfriends, spouses…. The people whose esteem we value and strive for most are the very people most capable of creating the darkest corners of our psyche through their mistreatment or neglect.   Some of them constructed the not enough place intentionally, believing that it would help us to see ourselves more clearly or avoid the pitfalls of hubris or relinquish fanciful self-concepts.

Some people are blessed to travel through this life without more than a cursory visit to the not enough place.  They don’t stay long enough to absorb any of its poison, but instead are strong enough to resist its sirens’ song of denigration.  They blithely move on, secure in their self-worth and sense of place in this world.  They are the truly lucky.

But others are not so lucky.  Some fight a lifelong battle with the not enough place, boarding it up time and again only to sneak back and re-open its dark chamber once more.  Others succumb to its thrumming mantras of self-loathing, giving up entirely on their sense of self-worth and hiding fearfully behind a mask of their own making, hoping desperately that it never slips and reveals their unworthiness to the entire world.  Then there are the few, so ravaged by the beatings endured in the not enough place, that they surrender completely to the madness.  These are the Sylvia Plaths of the world, for whom no amount of external validation can convince them that they are worthy of love, or friendship, or even breath.

The holidays can be a magical time, but for many, they can also be a time of considerable stress, emotional highs and lows, and a readjustment of all kinds of expectations.  I suppose that I am publishing this tonight as an homage to those feeling let down, perhaps most of all by themselves.  If you have a not enough place in the deepest recesses of your heart, please stay away from it this season.  I guarantee you that there is at least one person in your world who believes you worthy, and lovable, and valuable, and irreplaceable to them.

I have, on my bedroom wall, a prose poem called The Desiderata, given to me by my dear friend Caitlyn some 20 years ago.  When the not enough place starts  its infernal pestering, I remember and recite these lines:

Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.  You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars, you have a right to be here.

The trees and stars do not have to ask if they are lovable or worthy or valuable.  And neither should we.

shooting star and tree

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Filed under personal growth, sadness

give yourself a winter solstice watershed

On a snowy winter day in early 2010, I got an email from my ex-boyfriend Mike, seeking sympathy because his 26-year-old girlfriend told him on his 43rd birthday that she was leaving him and moving to Utah.  Fortunately, I was alone in the office that day, because the news struck me like a sucker punch to the gut and I spent the remainder of the afternoon fighting back tears, mostly unsuccessfully.

It wasn’t that his girlfriend was leaving him (although this was clearly the stunner for him).

It wasn’t that he was seeking sympathy from me, a woman he’d treated so poorly.

It was that he was actually over me.

In hindsight and with the benefit of intelligence unclouded by misplaced love, I can see that of course he had been over for me some time (and that’s assuming that his feelings were ever deep enough to require “getting over”).  He had been in a relationship with her almost from the day ours had ended.  Never mind that the last time I’d heard from him he’d been dismissive and patronizing when speaking of her.  He was with her, not me, and that should have screamed volumes.  But it didn’t.

Sure, I was dating and my contact with Mike was limited to the occasional text or email, usually initiated by me.  Sure, I could articulate all the reasons that he was a Grade A Jerk and why I was far too good for him.  But deep down, I kept waiting for him to be the guy I thought he could be.  I kept waiting for my Hollywood ending — you know the one! — where the guy comes to his senses and rushes to the girl to declare what a fool he’s been and how much he loves her.  Yes, somewhere, in the recesses of my heart, hidden even from my own consciousness, I was still waiting for him.

But that day changed everything.

I can’t adequately describe how I felt that day, watching as his emails kept coming with more details of their relationship and his heartbreak, as stark truth assaulted my eyes.  I felt dizzy and nauseated.  I sincerely wondered if maybe I would faint.  When the postman came into the office with our mail, I discovered I couldn’t speak.

Moving through that pain was some of the worst emotional grieving I’ve ever done.  It sounds so ridiculous to me now — that I expended so much energy on a man so unworthy of it! — but the heart is a crazy organ that doesn’t play by the rules and has no regard for common sense or practicality and no sense of proportion.  Sometimes our grieving is as much about our contextual circumstances as about the tragedy that has struck our heart, and that was the case that snowy and cold day.

