Category Archives: happy endings

the sins of my past

In case you had any doubts, I’m here to tell you that there isn’t much good about being broke with no financial or professional prospects. It pretty much sucks just as much you might imagine.  Watching what was once an impressive career draw its last, dying breath is uncomfortable under any circumstances but horrible beyond belief when that career is your own.

Of course, I can’t speak for anyone else who has crashed and burned her own shining career, but in my case, it didn’t happen overnight.  But sometimes it sure does seem that way. One day I had a big office near the Potomac River and the next time I took a good, long look at my career, I was scraping by and teetering on the brink of being Terminally Unemployable.  I spent many, many quiet moments of panic and self-loathing, contemplating my slow reversal of fortune, and my own complicity in it.

I think that it is objectively fair to say that my career peaked when I was 27-years-old and working DC for a national non-profit. I was flying around the country, appearing on national morning news shows, and pulling in more money than before or since. From there, my career involved a series of choices that took me further from power and money and ambition, including a six-year stint as a Stay At Home Mom with a part-time small business.

When I was fired from my last full-time job in February of 2013, I found myself involuntarily unemployed for the first time in my life, but the funny thing was, I wasn’t worried. At all. Seriously.  I had never, ever had to worry about finding work. Or money, for that matter. Whenever I needed an opportunity, one had always presented itself, and, even at my youngest and poorest, I had always been able to pay my bills. I felt confident that everything would be just fine.

Well.

Days turned to weeks. Weeks gave way to months. Months somehow slid into a year, and I was not any closer to a full-time job with benefits. I tried, honestly I did. I sent out resume after resume and tried all kinds of networking groups, online and off. I wrote and rewrote my resume to tailor it for every job I was conceivably qualified to do. I considered going back to school (!) to get some kind of certification or degree that would better position me. Caving to pressure from nearly everyone around me, I seriously explored hanging out my shingle as a sole practioner of law, only to suffer a few sleepless nights that made me realize that I’d be happier as a Starbucks barista than as an attorney. I completed the online application for Target and then realized that the shifts I would be given initially would require me to hire a nanny who would be making more per hour than I would.

In almost two years, I had two interviews and no offers.

I hid my despair from nearly everyone, putting on a brave front and reassuring my friends and family that something would surely come up. But I saw my own doubts reflected back to me in their eyes, and heard the silent question echoing in the space between us: “What happened to you? You used to have so much… promise.” Some of the younger women I had mentored for years fell away, and many of my professional contacts subtly distanced themselves from me. After all, it was fine to be fired from a politically appointed position, but to be unemployed for more than a year, well, surely there must be something wrong, no?

I didn’t blame them. I had the same doubts about myself. I cobbled together some writing work and interior design projects that, along with semi-regular withdrawals from my 401(k), kept me afloat. I worked every moment I could and literally said a prayer of thanks every time I deposited a check. (I was probably quite a picture at the ATM.) On the outside, I was “being creative” and “taking initiative” and “carving out an interesting little niche for myself.” But inside, I was terrified and couldn’t even admit it to myself, except in the middle of the night as I lay in bed and imagined losing my home and everything in it.

One of the things about working for yourself is that you have lots of time alone. And I used all of it to try and answer that silent question that hung in the air. What had happened to me? Where had my promising career gone? Who would I be professionally if I wasn’t the sharp, young wiz that everyone admired and respected?

What the hell had happened to me??

And I gradually realized that, for nearly 20 years, I had been apologizing, in one form or another, for my career choices. Offering justifications and explanations and reasons to assure everyone – including myself – that I hadn’t just made one sad mistake after another. I felt foolish as I accepted the truth: the question wasn’t new at all; only my conscious awareness of it was.

And then one day, as a bitterly cold 2014 melted into a milder 2015, I found my answer.

Life. Life had happened to me. Except that it wasn’t a passive thing. It didn’t just “happen.” I had engaged my life and made my decisions to the best of my abilities at the time. Each and every one was made with the best of intentions and with the best information I had at the time. I revisited my decision to leave DC and move to Colorado, knowing now that that single move downshifted my career in very obvious and meaningful ways. I examined my decisions to hop around, trying this job and then that one, and the experiences I gained from each. I remembered the heartache and fear of having a sick toddler, and the relief at watching her get well. I noted for myself some of the friendships I made being a Stay At Home Mom and how well those friendships served me later during my divorce. But overall, what I really did was simple: I forgave myself.

I forgave myself for essentially throwing away a very expensive education to follow my fancy down other paths.

I forgave myself for sacrificing my career altogether at the altar of motherhood.

I forgave myself for not having the driving ambition to match the opportunities provided to me.

I forgave myself for getting older and surrendering the Young Crackerjack title to other, younger, less seasoned people who are just as likely to make dubious choices as I was.

And I cannot tell you how wonderful that was. I felt so free from guilt and explanation and justification and that incredibly heavy burden of “What If.”

Surely there will always be people who hear about my career and wonder, “What the hell happened to you?” but the people who seek an explanation will never truly understand, because they will always judge me by the words on my resume instead of the life I’ve created and the lessons I’ve learned. And the ones who do understand me don’t ask for or need an explanation.

Remember how I said that some of the young women I mentored drifted away slowly after my firing? Well, there were some exceptions, and one in particular inadvertently helped me reach my peace with my past. For some reason, we had become much closer as my unemployment dragged on, and I confided occasionally in her of my fears. At the last lunch we had in 2014, she said to me, “Don’t take this the wrong way, but I think you’re much more interesting and inspiring now than when you supposedly had it all together. Or at least, you are to me.”

Her words stayed with me, sitting lightly on my heart, and made me wonder if maybe there was something better than having it all together.

