Category Archives: relationships

a list of things I’m tired of.

I am tired.  Bone-tired.  Exhausted.  Spent.  Wrung out.  Knackered.  Drained. Weary.

You get the idea.

It’s the kind of tired that nudges against the slippery slope of depression, teetering on its edge, gripping madly to the toehold of sanity.  I am physically tired, true.  But today I am also emotionally tired, and that, I believe, is the more debilitating of the two. When you are physically tired, you can sleep away the symptoms and awake, some time later, a different person, with a different body, and a different perspective.  When you are emotionally tired, sleep only postpones the inevitable trudging through another day.  It is a respite, yes, but not a cure.  No, definitely not a cure.

Lately I have found myself whispering under my breath that “I am tired of [this]” and “I am tired of [that].”  Today, that pile of things I’m tired of toppled over and pinned me down so that I felt like I could barely move.

So, as I am wont to do, I decided to write about it and thereby toss that irritating pile from atop me and send it heaving into the ether of the internet.

These are the things I am currently tired of:

  1. I am tired of being invisible.  I am tired of all the things that I do and gestures that I make not being noticed by the people closest to me.  I know that we all feel this way sometimes, but its commonality does not diminish its annoying, cloying weight.
  2. I am tired of being criticized for my parenting.  Frankly, I think I’m doing a pretty decent job overall and I happen to actually like the kind of parent I am.  I have no intention of turning into a militant Mother General because that is not who I want to be, and I have finally (Jesus, it’s taken me 47 freaking years!) realized that reason is good enough. Yes, maybe I would have less of #1 if I were more exacting and less understanding, but I grew up under a Mother General, and while I was very good at abiding her rules and doing my chores, I am also now very good at avoiding having to see her or communicate with her.  So do the math before you tell me how to raise my kids.
  3. I am tired of worrying about how I look.  This is all on me, I know.  I lecture my daughters endlessly about body approval vs. body shaming, and we talk only about being “healthy” and “fit,” never about being “skinny” or “pretty.”  But, I am of my generation not theirs, and when I look in the mirror, it is altogether too discouraging. No amount of expensive age cream is going to bring back my cheekbones.  My stomach is likely to never see daylight in public again.  And I’ve had to face that I am now “curvy” rather than “slender,” no matter what I do.  But I hate it.  I really, truly hate it.  I feel like nowadays I dress to conceal my deficits rather than to show off my assets.  And, being adopted, I don’t really have much idea what’s coming down the road at me.  Who knows what fun and appalling things my body will do next.
  4. I am tired of “getting through” things.  I found myself today thinking, “We just need to get through the summer,” and then immediately thinking, “What the fuck is that?  You didn’t leave your marriage and break up your family to ‘get through’ life!  What the hell is happening to you?!”
  5. I am tired of having my joy trampled by others.  I have many dark moments, but underneath it all, I truly am a perpetual, hopeless optimist.  Unless suffering a clinical bout of depression, I am always certain that things will improve, that life holds pleasant surprises, and that the future is bound to be better.  Most days, when left to my own devices, I do a pretty good job of finding the half-full glass amidst the half-empties.  On any given day, I can rattle off the multitude of things for which I am sincerely and deeply grateful in my life.  But, then, almost inevitably, someone comes along and pours their sour misery into my half-full glass until it’s full of nothing but their disgruntled complaints.  I certainly buy into the idea that others cannot make you happy, but to that I add the corollary that they most certainly can make you unhappy.  And I seem to have a habit of pulling people toward me who are psychologically incapable of being happy.  Nothing is ever okay.  The glass isn’t just half-empty, it’s broken and scattered on the floor where someone is sure to step on it, slice open their foot, and die a painful death from sepsis.  Trying to hold your happy space around these kinds of people is exhausting.  Really.
  6. I am tired of not writing.  I read a lot about authors these days, and I find myself insanely jealous of the ones who simply state: “I make time to write everyday.”  Really?  Do they not sleep?  Do they have professional chefs?  Or liveried servants? Do they not have to schedule the carpet cleaners, meet with their financial advisor, shuttle the kids to camp, or get the dogs to the vet?  Jody Picoult says that her family understands that she “needs to write, like some people need medication.”  That’s great.  I’m not sure my family would make sure I got the medication I needed, but they damn well aren’t going to leave me alone long enough to write every day.
  7. I am tired of feeling guilty.  I want to eat what I want, without comments from the peanut gallery, and sleep when and how long I want, without passive aggressive suggestions that I might be a tad bit lazy, and read what and when I want, without being charged with “ignoring everyone,” and watch whatever I want, without having to find something that appeals to everyone (which really means, most of the time, some segment of the family that doesn’t include me).
  8. I am tired of fighting depression.  If you don’t struggle with any form of mental illness (and yes, by mental illness, I do mean anxiety that you like to call “worrying’ and depression that you euphemistically refer to as “the blues”), then you are lucky and I probably don’t know you.  For those of us who do have a history of any kind of mental (or physical, for that matter) illness, it is a Sisyphean task to hold it at bay, day after day after day.  I swear, I can be really happy, feeling buoyant and grateful and so bloody contented with my life, and then OOMPH! something comes along and knocks the air out of me, and I’m taking deep breaths and trying to hold off the icy claws of the depression monster yet again.  It sucks.  And I am really tired of it.
  9. I am tired of meanness.  I don’t watch any televised news anymore because it was simply too painful and disappointing.  I found myself losing faith in humanity and then discovered that plenty of health professionals advise against watching or reading too much “news,” for precisely that reason.  It hurts my heart to hear someone refer to a rape as “20 minutes of action” or to see a Presidential candidate make fun of a developmentally disabled reporter or to hear about dogs being eaten as part of a celebratory festival in China.  It seriously hurts me. I don’t know why any of those things are okay and when I try to figure it out, those icy monster claws tug at me.  Hard.
  10. I am tired of being tired.  I want to wake up and deal with my to-do list and handle my problems and not feel so completely, utterly, wholly exhausted.  I want to live life and not just get through it.  I want to occupy my own skin and be permitted to do so without constant, unsolicited guidance.