The pain of Mike’s revelation opened me up.  It blew me apart in ways that went far beyond my feelings or desires for him.  It was like a catalyst that brought down a little house of cards in my psyche.  Suddenly, I was grieving not only for the loss of my dream relationship with him (indeed that pain was quickly overshadowed), but for the expectations I’d held for myself and my life post-divorce.  I had to accept that I wasn’t going to segue effortlessly from my marriage into the relationship of my dreams.  I wasn’t going to move seamlessly from owning my small business into a professional legal position that could more adequately support me and my children.  None of this was going as I had planned. Then, before I’d rummaged through that psychic junk, another wave of reality hit me — the remaining anger and disappointment and grief I felt over my marriage.  I had thought I was done with that, but here it was, bitter and sour all over again. I felt buried under my own sense of loss and confusion and foolishness.  For weeks I foundered, seeking to right myself and find some sense of equanimity.

And then it came.  And it was beautiful.

Those final tears over Mike were a crucible, forging a whole new perspective for me.  It was a watershed of feelings I’d been holding onto that weren’t serving any useful purpose and were holding me back from moving into my next potential.  In the months that followed, my life changed. Light and laughter were rediscovered in greater quantities.  New possibilities appeared.  My life began to evolve into a life that was more healthy and sustainable.  After Mike’s revelation and the subsequent tears and soul-searching, I emerged better prepared to actually have the life I wanted, rather than some Hollywood-insprired imitation.

Sometimes, the worst pain gives birth to the best new beginnings, because in passing through that suffering, we emerge completely clean and unburdened, having shed it all through the tears and grief.  Indeed, a dear friend of mine likens those moments to childbirth itself — pain so raw and powerful and grinding, that eventually yields to a softness and joy unsurpassed.

I think it is altogether too easy to lose ourselves in the darkness of temporary uncertainty, grief, insecurity, or loss.  It can be so hard to see the sunshine on the horizon of whatever storm we’re navigating.  But on this day, a solstice, a time and season of rebirth and increasing light, I am resolving to work harder next year to not lose myself in the imagined permanence of that darkness.  Whatever dark moments 2013 brings will eventually pass, just as the solstice comes in the dead of winter to begin our long, slow march toward spring.  So, today, join me in giving yourself the gift of hope and peace and light.  Let go of whatever is holding you back and imagine a life without those burdens.  Today is a chance to take one more step — no matter how small! — toward that life.  Is that not a small thing compared to the fact that our 6,600,000,000,000,000,000,000-ton planet, spinning through space, will somehow shift on its axis once again?

Think on that one.

Happy Solstice. 🙂

winter solstice

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be a warrior in your life, not just a survivor

I work side-by-side with a very sweet, warm woman who, last year at this time, underwent a radical mastectomy after being diagnosed at Thanksgiving with advanced stage breast cancer.  Within a week of “Meredith’s” diagnosis, word came from the East Coast that her mother had advanced stage pancreatic cancer. Oomph.

Meredith pulled through her surgery and the resulting complications with barely missing a beat at work.  I can honestly say that I hardly ever had to pick up any additional slack because of her illness, surgery or recovery.  I have no idea how she juggled it all.  Almost as soon as she was back on her feet and fully recovered physically, her mother passed away before Meredith could get back home.  But again, she mustered what was left of her strength and pushed through the ensuing grief and emotional pain with hardly a misstep.  Never once did I hear her complain that life was unfair or that she couldn’t go on.

I hear people refer all the time to breast-cancer “survivors” and “survivors” of violence and “survivors” of divorce — it seems to be a general term linked to the worst that life throws at us.  But, to me, it suggests a passivity that I find mildly irritating.  Because the truth is, lots of people do a lot more than survive what life throws at them; a lot of people face those challenges head-on and emerge better and stronger and more intact spiritually than they were before the crisis befell them.  Meredith did not merely survive her cancer — she kicked its butt soundly.  She refused to allow it to change who she was or to make her bitter or to define her.  She accepted it and met the challenge and pushed back with everything at her disposal.  I admire her attitude enormously.  She is definitely more than a survivor.  She is a warrior.

survivor: (n.) one who survives; a person who continues to function or prosper in spite of opposition, hardship, or setbacks.

warrior: (n.)  a person engaged or experienced in warfare, soldier; a person who shows or has shown great vigor, courage, or aggressiveness.

Which would you rather be?