I don’t know for sure what I was supposed to gain from my long, terrifying journey through unemployment and self-employment, but I think it’s pretty clear that in order to find any real professional satisfaction again I was going to have to make peace with my past. I couldn’t spend the rest of my life apologizing to others and myself for choices that were not inherently wrong. I had to forgive myself for making the decisions I had and fully acknowledge the realities of the circumstances that had created those choices.

I don’t know if I’ve fully forgiven myself yet, but I have deliberately replaced my self-loathing with a renewed appreciation for what I gained from all those years. I have a job now that I love and want to do for a long time. I am not ashamed to tell people what I do, even when I see a glint of surprise or superiority in their eyes. I am grateful for the opportunity I have and the work I am given and the paycheck that accompanies it. But most of all, I am at peace with all that has gone before in my professional life. It has been a wild and unpredictable ride, but it has been my ride. And that’s really the best thing that any of us can say at the end of the day, isn’t it?

I Am

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Filed under happy endings, parenthood, working mothers

chasing the finish line

I have been away from writing for so long.

The keys feel foreign beneath my fingertips and the words come achingly slowly.

I do not know how or where to begin, so I follow an old writing instructor’s credo — “If you don’t know where to begin, just start.”

For months now, I have been mulling the idea of The Finish Line in various life stages.  It seems to me that we are almost constantly chasing an invisible end point — that magical point at which we achieve a true and lasting happiness, or at least a huge and permanent warp speed thrust towards such a nirvana.  We tell ourselves that if we can just meet our soulmate, get that promotion, move to that exotic locale, finalize our divorce, or get pregnant, then — THEN! — we will be happy.  And why not?  After all, Hollywood assures us this is the case:  most movies end on an upbeat note that has you departing the theatre, comforted that the characters’ lives continued offscreen in some version of Happily Ever After.

But real life doesn’t usually work that way, does it?

I had a foreshadowing of this illusion when I was still young and arrogant enough to faithfully trust that the illusion was real.  I was about to graduate from college, and some friends of mine were experiencing worldwide music success on a scale they’d only dreamed of.  Their songs were racing up the music charts, their faces graced magazine covers, celebrities knew of them and approached them, and their tour dates were selling out spectacularly fast.  After a tour that took them through most of Western Europe, Russia, and the Far East, they returned home to find their girlfriends the object of hate mail and their homes staked out by paparazzi.  A few days later, in the wee hours of the morning, after a night on the town, I found myself standing in my kitchen with the founding member of the band.  I waxed on about how wonderful their success was and how amazing it must be to experience.  He paused a moment, licked his lips slowly, as if considering his words carefully, and said, “Nothing is ever what you think it will be.  And sometimes the pieces you thought would be so great are the biggest disappointment, and the precious moments take you by surprise.”  I was shocked and asked if he somehow regretted their success.  He quickly answered, “God, no.  It is amazing.  But you think, before it happens, that if only it would happen, you’d never be sad or lonely or insecure or bored again.  But you are. You really are.”  I left him that evening feeling that perhaps he’d had a fight with his girlfriend or was overly tired, because, really, how couldn’t you be happy when you’re becoming rich and famous?!

But life doesn’t usually work that way, does it?

Some people have hoped for a happy ending to this blog — that somehow, some way, after these months and years of writing and analyzing and crying and persevering, I might finally have my Happily Ever After.  Some wish this because they know me and care about me personally.  Others wish this because they need a beacon for their own journey, some reassurance that such a thing exists.

I wish I could report to you that now that James and I have purchased a home, moved into it, and blended our families, life feels constantly sweet and comforting and certain.  But it doesn’t.  It really doesn’t.

In fact, we are struggling.  Getting back together and making a big commitment did not serve to wrap a pretty little bow around us and leave me blissfully smiling my way through the rest of my life.  I wish it did.  I would love nothing more than to write post after flowery post about how perfect my life is now and how wonderfully loved and cherished I am.

But I can’t.

So, instead, I will remain true to my one commitment I made to myself and my readers — to be real, and honest, and authentic here.  Some readers may be disappointed that I resist the embellishments that would permit me to write a very satisfying fiction, and a few are likely to be smugly satisfied at the lack of a fairytale ending, but none of that changes what is real for me.

I remind myself frequently these days that life is about the journey and not the destination.  I allow myself the luxury of spending some days (or long nights) just being along for the ride, watching it unfold and trying not to cling too hard to expectations or wishes.  I hold my blessings tightly, counting them like a miser with his gold.

And I wonder whether what I am experiencing is wisdom or disappointment.

Only time will tell, I guess.

Because that’s how life usually works, doesn’t it?

picture in our head

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Filed under divorce, happy endings, love, relationships

fired… up

On February 19, 2013, for the first time in my life, I was fired from my job.

Actually, I was asked to resign and refused.  It doesn’t seem to matter, though, since my former employer is telling everyone that I resigned. I refused to resign because I had poured too much heart and soul into my job, and I refused to be labeled a quitter.  I was not quitting.   I was refusing to go out quietly, as they wished.  If they wanted me gone, they’d have to fire me.  So they did.

In truth, that morning in my boss’ office was the culmination of months of increasing and evolving dissatisfaction and disillusionment on my part, and discomfort on theirs.  I was a politically-appointed municipal employee for a very small town, and the mayor and council that had hired me was very different from the one under which I was serving my second term.  Indeed, when I was first appointed, I felt excited and energized to be part of something special — a newly-elected administration determined to end the corruption for which the town had long been known and institute progressive measures to reinvigorate the town’s economy, attract stronger locally-owned businesses, and improve the quality of life for all residents. But, as tends to happen in politics, the do-gooders on the council were quickly burned out, roundly criticized for trying to change the status quo, and, for the most part, quite literally run out of town.  As the mayor’s two-year term drew to a close, only three members of the seven-member council still lived in the town.  The others, including the mayor, had quietly moved away.