In all likelihood, none of these things is going to change any time soon.  I suppose I could change them, but then again, I’m just too tired.

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30 Days of Truth Challenge – Day 5

Yes, I know I kind of cheated on Days 3 and 4 — they both ended up being things I needed to forgive myself for instead of one that was myself and one that was another person.  But what can I say, I’m struggling with a lot of guilt at the moment.

I will try to do better today.

Today’s challenge:  Something you hope to do in your life.

I understand that there are a multitude of ways I could answer this and that my answer to this question might change from day to day or hour to hour or minute to minute, based on what my heart is yearning for at that moment.  So, recognizing that, I am going to go with the first thing my heart said when I read this prompt.

I hope to grow old with James.

I hope that we are afforded the opportunity to see our children grow into healthy, happy, and productive adults.  I hope that we can turn grey and hard-of-hearing and stooped together.  I hope that we have the gift of loving each other through heartache and illness and, eventually, inevitably one of our deaths.  This may all sound very macabre, but I assure you that I am not writing from a place of sadness or hopelessness.  On the contrary, I see the possibility of old age with the man I love as an amazing blessing. And part of the reason for that is because I finally understand the idea of love getting better with time.

Just before Thanksgiving, I had dinner with my friends Annie and Helena. Helena had just started dating someone, but was feeling somewhat apprehensive about allowing herself to really enjoy it.  Her deep-seated fears stemming from her abusive marriage and brutal divorce were holding her back from sinking into and truly enjoying the fun of a new relationship.  Annie did her best to comfort and encourage Helena, reminding her that the early, heady days of romance are the best and sweetest times in a relationship.  Initially I agreed, but something about that didn’t feel quite right to me, so even after the conversation had progressed beyond that point, I interrupted and told my friends I needed to revisit that concept.

Because, this is the thing:  I can understand why the beginning of a relationship feels rife with uncertainty and fear for Helena.  I know why it’s hard for her to relax into the fun and just sit happily in the bath of warm and sexually-charged emotions that are so prevalent in those early days.  When you’ve been damaged — and I mean seriously injured emotionally in a relationship — it can be very difficult to relax and trust a new thing.  New things are dangerous and unknown and risky.  They are full of potential for harm, and it’s hard to believe that something wonderful might actually result from the crapshoot that is falling in love.

So, I get it.

My early days with James were fun, for sure.  Discovering each other and exploring all that you might be together is heady stuff.  But it was also a very insecure roller coaster ride fraught with fear and misunderstanding.  Even after we bought a house and moved in together in 2013, it was just plain hard.  I began to wonder if we’d ever reach a place of peace and understanding and unity.  It took a Hail Mary pass in the form of couples counseling to move us beyond that stuck place.

What struck me sitting at that table with Annie and Helena was that James and I are actually happier and more in love now than when we first fell in love 5 1/2 years go.  It’s true… our love has deepened and strengthened over time in ways that I have never experienced before.  For the first time in my life, I can genuinely imagine that being in love with James when we are both in our 70’s might actually be better than what we have now.  And that thought simply astounds me.