Lisa Arends, over at Lessons From the End of a Marriage, wrote a great post about rediscovering her inner warrior recently. In that post, she expressed some similar sentiments and made some other, very good points.  I think how we define ourselves in the midst of our struggles is very important to how we tackle those struggles.  Are we a victim of our circumstances?  Or are we drivers on a road with many obstacles in front of us that we must do our best to go around or through?

I think that we all feel beaten down by life at times.  Sometimes really bad things happen to really good people.  None of us is exempt from tragedy or pain or suffering or illness or injustice.  They happen.  I think the real test of character is in how we handle them when they do…

My girls and I have a favorite YouTube video.  It features some cancer patients and nurses at the Seattle Children’s Hospital singing and dancing along to Kelly Clarkson’s hit, “Stronger.”  When I first saw it last spring, it gave me chills — I mean, is there anything more tragic than a seriously ill child?  Or more inspiring than that same child facing her illness with a smile and a song?  My girls and I have talked at length about the video and how and why it inspires and awes us.  Those children and the women who care for them each day are most definitely warriors.

When I look around me, I see so many amazing people with similar stories of a life dotted with tragedy or pain or failure of some sort.  And I see that most of them have not let those moments define who they are.  They, like Meredith, have refused to become identified by one moment or circumstance in their lives.  They are a tapestry of moments and circumstances, rich and layered, and stronger for the challenges put before them.  They experience fear and insecurity and self-doubt, but that does not define them, either, because they push forward anyway.

So, whatever unsavory stuff came your way over this last year, why not grab it, take one last look at it, and then let it go? Meredith and I have talked about how glad we’ll both be to see 2012 in the rearview mirror, but we’ve also talked about how it will not be the year that changed everything.  Nope.  It will simply be another year of learning and growing and facing things neither of us wanted in our lives but got anyway.

And emerging stronger because of it.

Video bonus:  Seattle Children’s Hospital’s version of Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger”

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the incredible hulk inside (or why I resolve not to fight meanly)

When I was a little girl, I loved the television program, “The Incredible Hulk.”  Bill Bixby’s mild-mannered portrayal of Dr. David Banner captivated me.  I especially liked how he gently warned the nosy reporter, in the title sequence of each episode, “Mr. McGee, don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.” Given that anger routinely transformed him into “a 7-foot-tall, 330 lb, green-skinned savage creature, with a sub-human mind and superhuman strength,” that’s probably an extreme understatement.

With the end of the year fast-approaching, I have been reflecting quite a bit on how the last 12 months have passed for me.  This was not my best year, by far, and some of my posts detail the reasons why in pretty painful detail.  But my mother always told me that adversity builds character, so apparently this was my year to bank a hell of a lot of character.

While I don’t normally think regrets are useful on the whole, I’ve written about how I do believe that they can be signposts for things we could do better in the future.  One thing I thought of recently is fighting.  I used to be known for being incredibly calm and measured in my arguments — perhaps the natural lawyer in me? — but I think I lost ground over this last year.  When I look back on the arguments that James and I had this last year while broken up, I am not altogether proud of the things that came out of my mouth or the tone in which I hurled them.  Yes, I was upset, and, yes, I frequently had good reason to be.  And maybe that is reason enough for other people to let me off the hook, but I don’t do so as easily.

Because the thing is, as is often said, our behavior reflects most strongly on us, not on the object of our wrath.  When they are long gone, we will still have to live with ourselves.  I have always been proud of the fact that no matter what horrible insults or below-the-belt meanness was launched my way, I refused to respond in kind.  It was incredibly rare for me to be intentionally hurtful, even in the heat of a moment, and when I was, it was almost without exception done in the act of protecting a friend or a child.  In those situations, I can admittedly and without reservation or apology be an uber-bitch.  But when it was my own relationship or my own situation in question, I had a good track record for not allowing my emotions to get the better of me and abandoning the good grace and poise that my dad hammered into me.

Besides, I had a natural resistance to fighting dirty, having seen and been the recipient of my mom’s take-no-prisoners approach to arguments.  I had watched her angry words cause people to recoil and seen their spirits broken.  I had felt her rage and known how little “I’m sorry” cures that particular kind of injury.  So, even when the occasional boyfriend or friend or colleague or stranger would take a cheap shot, I held my ground and refused to respond in kind.