With the benefit of hindsight, I should have left then — in September 2011 — but I chose to stay on, dedicated to the goals of that earlier council and dedicated to my colleagues, for whom I had immeasurable respect and appreciation and many of whom looked to me for leadership that was lacking elsewhere.  I chose to believe that the incoming mayor, one of the original council that hired me, would stay true to the course set by the previous council and the values it embodied.  I was wrong.

Over the next 18 months, I watched the tone of government in the town change.  I saw things that were all-too-familiar to me after so many years in politics — backroom deals, offline conversations, hidden conflicts of interest.  I listened as various council members lectured me on how to do my job, and flagrantly disregarded the ethics training I’d provided them.

I guess I knew that it was over for all real purposes the day the mayor admonished me to “set [my] integrity aside for just a moment” and then consider an issue without it.  Such a request was anathema to my ideas of public service and professionalism, and I told him so bluntly.  That was likely the first nail in my employment coffin.  But there were others — many others.  Times when I told various councilmembers their actions were in violation of the town’s ethical code or even, occasionally, state law.  They ignored me.  I was isolated as a “square” who really wasn’t in sync with the laid-back nature of the town.  I was fine with that characterization, since by “laid back” they seemed to mean seedy and underhanded.

Finally, on February 18th, the Monday of a long weekend, I learned (via social media, no less) that the mayor had once again overstepped his bounds, and this time in such a way that was likely to land me, and possibly the town, on the wrong side of a lawsuit.  I saw very clearly that I would be made the scapegoat in such a situation.  I texted my boss to ask if she was aware of the developments, and she acknowledged that she was.  I paused only a moment, long enough to tell James what I intended to do, and then I fired off an email to the entire council, again stating that the mayor was overstepping the limits of his authority.  I received a reply shortly from my boss, berating me for the email and demanding that I present myself in her office first thing in the morning.

I knew how the morning would go, although James was skeptical that they would react so impulsively.  When I called him a few hours later to deliver the news, however, his first response was “Hallelujah! That place is toxic, they don’t appreciate you, and I’ve wanted you out of there for ages!”  This, despite the fact that only hours earlier we’d placed a house under contract.  A house for which we would likely no longer qualify for a mortgage….

My mom was visiting with us that week, and her reaction was the same as James’ — enormous relief mixed with righteous indignation that they would actually fire me for demanding high standards of public service from our elected officials.  My daughters cheered for me, and my friends offered overwhelming assistance in locating another job.  Clandestine emails poured in from colleagues and former colleagues in that town, filled with disgust and anger that I’d been fired, and sadness that we’d no longer be working together.

What should have been one of the worst days of my life never even broke the Top 10.

I slept well that first night, better, in fact, than I had in many months.  Within days, I had been approved for unemployment insurance, secured new healthcare coverage, and begun filling my calendar with informational interviews and job application deadlines.  Friends who had offered help followed through; I learned of some opportunities before they were even posted, and managed a 90-minute lunch with the local District Attorney, thanks to the only remaining councilmember I trusted.  The comfort, support, and generosity of friends and near strangers was almost overwhelming.  I quite literally had no time to feel sorry for myself.

But what of the house?  Well, Fate stepped in as she often does in my life and worked a miracle.  Our loan was saved and the closing date set.  We would not lose the house just because of my employment situation.  I could barely believe our good fortune.  In fact, I’m still kind of holding my breath.

And there’s more:  A week or so before I lost my job, a former councilmember from the council that had first appointed me contacted me, wondering if I was still doing interior design work.  She and her husband had just purchased a big, beautiful home in a different city, and it needed a lot of personalizing.  I let her know that I was only taking small projects on the weekend, and we commiserated over the disappointment that we couldn’t work together on her house.  So, after I was fired, I let her know, and voila!  Instant design job!  We spent three hours together late last week, laying out the project and the long list of items with which she needs help.  Simply finishing her house could well take most of my current spare time. And the fact that I get to spend that time with a woman I truly like and admire is even better.

And still more: the writer’s block that had settled like a permanent fog over my brain as soon as the book editor said the words “Book Proposal” and my name in the same sentence back in January has finally lifted and I am filled with ideas to write about again. I think I could finish the book in a couple of weeks if I only had the time to do nothing but write.

At this point, it’s anyone’s guess in which direction my career will next careen.  I have not the slightest idea from whence my next regular paycheck will come, but — amazingly — I’m honestly not worried about it.  Something deep inside me keeps telling me to have faith and it will all be okay.  And, somehow, that is enough right now.

I can already fathom that at some point in the not-so-distant future, I will reflect upon that cold day in February as an enormous blessing.  A turning point.  A fresh start.  Perhaps I will even cease to call it my firing… and instead begin referring to it as my release. Because I’m beginning to think that’s actually what it was…

butterfly

Blogger’s Note:  As some of you know, I currently live in Boulder, CO.  To be clear, I was not employed by the City or County of Boulder, but by a neighboring municipality.

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Filed under happy endings, perfect little miracles, work

an open letter to my friends

To my Dear Friends, far and near:

I am writing to say thank you.  Thank you for your love and support and concern and worry.  Thank you for your friendship and your shoulders to cry on and your ears to bend.  Thank you for the memories and the knowledge that you are also part of my future.  Thank you for wanting all that is good and happy and easy for me.

I am indeed blessed to have you in my life.

But.

(You knew there was a “but,” didn’t you? I thought so.  You’re smart that way.)

But the thing is, this is my life.  Not yours.  Mine.  I know you know this, but sometimes when we love someone, we tend to forget it.  We get so wrapped up in our hopes and fears for this other person, that we forget that each of us has to walk our own path, and that ultimately we walk it alone, no matter how many loving people offer their help or companionship on the journey.  Inevitably, we must make our own choices; ironically, even if we succumb to the influence of others, the choices are still ours alone and we alone are responsible for their consequences.