So these days I find myself day dreaming about the days when we are empty-nesters and free to create a life together that does not revolve around our six children.  Money will be tight (to put it mildly) as we struggle to put the five younger ones through college, but we are good at spending time together cheaply.  Then later, after the worst of the college expenses have passed, I can imagine us traveling a bit, exploring corners of the world together for as long as our physical bodies allow us.  And then there will be, hopefully, the days of very old age, in which you support and care for each other through the aches and pains and failings that accompany the passing of those final years.

Maybe these are strange things to dream of.  Maybe I am odd for being so excited already at the idea of grandchildren and downsizing our home. Maybe the dreams will change as life and its circumstances hurtle toward us.  But the essence of my dreams, the best part of my dreams, won’t change:  that James and I will still be in love and growing and evolving as individuals and a couple.  All the rest is just scenery and props.

That is my most sincere hope, and I pray with my deepest heart that I have the chance to experience it.

haven't happened yet

 

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30 Days of Truth Challenge- Day 4

Today’s writing prompt:  Something you have to forgive someone for.

My brain over the last couple of days, contemplating this post:

Hmmmm.  I don’t want to talk about the horrible things people have done to me.  I’ve spent enough time writing on my blog about that stuff.  Then again, there’s plenty I haven’t written about:  What about the men who have been violent toward me?  What about some of the things my ex-husband did that I haven’t talked about?  What about the bosses who treated me so badly in my 20’s?  What about all the childhood wounds my mother inflicted that I haven’t mentioned?  Now that I think about it, there’s plenty of stuff there!  Easy, peasy, lemon squeezy!

And then it occurred to me that the reasons those things were going to be easy was because I’ve already forgiven those trespasses (as we Catholics were raised to say).  To write about them would be an easy way out precisely because the forgiveness has already accomplished.  There is no vulnerability, no discomfort.  And I’m pretty sure that’s not the point of this challenge.  I think it’s supposed be a little hard, a little uncomfortable.

So it was back to the drawing board.  When I dug around in the darkest corners of my heart and poked and prodded at the growly resentments that lurked there, I realized that one hurt bit back the hardest, and therefore demanded to be the reluctant subject of this post.

Someday, somehow I need to forgive myself for decimating my children’s intact family.

To be honest, some days it seems like I’m almost there.  Like the morning I was driving Bryn to school last year and she voluntarily suggested that we are all happier now than we were before the divorce. Or the times when my oldest, Sabrina, tells me that she can totally understand why her dad and I just couldn’t make it together.  Those moments are blessings, salves to my aching soul, delicate threads of hope for all of us.

But then there are the other days.

Days when I wonder at what my girls might have been had I not made the decision to end our family as they knew it.  Days when I wonder at the long-term wounds I created with that decision.  Days when I wonder how much adult therapy it will take them to build healthy lives and relationships without carrying the detritus of our broken family with them.

Some of those days are burned into my memory – guilt branded onto the flesh of my soul.  Like the morning I watched 5-year-old Bryn haul her little wheelie suitcase down the stairs (“thump, thump, thump”), crying and asking why she had to switch houses every week.  Or the many times (so many times!) when Sabrina hugged me tightly and told me she didn’t want to go to her dad’s and why couldn’t she just stay with me? Or the Christmas when Bryn pointed out how unfair it was that they had to spend Christmas morning after opening their presents, packing up all their belongings to switch houses and have a second Christmas that afternoon.

But those moments, as heart-wrenching as they were, do not compare with the nightmares of possible damage that will manifest in their teen years and beyond.  The fear that they will act out their damaged souls through self-destructive behaviors that lead to pregnancy, addiction, or simply sacrificing their amazing potential in some other way — that fear haunts my nightmares in every possible form.

And those fears are looming ever larger lately.

Since last spring, my ex-husband, Bryce, and I have been struggling (so far unsuccessfully) to deal with Bryn’s growing tendency to lie and, on some occasions, to even steal money from family members.  Even as I type this, my whole body flushes with shame, because — let’s be brutally honest here — no matter how much we say it isn’t so, when someone so young goes off the rails, we lay the blame for the bad behavior with the parents, not with the child alone.  If she is wandering from the right path, it is surely because she was not provided with the proper guidance of how to stay on it.

Bryce and I have done all that we know to do:  we have tried to talk to her, we have sent her back to the therapist she saw and came to trust after our divorce, we have provided incentives for better behavior and punishments for the bad.  And still she struggles.

And every time she stumbles, I hate myself.

I understand that she might have had these problems even if we had stayed together.  Her therapist said as much to us during our separation when Bryn was 5.  But it doesn’t feel that way to me.  I am hyper-vigilant to any possibility that my decision seven years ago doomed my children to damage I cannot fix.  Bryn brings home straight A’s in advanced classes, is a successful competitive gymnast, and has nice, studious friends.  But as soon as there is the slightest suggestion that she is struggling beneath that well-adjusted facade, I panic.  And the self-loathing kicks in.