But, this year was not a banner year for my poise.  In my arguments with James at the very tail end of our relationship and throughout this year, I seemed to abandon my normal reservation and unleash my full fury in his direction.  And each and every time, I felt horrible about it afterward.  Not because I was immediately convinced that he didn’t deserve it, but because I didn’t like that about myself.  I didn’t like behaving like someone I wouldn’t respect and admire.  In short, I was ashamed.

As a part of my spiritual book club many years ago, we did some reading about something I’ll call “soul damage.”  Basically, it was the idea that only those physical injuries that also include severe emotional trauma travel with the soul to heaven and beyond.  Additionally, we read that emotional trauma, including that inflicted by hurtful words, can, on its own, create eternal damage to the soul.  I have no way of knowing if this is true, but it certainly reconciles with my own life experiences — words have hurt me far more often and far more deeply than actions.  And the mere possibility of doing such harm to another person’s soul is enough to make me feel true remorse over my behavior.

So one of my New Year’s Resolutions (for lack of a better term, I suppose) is to be the best version of myself in an argument, without reference to other people.  Maybe they will be nasty.  Maybe they will intentionally sit on my emotional buttons until I want to scream.  Maybe they will hurt me and the primal part of me will want to hurt them back.  But I hope I won’t.  I want to be gracious and kind — not because they necessarily deserve it — but because that is who I am.

Because, let’s face it, at the end of the line, what they did to me will be far less important than how I lived and what impressions I left on this world.  I want to know, when it’s all said and done, that I tried my best each time, and succeeded more than I failed, to be the best version of myself.

Even in arguments.

hulk

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the angel tree

I had a date this weekend with my daughters.  It was not my usual weekend to have them, but in the bustle of the holiday season, one important bit of Christmas shopping hadn’t gotten done yet.  And, because of some custody adjustments to account for holiday plans, I won’t get them back until Christmas Day.  So, my ex granted me Saturday afternoon with the girls and off we went.

To do my favorite Christmas shopping of the season — the Angel Tree.

For those of you unfamiliar with an Angel Tree, it is a Christmas tree decorated with paper ornaments.  Each of those ornaments has the name of a needy child (or family, or senior, depending on the tree), their age, and a short list of the things they’d like or need most for Christmas.  You select an ornament (after reading heartbreaking lists that have included things like underwear, “a doll, any doll,” and a winter coat “for walking to school.”)   Every year since 1996, my family and I have selected at least one ornament — sometimes more, depending on our own financial security — and had the honor of playing Santa for someone who truly needs these things in ways that we are fortunate enough to not understand.

The tradition started simply enough:  Bryce and I had been dating for nearly a year when we were Christmas shopping at a local mall near our home in DC.  We came upon an Angel Tree, which neither of us had ever heard of, and I, being the sentimentalist that I am, immediately had to stop.  But when I began looking at the ornaments, I froze and tears sprang to my eyes.  Bryce, seeing my distress, came to my arm and looked at the ornament in my hand and then at my face, still not understanding.  But how could he?  The name of the organization meant nothing to him and everything to me.  It was the orphanage where I spent the first month of my life, parentless.  Here was a whole tree full of infants, toddlers and children who, for one reason or another, were spending a Christmas without a forever family.  When I explained this to Bryce, he shifted into “Fix It Mode,” as I came to call it over the years.  He pulled me over to a bench and sat me down.  Then he said, “Get as many as you want to.  We’ll find a way to pay for them.”  I knew we didn’t have much money. Both of us were in our first jobs after law school and paying down my crushing student loan debt.  I was working at a non-profit, while he was slaving away as a first-year associate.  The hours were long, the money okay, and the stress enormous.   So, I chose carefully.  I’m pretty sure we read every single ornament on that tree.  Eventually we picked 3 ornaments, and spent the rest of the day imagining what the children on our ornaments were like and stretching every penny we had to grant every single wish on those lists.  And we did.  Then we went back to our little apartment, spread out our treasures, and took photos of each child’s haul.  That Christmas, someone gave me a photo album with a Christmas tree on the front and our Angel Tree book was born.  Every year we have taken photos of the things we bought and put them in the album, along with whatever we knew about our recipients.  It is so amazing to look back on the photos and remember all those shopping trips, all those children, and all the Christmas spirit the Angel Tree gifted to us.