I know that all you want for me is to be happy and safe and at peace.  And I want those things for me, too.  But how I get there, and how you might want me to get there… well, those might be different paths.

I know that some of you are concerned about James.  You have held me while I sobbed over him and listened to my heart break.  You have propped me up and dusted off my ego and refused to allow me to fall completely apart over his past actions.  And you are reluctant and frightened to see me travel that well-worn path again.

I understand that you would prefer that I put James behind me and find some nice, quiet, solid guy with whom to make a life that is drama-free and steady.  I comprehend your hesitancy to accept that this time with him might be any different.  I respect your fear that I am fooling myself and will suffer a humiliating and painful crash in the very near future.

I cannot convince you otherwise.

Nor will I try.

What I will say is this:  I have never taken the easy road.  That is not to say that I have not led a life blessed with many wonderful things, but simply that few of them came to me easily.  In fact, when two paths were before me, I have mostly taken the more difficult one.   And — go ahead, admit it — it is one of the things you love most about me, is it not?

You say that you admire my strength.  Well, what strength is there in opting for the safe route, when one’s heart cries out for the riskier one?  What strength is there in admitting defeat when you don’t really feel defeated?

You say that I inspire you.  How inspired would you be were I to acknowledge that I love James with all my heart but was choosing to be “smart” and settle for someone I feel less for?  Can you even imagine me doing such a thing?

You say that my life is interesting.  What is interesting about it?  The times that I played it safe and made the choices that others wanted for me?  Or the times that I politely told everyone to take a flying leap and struck out in a direction on my own?

I don’t mean to belabor the point (or is it already too late?), but would you really want me any other way?  Is not my choice to throw all my chips on the table with James not the epitome of everything that you value and love about me?

I know you’re scared.  I am, too.  But I’m still me.  I’m still determined to have that Happily Ever After that I’ve believed in my whole life.  And I want you there with me, amazed at the wonder of it all as it unfolds.  I want to share the beauty of this with you and the authenticity of how damn hard it is some days.  I want to know that I’ve been real and true to myself, and that you have shared that.

I cannot make you comfortable with my choices; no amount of reassurances would assuage your fears or discomfort.  But I can ask you to remember what you love and admire and value most about me.  Because I am exactly and entirely that person these days.  I am true to exactly who I said I would be when I left my marriage 4 years ago and you cheered me on for my bravery to take that monumental risk.

The risks don’t stop.  And I won’t start shying away from them now.  No one is more acutely aware than me of how dreadfully painful it will be if James and I fall apart this time, but I can only tell you that I don’t see it happening.  Beyond that, I can offer no guarantees.  Neither can James. And neither can you.  None of us has any way of knowing if we shall ultimately emerge a cautionary tale or one of those cute, old couples that no one can imagine not being together. I have my inkling, and you have yours, but none is more valid than the other.

So, I will continue to endure your qualified support for my happiness, your obvious expectation that our relationship will fall apart at any moment, your unwillingness to invest in us as a couple.  I will do this because I truly love you, and I am truly grateful for your friendship and support, however limited it has become due to my decision to be with James.

I only hope that someday you will fully join me and James (and other members of my family and friends) in this new chapter of my life.  I will be waiting and hoping.  But in the meantime, I will continue to live my life according to my own instincts and sense of what is right and true for me in this moment.

And really, would you honestly expect or want anything different from me?

road less traveled

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Filed under dating, happy endings, love, relationships

at the speed of life

If you were friends with me in real life, your head would likely be spinning right now.  You see, my life has essentially two speeds:  Stop and Go.  There really isn’t a whole lot in between.  Occasionally, I’ll do that thing that most people do in their lives in which they work steadily and diligently toward a goal with all due time and effort and decisiveness, but most times that’s not the case.  More often, it’s a matter of my life appearing to careen from zero to 60 in a matter of seconds, and then coming to a screeching halt again seconds after that.  This can be disarming and alarming to friends not used to my life, and cause them considerable concern over my general welfare and decision-making.

But my old friends are used to it.  It’s incredibly rare for any of them to be particularly ruffled or surprised by any news I share.  They’ve become accustomed to the sometimes frenetic pace with which the universe lobs new opportunities and curve balls my way.  My friend Caitlin, who has known me since our freshman year of college, pretty much takes any news from me in stride.  Almost 23 years ago, I called her on a crackly trans-Atlantic connection to say, “So, I got to England, moved to a ghetto, fell in love with my third-cousin-once-removed who moved to Australia three days later, then I sailed through my coursework, and now I’m working in the music business and decided to stay an extra 3 months.” To which she calmly replied, without a moment’s hesitation, “Of course.  When will you be coming home or are you staying for good?”  Because, honestly, you can’t stay friends with me for very  long without accepting that my life seems to operate in some kind of alternative universe in which the typical rules of time and what qualifies as a Good Idea do not apply.

This probably sounds like great fun when the speed of my life is “Go.”  But when it’s at “Stop,” it’s a whole other story.  My life gets stuck more often and for longer periods it seems than most people’s, and that reality has caused me countless sleepless nights and frustrated days.  And again, Caitlin (and my other old friends) has weathered those storms, too.  “Why?!” I have moaned to her, “Why can’t my life just be like other people’s?  I’m doing everything that I’m supposed to be doing, and I’m still stuck!  It’s so unfair!  Other people can just do these things and they move forward with their lives; I do them and nothing happens!”  Caitlin’s typical response to these pity parties is to murmur sympathetically while I whine and then firmly  say, “Oh, stop being ridiculous.  Your life doesn’t work that way, and who wants to be ordinary anyway? Just wait.  Things will change.  They always do.”  And she’s always right. Of course.