But it hasn’t always been fun and games.  When our girls were younger, there were a couple of years that were so discouraging they were nearly unbearable.  Too young and self-centered to appreciate the neediness of others, my girls whined and complained their way through the mall: “This is so boring!”  “How come we’re buying her better toys than we have?”  “I’m hungry!  Are we almost done?”  “Why do we have to do this again?”  Ugh.

Bryce and I discussed possibly stopping the tradition after two years in a row of that experience, recognizing that the girls’ abhorrent behavior was killing any enthusiasm we had for our Angel Tree trips, as well.  But we quickly decided that, no, this was important to us and it was an important lesson that we were determined to teach our children, come hell or high water.  Sure, they didn’t see the checks we wrote each month to various charities now that we were financially comfortable.  And sure, they didn’t appreciate the volunteering that we did for local organizations we cared about.  But they could damn well give up one Saturday a year to a child who probably had a tenth of what they were blessed with.  Yes, we were resolute.  The tradition would continue.  And so it did.

The last two years have seen the fruits of our labor and patience.  Now the girls start reminding me after Thanksgiving not to forget the Angel Tree.  Last week, they sat together on the chaise in front of the fire and paged through the Angel Tree album, remembering the various trips through the years.  And on Saturday, they thoughtfully and carefully chose each gift for Maribel, the 9-year-old girl they selected off the Angel Tree.  They laughed and argued about what she would like, selecting various clothes and putting them back until they had the exactly perfect gifts.  They have learned over the years that the needs of these children are somewhat different from their own — they pick shoes that are sturdy as well as fashionable, clothes that can be layered for multiple seasons, and how to bargain shop for toys to get that one extra thing she’ll love but didn’t ask for.

I am so grateful that Bryce and I didn’t give up when the girls were younger.  They still complain, but now it’s to lobby for the more expensive bike or an extra doll for our Angel Tree child.  And when we got home, they argued, but it was over how to arrange the goodies for the photo, each exclaiming that it had to be perfect and the other was ruining it.

After the girls returned to Bryce’s on Saturday, I sat down for a moment with the Angel Tree album and thumbed through the photos and descriptions, marveling at how one heartwrenching moment in a mall 16 years ago and 7 states away has led to a family tradition that might, quite possibly, be the best gift of all.

merry christmas tree

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the assumption pitfall

There are few things that get me in more personal trouble than my tendency to assume things.  Yes, of course I’ve heard the old saying that “To assume makes an ‘ass’ out of ‘u’ and ‘me'” and I swear that I don’t mean to assume things… but I do.  As an adult, I’ve realized that there is a certain arrogance inherent in an assumption — basically what we’re saying is that we are so smart that we can discern what someone else is thinking or feeling based on selected, minimal, or even no evidence.

It’s no wonder that our assumptions are wrong at least as much as they are right.  But because humans tend to ignore information that contradicts our belief structure, I think we generally place more weight on memories of the times our assumptions were correct.  “Aha!” we cry, “See?! I knew it all along!” This reinforces our future reliance on our brilliant ability to assume conclusions that may or may not true.

Crises of self-doubt result when our assumptions are wrong, so I think we try to avoid addressing those head-on.  Admitting that we based decisions, hopes, dreams, or even just directed emotional energy toward something that was born from a very flawed assumption is pretty hard to swallow sometimes.  And it seems like when we do face the fact that we relied heavily and to our detriment on a flawed assumption, everything from mild embarrassment to complete self-loathing can occur, depending on how erroneous and painful the actual truth was.

Most of my assumptions tend to the negative, although there are some ridiculous, Pollyanna-ish exceptions in my past that still cause me to grimace in shame.  But, if I’m being honest, I know that most of the time, when I’m scared and uncertain, I’m assuming a poor outcome will result and rationalizing it under the “Assume the Worst; Hope for the Best” rubric.  And we all know how easily this can become a self-fulfilling prophecy, which is a whole other post in itself, I think.

I think that most of the time we cling to our negative assumptions out of fear — fear of being duped, fear of repeating past mistakes, fear of being wrong.  Basically, it’s fear.  And I think that we cling to our positive assumptions out of hope — hope that things are not as they seem, hope that they will resolve themselves, hope that if we wish hard enough, it will be true.  So, basically, it’s hope.

Both kinds of assumptions are bad news in relationships.  In my relationship with Pete, he assumed certain things about my feelings and about us, based on his own feelings and wishes, which he projected onto me.  As a result, he was far more upset at our relationship’s end than he might have been if I had realized the assumptions he was making and made necessary adjustments.  He was basing his assumptions on what felt like good, solid evidence, but mostly he was just being hopeful, and there’s really nothing wrong with that.  It just sucks when you’re wrong. We frequently see this kind of post-break-up assumption in the form of our expectation that the object of our desire will “come to their senses” or “see the light” and realize how special and wonderful our relationship was.  Sometimes this does happen, but it’s pretty rare, isn’t it? A couple of years ago, my friend Annie had a boyfriend of four months, Ned, who simply refused to accept that her feelings for him were never as deep as his for her.  Months later, he was still blathering on about it and resenting her for being heartless and moving on.  Most of us have been in Ned’s position at one point or another, and it definitely feels terrible.  But clinging to assumptions that are nothing but false hope is one of the worst forms of self-torture.

Conversely, in my relationship with James, I have made many erroneous negative assumptions, again based on what felt like good, solid evidence, but was mostly just fear.  I have a long list of moments when I was too petrified to ask a pointed question, lest my worst fears be confirmed.  So instead, I clung to my assumptions, which were generally worse than any reality might have been.  This is a particularly insidious kind of assumption, as it allows you to beat yourself up with the assumed facts first, and then go round two with yourself when you discover the error in your assumption.  Good times all around, for sure.

Assumptions are pretty easily avoided, of course.  “Just ask,” would seem to be solid advice in this regard.  But it’s not really that easy, is it?  Because we can be blinded by both hope and fear, and most times we’re not even aware that we’re assuming.  It’s only that pesky hindsight that usually shows us how fast we traveled Assumption Road toward Conclusion City.

So, I don’t have any answers to this particular problem, except to say that I’m really working on it in my own life. And I hope it will get easier. Or at least I assume so.

assumption sign

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two daddies

Last evening, while I was driving my little family to an elementary school fundraiser, my 9-year-old daughter, Bryn, piped up from the back seat and said, a propos of nothing, “You know, Mommy, when you get remarried, it’s going to be awkward at first because we’ll have to get used to having two daddies.”

Well.

As is typical of our most serious discussions, my daughter had caught me completely off-guard.  My head was pre-occupied with work issues and worries about finding parking at the mall amidst the onslaught of holiday shoppers, and this was when she chose to have this all-important conversation?  Very well.  I drew a long, deep breath, slowed down to give us more time to talk, and thought to myself, “Stay focused.  Here we go.”

First, I tackled the question of “two daddies,” by pointing out that she already had one really good dad and no one coming into her life was ever, ever going to replace him. That’s simply not how it works.  I used myself as an example, pointing out that I have a variety of mothers — a birthmother, an adoptive mother, and a step-mother — all of whom I love in very different ways and with whom I have varying degrees of closeness.

At this point in the conversation, something surprising happened — my elder daughter, Sabrina, interjected and began explaining to Bryn that any man in my life (and by necessity, theirs) would be their good friend and maybe even super-close friend, like an uncle or something, but not a dad.  Because their daddy was and always would be their dad, but they could have lots of great friends who cared about them and supported them and taught them things.  Furthermore, she pointed out to Bryn, the girls have a couple of step-grandfathers and that doesn’t make them love their other grandfathers any less.

I was rendered temporarily speechless.  Clearly, Sabrina had given this considerable thought, and reached some remarkably mature conclusions.  To be honest, she was handling it better than I.

Next, Bryn expressed her fear that I would marry someone that she didn’t know very well, and what if she ended up disliking him?  This is, of course, a common fear of children in divorced families.  And here, I again, had my own example to share with her, since my mom had married my step-dad after knowing him for all of 9 (yes, that’s a 9) months total.  While he is a good man and she a good woman, it was a terrible match, and certainly set my 13-year-old world a-spinning.  My daughters know the story of my parents’ marriage and how miserable it was, both during and as it came apart.  So, once more, Sabrina spoke up and reminded Bryn that, having gone through that, I would never do that to them.  Sabrina and I also reminded Bryn, by way of concrete example, that James and I had dated for nearly 9 months before he spent any real time with my girls and it was a whole year before he spent the night at the house with all of us.  Going “too fast” is not in my nature.