In the first week of December 2012, my life shifted from Stop to Go, and it’s been a fast and furious ride since then.  Some of my friends who haven’t known me very long are pretty white-knuckled, but my longer-term friends are shaking their heads with bemused smiles on their faces.  Because, after all, I am me and this is my life.  In the last three months, I have:

  • created a stable, loving relationship with a man I was mostly apart from the entire year of 2012 and with whom I had all but given up on the hopes of a committed relationship;
  • weathered a personal crisis of his that rivals a good crime suspense novel;
  • moved him into my very small house with me and my girls;
  • found and placed under contract a beautiful home (in a neighboring town in which I have never lived) that is ideal for our family of 2 adults, 6 children, and 3 dogs;
  • been fired from my job 4 hours after placing said house under contract;
  • salvaged the house contract, against all odds, and preserved the March 25th closing date;
  • launched an aggressive job search, including multiple informational interviews per week and dogged networking in between;
  • met with a book editor interested in getting me a publishing contract to further discuss details of the proposed book (and made a fun new friend in the process);
  • begun to prepare for move-in to our new home during the first week of April; and
  • weathered the inevitable ups and downs of merging our families, particularly the boatload of attitude that Bryn has chosen to heap upon James following his move into our house.

As I was updating my friend Rob yesterday, his response was, “I’m tired after hearing all that.  Must go nap.  But first, is your name still TPG or has that changed, too?”  (Almost all my friends are fluent in Sarcasm, by the way.)  But the truth is, and Rob has known me long enough to know this, that when I am in Go speed, it doesn’t feel too fast for me.  This is my normal.  This is how my life works. I make decisions and I follow my intuition and I ride the rollercoaster. And honestly, it’s not because I’m so good at it; it’s because I don’t really have another choice, any more than when things are stuck.  Sure, I could throw on the brakes and refuse to engage the opportunities, but I’ve learned that doing so won’t slow the pace of my life.  Those opportunities won’t slow down to the speed limit; oh no, they’ll just whiz right past me.  And I’ve never regretted grabbing those opportunities and sailing along with them; it may sound surprising, but those aren’t any of the regrets I count when I’m feeling down.  I think the truth for me (and maybe all of us?) is that I don’t get to determine the temporal speed of my life when it’s going fast anymore than I do when it’s going slowly.  My only option — in both situations — is to make the most of what’s on offer.  So I try to.

Sometimes I get overwhelmed, of course.  Just as I sometimes whine to my friends about my frustration when I am stuck in Stop, so do I sometimes complain about the stress of racing along at breakneck speed.  I mean, honestly, I am juggling so much right now that I’m not even sure how I’m managing it, but I suspect that, when hindsight appears after things have slowed to a Stop again, I will see clearly how the universe leveraged my resources and the opportunities against each other to keep me afloat.  For instance, I’m not sure I could manage all the new house and merging family issues if I were still working at my former job.  The stress level there was so high, it might have been my undoing.  So, losing that job might have been a necessary element in greasing the high-horsepower engine that is currently propelling me forward.

So, for right now, I am flying by the seat of my pants and yet feeling mostly calm about the frantic pace around me.  I can see clearly the abstract forms around me coming together to create a remarkable new life.  With awe, I am witnessing the universe as it works its magic to bring multiple dreams of mine to fruition at once.  Life is miraculous and, unlike us, the universe and the powers around us do not make any mistakes.  So, I am trusting that when my house stops spinning and I am deposited into my very own Oz, it will be exactly and precisely where I am meant to be.

tornado-rainbow

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Filed under happy endings, relationships

my pinch me life

At the moment, I sit in my favorite leopard print chair in my bedroom, feet perched on the brown leather ottoman, cup of tea on the bench to my right.  Around me is my bedroom, with all its familiar photos, lamps, and furniture.  And yet what I notice is the unfamiliar — the family photos that are not mine, the television sitting on the second dresser, the baseball cap hanging casually from the doorknob.

In the bed to my left sleeps a man I love possibly more than I have ever loved anyone.  He breathes softly and regularly, sleeping the sleep of the supremely tired.  In a few moments, I will crawl into the bed next to him, he will drowsily pull me close to him, and I will fall asleep feeling safe and adored.

James and I have moved in together.

The circumstances of our decision to take this bold move were, in some important ways, not ideal.  A personal and professional crisis hit his life like a tornado, coinciding with a planned move from the gorgeous family home he had built as a his dreamhouse.  Major life changes were afoot and, as we talked through his options, the logical one — for practical and emotional reasons — was for him to stay with me and my daughters for a while.  At first, that idea took the form of him keeping a few clothes and things at my house, while using his parents’ ranch in the foothills as his main homebase.  But the more we talked about it and got comfortable with the idea, the more it evolved into a decision to actually merge our lives.

And so, one Sunday, a mere 6 weeks after deciding to give it another try, we took the biggest step of our relationship.

The moving part was arduous but also fun and exciting in some ways, as we watched our individual things blend together far more harmoniously than we’d expected.   Boxes were unpacked, artwork was hung, clothes were shifted, and space was made.  We admired our progress and smiled at each other — a lot.  There were also moments of deep sadness, as James was giving up a home that he’d truly thought would be where he’d raise a family and have grandchildren playing someday.  But I think, for me, those early days were mostly like a surreal dream.  How in the world had this really come to be?  How had we, who had for so long viewed each other over the top of a thick, high wall of emotional defense, suddenly found ourselves sharing space with the intention of becoming a family at last?