I could feel Bryn relax in the seat behind me, but not entirely.

“But Mommy,” she insisted, “it would still be awkward at first, wouldn’t it? I mean, it would be strange to get used to a whole new member of our family.  It would change things.”

I paused, trying to figure out how to address this.  She was right, of course.  Anyone who’s been through the effort of blending families knows that it has its very specific challenges.  The Brady Bunch it is definitely not.  So how to acknowledge the validity of her concerns while still assuaging her anxiety?

Again, it was Sabrina to the rescue:

“Bryn, of course it would be a little strange at first.  But if Mommy marries someone, chances are good that we’ll like him.  And we’ll just figure it out as we go along.  Together. like we always do.  Because we’re a family.”

I reinforced what Sabrina had said and noted that I couldn’t have said it better.  I could feel and hear Bryn relax completely.

The girls then spent the remainder of the ride contemplating whether their parents would ever get married again to other people (they decided probably yes), and, if so, which one would be the first to do so (they decided their dad would).

I drove the rest of the way through the dark, saying a silent prayer of gratitude.  That we had come so far since the divorce.  That we could talk so openly and comfort each other about the big, hard questions.  That it seems that I was doing an okay job of this whole “mothering” thing. And that the universe had allowed me a hand in raising these two amazing little humans.

Yes, especially that last one.

stepparents

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Filed under divorce, parenthood, relationships, single mom

I need patience and I need it now

Sunday, at yoga, the teacher instructed us to set an intention for our practice that day — specifically, she asked that we each focus on something that we need this holiday season.  As I stood, eyes closed and hands over my heart, I knew immediately what I wanted — patience.

My life is currently in a space of flux.  Typically, for me, this happens with lightning speed.  Life changes are not dithered over in my world.  I make a decision, I execute said decision, and I move forward.  Simple as that.

Except when it’s not all in my control. Then it often comes To. A. Screeching. Halt.

Right now there are a couple areas of my life that require a measure of patience and acceptance that does not come easily to me.  In one area, I am only partly responsible for the outcome, and in the other, I have no say whatsoever.  In either case, I cannot rush to the conclusion.  I cannot extract a guaranteed outcome.  I cannot peek into the future and get a hint of what lies ahead.

No, I simply have to be patient.

Which isn’t simple at all.

I found myself last night lecturing my 9-year-old about patience as she was whining that she absolutely, positively CANNOT wait until Christmas morning to see what Santa is bringing her.  She had herself all worked up into a grumpy mood because she is terribly worried that she won’t get her heart’s desire (an electric scooter) on Christmas morning.  And so, as every good mother does, I lectured her on the value of enjoying the journey — in this case, the Christmas season — and not rushing through it to get to the end.  I reminded her that this is her favorite time of the year, what with all the yummy treats, the Christmas carols, the decorations (nothing Bryn loves more than a little bling all over the house), and the delicious anticipation of Christmas morning. I was able to smooth her cranky mood, and we cuddled in the big chair, watching a favorite Christmas movie.

But after putting her to bed (“What are you grateful for tonight, Bryn?”  “Christmas, of course!”), I fixed myself a cup of steaming tea and reflected on how hard it really is to follow the advice I had so blithely delivered to my daughter.  It is so very easy to believe in the concept of The Journey Rather Than the Destination, and so much harder to live it every day.  “If only someone would tell me it was going to end well, then I could enjoy the waiting time,” we lament.  But that defeats the purpose, does it not?  The whole idea — the whole challenge — of embracing the journey is to do so without certainty in the outcome.  Learning to relish the moments as they come, as an end in and of themselves, rather than simply a means to another conclusion, that’s supposedly the elusive secret to happiness, right?

Reflecting on my advice to her, I was made aware of how much I would be missing were I to give into the anxiety and fear surrounding the potential outcomes to the unresolved parts of my life.  I can easily imagine my stomach in knots and my throat constricted as I, like my daughter, hold too tightly to my fear that I will not achieve my own heart’s desire.  Indeed, earlier this weekend, I briefly felt irritable and out of sorts, possibilities and scenarios swirling around in my head.  But I quickly snapped out of it. Because, as we all know in the logical parts of our brain,  no amount of  fussing and worrying will  promote anything beneficial; indeed, it could wreck the only pieces over which I have any control.  My head knows, with complete certainty, that the only positive path lies through the door marked “Patience.”