The first week, James and I were on our own, as my girls were off at their dad’s and his children live out-of-state with their mother most of the time.  This was a good thing, as it gave us a chance to deal with the basic logistics how we’d combine our material possessions and schedules, but also because it allowed us to shake off the initial jitters of our decision.  At one point, at the end of our first day as a co-habitating couple, after considerable prodding from him, I admitted that I was freaking out just a little bit.  Since then, we have spent much time talking about how scary this is for both of us, working through the same kinds of feelings that would have held us back previously and instead finding ways to leverage those feelings to a deeper connection.

My life these days seems to be a series of unbelievable moments.  This weekend, we went house-hunting for a house that could accommodate the two of us, our five school-age children and one college-aged child, and three dogs.  Over the last 2 1/2 years of knowing each other, I have spent many, many days house-hunting with him, but never with my own family in mind.  And yet, there we were, side-by-side, contemplating taking that wall down or creating two bedrooms out of that space, expanding that kitchen or re-landscaping that lot.

I awake every morning to his smiling face, and return every evening to the delicious smells of his cooking in my kitchen.  He is constant and steady and solid.  And I, who spent so many months wishing for a relationship with this man that was even half this good, am amazed every moment.

The obstacles in front of us are huge.  How to blend our families, rebuild his company, strengthen our crippled finances, and stave off our fears of loss and abandonment.  There are moments in which those obstacles seem overwhelming and insurmountable, but then I remember that the only way we can be together is to move through it, and my resolve returns.

When most of us dream about a relationship after divorce, we think only of the beauty of a new love, but the reality is far more complicated.  And I cannot imagine taking this journey with someone with whom I was not crazy in love.  When I think of the men that I have dated who were perfectly nice and yet completely not right for me, I realize how impossible it would have been to face the challenges inherent in a post-divorce relationship with any of those men.  Because this journey can either be a struggle or an adventure, and I think the definition depends, in large part, on your travel companion.

I am not naive about us at this point.  James has revealed too much truth for me to be so.  I have a pretty good understanding of what happened in our first 2 1/2 years together, and I know that I have no guarantees that the man sleeping so beautifully near me tonight will always be there.  But none of us gets any guarantees of lasting happiness; my divorce taught me that.  And so, each day, we simply affirm our commitment to each other and this road we are on.  Because, in the end, that is all we can do.

That, and love each other.  Truly and deeply.

photo

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Filed under happy endings, love, relationships, single mom

an unconventional love story

Today, I want to share a love story with you.  It is not a typical love story, but it is my current favorite.  This story doesn’t read like a standard romantic comedy from a major Hollywood studio; at best it’s an arthouse film with flawed protagonists and a convoluted plot.  But it has a certain charm for me.

It concerns a couple who met many, many years ago — almost 15 years ago, actually — and knew each other only in passing for most of those years. The day of their first meeting was a sunny, warm spring day when they were both young and in love with other people.  She remembers that he was handsome and soft-spoken, but perhaps arrogant.  He remembers that she was smart and intriguing.  Every few years, their paths would cross for some brief moment, and they gradually formed ideas about each other.   They came to know each other in the way that you might know someone to whom you spoke casually and infrequently over the course of many years.  During that time, they each got married and had children and then later divorced.

He divorced first — a long, bitter, nasty battle that left him emotionally scarred and terrified of intimate connection.  He dated, but didn’t allow anyone to get close to him, lest his heart be ripped from his chest yet again.  Two years later, she divorced, too.  Hers was more amicable, but her self-confidence had suffered badly during her marriage and a post-divorce relationship with a terrible charmer had left her bruised and burned.

The summer after her divorce was final, she contacted him on a business matter.  When the office manager discovered that she was divorced, she quietly played matchmaker, setting up a rare Saturday appointment for the two (so there would be no time constraints on him to attend to other appointments) and explaining to each that it was the only time the other could make it.  Both grumbled, but agreed.  At that first appointment, they talked for a long time, first about business, then about life.  A second business appointment quickly dissolved into a lengthy discussion of marriage, divorce, and love.  The third appointment, several months later at the conclusion of their business together, ended with a dinner date.

Both were dating other people at the time, but there was something between them that outpaced the others.  For several months, they dated and got to know each other more deeply.  They spent many hours in intimate conversation, gradually opening up to each other, but still guarded.  Then, a misunderstanding triggered their mutual fears, spiraled out of control, and they broke up.

A couple of months went by and she found herself surprised by how much she missed him.  She went on dates, but nothing compared to how she felt with him.  So, when he called and asked her to go out for drinks, she said yes.  And they began dating again.

But, despite all their wonderful long talks, they struggled to communicate effectively about issues between them.  They were, in many superficial ways, opposites, and some of those differences caused chronic and painful misunderstandings that quickly devolved into defensiveness and the silent treatment from him, and panic and mistrust from her.  So, over the next year, they dated and broke up three more times.  In between, they always dated other people, but neither of them discovered anything that rivaled what they experienced with each other.  They kept coming back, but always the same dynamic quickly re-established itself between them — one borne of mistrust, insecurity and fear.

The last break-up, after 15 months of dating off and on, left them both exhausted and miserable.  They had each tried so hard, in their own ways, but it hadn’t been enough.  It was over.

Over the next year, they connected occasionally, but never with any success. They might see each other for a week or two before some disagreement blew them apart again.  Their interactions were fraught with the pain of past hurts and the fear of hurts yet to be inflicted.  To be sure, the chemistry, the emotional bond, and the energetic pull that had first brought them together was still there, but both realized that they could not continue to hurt each other over and over again.  It wasn’t going to work.

So they went off and dated new people  — him more than her, but her more seriously than him.  But always… lurking somewhere in the corner of their hearts, was disbelief that, with so much great stuff between them, they simply couldn’t make it work.