I know this, but it still pisses me off sometimes.

Sometimes we just have to wait and see.

As a rule, I am terrible at waiting and seeing.  But the alternative for me at this point is to ruin my favorite time of the year (and possibly more) by being grouchy over issues beyond my complete control.  And I would once again be sacrificing what could be wonderful, precious moments to nothing more than speculative fears.

So, instead, I am focused on being present and patient.  I know from past experience that sometimes the slowest moments afford the sweetest memories.  I have been grounding myself in the conscious decision to be present in all the preciousness unfolding around me right now… Christmas cards to friends I haven’t had contact with all year, a holiday party with work colleagues that are my only reason for smiling during the work day, snuggles in front of the fire with my girls as we catch up on each others’ days, and special moments with friends that remind me what’s important to me and why.  All of this, I would be missing if I were caught in the anxiety and insecurity of the unknown outcome.

Perhaps this contentedness is nothing more than borrowed time and in a few weeks or a month, I will be sad and frustrated by the outcomes as they play out.  But perhaps not.  And until or unless that happens, I refuse to relinquish my Christmastime to anticipating such sadness.  If it is to happen that way, it will.  But at least I’ll have some nice days in the meantime.  And if it doesn’t happen that way — if all that is churning along resolves itself positively — then I won’t have to look back on this short period as I do so many others and castigate myself for foolishly rushing past the wonder of the in-between to get to the endgame.

Whether your anticipation rests on the delivery of presents by a jolly man in a red suit or something a little less legendary, patience can be very, very difficult.  But it can also give birth to some pretty special moments to cherish, no matter what.

patience2

Video bonus: If you’re old enough to remember this song, you might be surprised at how well it’s held up.  Enjoy….

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Filed under dating, general musings, love, personal growth, relationships

how to write a love letter, by Johnny Cash

In the course of my life, I have been the privileged recipient of many love letters.  Some so tender they are heart-breaking, others so sweet they made me tingle, and still others so suggestive, I involuntarily blushed while reading them.  But the best — always and without exception — were the ones that were short and simple and devastating in their sincerity.

This morning, I was rendered dumbstruck — truly, mouth gaping, breath holding, eyes wide — when I read two love letters written by Johnny Cash for his wife, June Carter Cash.  They were published by Letters of Note, a blog that is something of an altar to the written word, in all of its power and beauty.

You might remember John and June’s love story as portrayed in the film, “Walk the Line,” and you probably assumed that the love story was embellished for Hollywood’s sake, but you’d be mostly wrong.  June Carter blew him away from the beginning and Johnny Cash didn’t stand a chance of getting over her.  Despite being married, despite being a screw-up and an addict, when love hit Johnny Cash over the head, he knew it and he was utterly powerless in its wake.  For a certified bad-ass, it’s especially touching how vulnerable he was to his feelings for this woman.

I think that John’s letter to June on her 65th birthday in June 1994 is so perfect that I hesitate to dissect it too much, lest I disturb its beauty.  I think I would love it no matter what, but I am fiercely attached to it because John composed it as an ode, not to a young woman, unblemished by time or nature, but to an older woman whose spirit and soul continued to shine and entrance him.

Letter courtesy of House of Cash, from Letters of Note.

Letter courtesy of House of Cash, as posted by Letters of Note.

Sigh.

The second letter is bittersweet, having been written just a couple of months after June’s death in 2003.  Its simplicity conveys so much —  grief, and loss, and yearning.

June's an angel

Letter courtesy of House of Cash, as posted by Letters of Note.

John died two months after writing this note, four short months after June.  Their children expressed surprise that he lasted that long without her.

Do you suppose that June Carter Cash knew what she had?  Do you suppose that by the time they got together (he’d been married once and she multiple times), she understood how rare and priceless a connection such as theirs is? Do you suppose that she loved him back just as much?

Looking at this photo, I’d say the answer to all is a definite “yes.”

John and June

Photo courtesy of via.

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Filed under happy endings, love, marriage, relationships