And then something happened.  If this were a scripted romance, the something would be monumental — a dramatic climax to a perfectly crafted story, perhaps.  But, alas, this is not a scripted romance, it is real life, and the shift was not dramatic, or even perceptible.  It was silent and invisible and impossible, even now, to pinpoint.  But something changed.

In her, the change manifested itself as a loss of fear.  Not all fear, mind you, but the fear of not being enough for him.  She found herself ready, finally, to ask the hard questions of him, to hear the truth, and to receive it with compassion, even if understanding eluded her.  She was ready to talk about what had gone wrong between them without fear of losing him.  Because, after all, she already had.

For his part, he finally decided that he was tired of running from her and from what they could be together. The risk of letting her in was terrifying, but losing her forever was more so.  He wasn’t sure he could be what she needed, that he was whole enough to be the partner she deserved, but he knew he needed to try harder or risk watching some other man finally claim her heart.

So, one night, they met at their favorite bar for drinks.  It was a familiar scenario; many of their earlier, failed attempts had originated at that same bar.   But tonight was somehow different.  First he talked and she listened, then she talked and he listened. They listened for understanding,  intently and without judgment, asking questions for clarity but without defensiveness.  They talked about all the issues that had been landmines in their relationship — the ones that the mere mention of would immediately generate tension and a retreat to opposing corners.  Each was surprised by the other’s open nature that night, and the conversation went on for several hours, until their tongues were tired and their brains were full.

They separated that evening knowing that something had happened.  What that something was, was still unclear, but it was different and they could both feel it.  “That was the most productive conversation we’ve ever had,” he said to her when he called the next day. “Thank you.”  She agreed and thanked him, too.

And so they began to try to know each other in this new way, from this new approach.  Both had sincere trepidations, given their long and complicated history, but they made a point, in those early weeks, of having fun together again.  It had been so long since they had laughed and teased freely and with ease.  They spent time together, and time apart, and each was mindful of the other’s feelings and needs, without falling into that dreaded “walking on eggshells” trap that had characterized so many of their earlier attempts to work on things.

During their year apart, she had focused on trying to learn to relinquish her expectations of certain outcomes, and she found that she was more comfortable, more secure, and happier with him when she did so in the context of their relationship.  Loosening her tight focus on a single destination for them liberated her to finally relax and truly enjoy the precious, small moments they were creating together.  By living in the now, she discovered that more wonderful little nows were quick to follow.

Not feeling the usual pressure from her that had scared him and caused him to push her away, he was able to let her in.  He told her things he’d never told her before, and appreciated her in ways he hadn’t before.  When a personal and professional crisis that had been looming in his life finally exploded, he discovered in her a best friend, confidant, and trusted adviser.  She was his quiet support and his tender comfort.  They agreed that if they could weather his storm together, they could tackle anything…

So, are you wondering how the story ended?  Are you wondering if they got their happy-ever-after?

Well, the truth is, I don’t know yet.  Because this love story is mine.

It is the story of me and James, and it’s far from over.   It’s not perfect, and yet it is.  We will still argue, because we are human.  We are both still terrified of getting hurt or left or humiliated.  We know we have a lot of hurdles in front of us in order to create something sustainable and healthy, but — for once — we’re talking openly about our fears and trying to support and understand each other.   Who knows if we’ll be able to stay on this track, but I have more confidence in us than I have ever had before.  And, I honestly don’t spend a lot of time trying to figure out our future right now.  The present is just right — even with the tough stuff — that I am simply grateful to watch each moment unfold.  Some romances are nice and neat and easy; ours is not.  But is it real and it is beautiful to me.

I awoke recently to find him sleeping next to me, breathing softly and holding my hand tightly.  I rolled over and looked at his peaceful face and felt, as I always do, my heart skip a small beat.

I don’t know what our ending will be, but this, my friends, is my happy new beginning.

swans

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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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the smile in my voice

Last week, I was on the telephone very late one night, when Sabrina came into my room to tell me she was nervous about some things at school and so couldn’t sleep.  I briefly interrupted my conversation, reassured her and told her to go back to bed.  I would come tuck her in and check on her when I finished my conversation.

The following morning, as we were in the kitchen preparing breakfast, the following conversation ensued:

Sabrina:  Who were you talking to so late last night?

TPG:  Hmmm… Who do you think?

Sabrina (spoken with authority): Well, it wasn’t Pete.

TPG:  Really? How do you know?

Sabrina (shrugging):  Because you didn’t have your smile in your voice.

As often happens in my parenting moments, I was struck dumb.  Dumb by her wisdom. Dumb by her perception.  Dumb by her ability to so beautifully and succinctly capture in words the happiness I feel when I am sharing time with Pete, even over the phone.

But later, reflecting on the conversation, I was also aware of how profound that moment probably was for Sabrina, albeit unconsciously so.  What did she learn in that small moment about dating, how a man should make you feel, what falling in love might look like?  I often forget that I am constantly on stage for my daughters — they are critics in the front row, taking subconscious notes of my behaviors, my values, my choices.  My actions and words broadcast messages and lessons to them all day and in every way, and most times I am thankfully unaware of their scrutiny.  But every once in a while, it hits me.

I want my girls to have relationships with men who treat them so well and enrich their lives in ways that I cannot.  I want them to feel accepted and valued and safe.  I want them to fall in love without fear of that love being returned.  I want, someday, to overhear a conversation between them and their guy, and hear a smile in their voice.  And if I do, my heart will sing.

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Filed under dating, happy endings, love, pete, relationships, single mom

“every day is a celebration”

One morning last week, as I was thumbing through my paper and munching my English muffin, I came across an article that stuck with me.  Various parts of it have been playing through my mind ever since.  It is about a local couple who are celebrating their 70th wedding anniversary.  Yes, you read that right — 70 years of marriage to the same person.  That alone is mind-boggling in this day and age, but it is other aspects of the article that I find more poignant….  and perhaps those other aspects are the explanation to the time-honored question of “What’s their secret?!”

Before I go any further, I’d suggest you read the article, here.   It’s short and it will open in another tab, so you won’t lose me!  I’ll wait.

[Cue the on-hold Muzak version of The Captain and Tenille’s “Muskrat Love”…]

Okay, now that you’re back, let’s continue…

The first time I read the article, something tugged at me, but I turned the page and put it down to sentimentalism, plain and simple.  But it was more than that, and when I returned to the article later that night, I saw clearly and with amazement the pieces that are profound and precious to me in this article.

1.  Don carries a scrapbook in his briefcase of memories of their life together.

Sure, this is a little cutesy for most people, and most guys wouldn’t be comfortable putting together a scrapbook, let alone carrying it around for years.  But the point here is that it embodies his priorities.  Just from that one fact, do you have any doubts of where his personal priorities lie?  Do you suppose his children ever wondered if their parents loved each other?

2.  Don remembers particulars about Dorothy.

Most of us sketch our distant memories in broad strokes.  It is only the truly important moments that we lock away with all of our senses intact.  I, for instance, remember exactly how Sabrina felt and smelled when they first placed her in my arms — the weight of her, the color of her hair, the pain my body was still accommodating to from my emergency c-section, the tears in my husband’s eyes, the stuffiness of the room — all of it frozen in my memory.  But Don, it seems, has many, many memories of Dorthy that are like that.  I love that he remembered “how the humidity melted her hair” when she stepped off the plane.   I am lost in imagining him watching her, absorbing her, after missing her for a while.  Sigh.

3.  Don is proud of Dorothy’s accomplishments.

Before any of you start shaking your head and saying, “Well, of course he should be!” let me point out two very important things:  FIRST, let’s remember that they were married in 1942.  They are almost two generations removed from most of us.  Feminism was not even a word then, and women’s rights still referred to the suffragette’s successful battle to obtain the vote.  This was an era and a generation when most women did precisely and only what their husbands allowed them to do.   No kidding.  And look what Don allowed Dorothy to do — to live up to her potential as a human being.  She did amazing things, in an age when only men did such things.  And she did it with a husband.  Seriously wow.

SECOND, let’s to be truthful here:  this is still rare.  I hear story after story after sad story about women who bind their lives to men who are threatened by their potential or desire to be more than a wife and mother.  Being a good wife and a good mother are both laudable goals, to be sure, but for most of us, they are not the end of our aspirations.  When I was married, had I suggested that I was going to attend a civil rights march, my husband would have looked at me like I was crazy.  It was all fine and well for me to pursue my personal interests and causes, as long as it didn’t inconvenience him too much.  And I’m not alone in having lived that at the turn of the 20th Century.

So kudos to Don, for selecting an amazing woman and then supporting her dreams.  Nicely done.

4.  When Don describes Dorothy’s attributes, he lists aspects of who she is, not what she does for him or anyone else.

This is the part that makes the romantic in me want to cry.  Don says this about Dorothy:

“She’s a caring, kind, empathetic and a super good listener.  She says very little but she’s extremely effective. She charms people and gets groups together and makes things happen.”

This is who Dorothy is as a person; he sees her fully — her abilities and personality as they stand on their own, not simply in reference to him.  There is no mention of how good a cook she is or how she starched his shirts for 70 years or how she played with the kids when they were toddlers.  But this is how we usually reference our  love for our partners — based on what they do for us, not on who they are independent of us.  Listen closely the next time someone describes their husband or wife — “He’s a good provider.”  “She’s a good mom.”  “He mows the lawn every Saturday.” “She makes a great pot roast, and that’s my favorite.”  and so on and so forth.  At first glance, this sounds sweet — don’t we all hope that the people we care for and nurture will notice and appreciate that? — but it’s actually a failure to fully see each other.  Appreciation is important, but if you look at the kinds of things I just listed, you’ll see that those are appreciation for roles we fill in our partnerships and lives, they are jobs we do, and an acknowledgment that we do them well.  Those compliments are not an acknowledgment of who we fundamentally are inside — the special parts of us that we bring to the people whose lives we touch everyday.

Now look again at Don’s list.  See the difference?  Hear the respect and admiration?  He sees her.  Fully.  And admires her.  Not for the roles she fills, but because she is those things, and she brings those things to everything she does and every role she fills because they are who she is.  It is possible that Dorothy was a terrible cook, and maybe Don would have liked a good pot roast once in a while, but how many of us want someone to choose us for our culinary skills?  Or for any particular role, in fact?  In all likelihood, she wasn’t a perfect mother (still looking for that animal…), but if she was “kind, caring, empathetic, and a good listener,” how bad a mom could she have been? Don’s description speaks of who Dorothy is in every role she fills, because it is simply who she is, period.

The difference is subtle, but very, very important, I think.  Because as we move through a lifetime together, roles may change.  Skills may be gained and even lost.  But I think what most of us want is to be loved for who we simply are, when the roles and academic degrees and accumulated professional accomplishments are stripped away.  We want to be loved for our sense of humor, our way with words, the gentleness of our caress.  Filling particular roles well can be rewarding and appreciation is always good, but to be appreciated without being fully seen is hollow at best and soul-crushing at worst.

Now, I will admit that Don is probably a bit of a romantic sentimentalist.  But the man is 90-years-old, so I am going to grant him the right to be gushy and mushy and over-the-top about the accomplishment of notching a 70-year marriage.  But really, how many of us are in a position to criticize his approach or his feelings?

Certainly not I.

So instead, I wish the Stonebrakers a very happy anniversary and many more scrapbook pages to come.

Not the Stonebrakers — but I looooove this photo! 🙂

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