I knew before her therapist told us so that Bryn is acting out against some emotional trigger, seeking attention and trying to be heard, and I have my suspicions as to what that trigger is, but until Bryn is comfortable admitting it, I am unable to advocate on her behalf.  So instead I sob when I’m alone and wonder if she’d be crying out in this manner if her father and I had stayed together… if I had found the selflessness to allow her the luxury of an intact family during her childhood.

But I didn’t.  And life doesn’t give you do-overs.

These are the only times ever that I have come close to regretting my decision to divorce her dad.  I can’t help it.  I love my girls and can’t help but assume the responsibility for their pain.  I cannot see what that alternative future might have held, so I am confined to this future — that I created and imposed on the rest of my family.

I know that we forgive, not for the sake of the forgiven, but to achieve our own peace.  I would love to have that peace in my heart, but so far, I cannot say that I am close to it.  I don’t feel that I deserve it, and so I cling to the blame and resentment with an intensity that hits me from out of nowhere and strangles my heart Every. Single. Time.

Maybe someday I will forgive that desperate, sad, lonely me of 7 years ago.

Or, then again, depending on what the future holds, maybe I won’t.

forgiveness

 

 

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friends and lovers

Earlier this year, as I sat on the hard, wooden bleacher bench and watched my daughter’s volleyball team be destroyed by their opponent, a man sat down next to me. He smiled and said hello.  I smiled politely and felt a nervous flutter in my gut.  He turned his attention to his daughter, a teammate of my daughter’s, and only occasionally glanced my way.  I did my best to avert my eyes and avoid conversation, afraid that something I did might belie the nervousness I felt.  He was handsomer than I had remembered, and fitter than I’d expected. Although, in fairness, I’d never seen him up close and in person before. He seemed relaxed and at ease.  Happy, even.  I kept telling myself that there was no way that he could know that I know what I know.

Because what I know is that 6 years ago he cheated on his wife with a good friend of mine.

My town is just small enough that if your daughter is between the ages of 12 and 14 and plays volleyball competitively, she’s probably on my daughter’s team.  And so here we sit, Casanova and I — on a cold, hard bleacher bench, with the cold, hard truth resting resolutely between us but only I am aware of our shared secret.

When my friend Izzie first met Sergio, she and I weren’t really friends.  We were more like acquaintances.  Our friendship grew as our marriages failed and pretty soon we were sharing all sorts of intimate stories over coffee or (more frequently as time wore on) margaritas.  The first time Izzie met Sergio, she told me later, was like falling off a cliff.  The attraction was immediate and deep and shattering.  It went beyond the physical and into the complicated realms of respect, admiration, and genuine appreciation.  Within months they were crossing lines that shouldn’t be crossed, and Izzie was hopelessly and completely in love with Sergio.  Every last part of her behavior with him was wildly out of character for Izzie, and she wrestled with all sorts of guilty demons, but her heart was determined and single-minded.

There were a lot of things that predestined the unhappy ending of their story, but primary among them, even more so than the fact that both were still married, was Sergio’s professed fondness for “the European way of approaching these things,” as he euphemistically put it to Izzie after she was already too far gone to retreat.  See, Sergio was raised in Europe, amongst money and wealth, and was of the belief that marriage was not necessarily about fidelity but about being partners in raising children and maintaining a family.  He suggested to Izzie that affairs were necessary simply — and only — to have needs met that weren’t being met within the marriage.  And as time wore on, it became clear that such a set-up — a long-term, no-strings-attached affair — was all that he was prepared to offer or consider with Izzie.  Faced with this truth, she was totally crushed, and I was silently outraged (as every good friend is, right?).  It was beyond me how he could see my smart, beautiful, open and loving friend and not want every last thing she was willing to offer him.  I was appalled and frustrated and furious on her behalf, even as the rational part of me knew that, of course, this is how these cookies usually crumble.

Izzie moved on with her divorce and slowly, with a strength that I admired and tried to emulate, put her past behind her.  She displayed remarkable grace and kindness toward Sergio when she heard from him or ran into him, and despite feeling some lingering sense of want, she never wandered one step down that path again.  It seemed that perhaps Sergio and all the messiness from that relationship was behind her, and therefore, me.  Much later, Izzie heard that Sergio’s wife had finally filed for divorce, and that the two were separated.  And time did it’s predictable, comforting march away from that time and pain.

Until Sabrina decided that she wanted to play volleyball.

I saw Sergio’s last name on the team roster and called Izzie.  She confirmed that it was, indeed, Sergio’s daughter on the roster, and we both made the usual “small world” comments.  I didn’t think much of it until the following weekend, when I found myself standing awkwardly at the snack table next to Sergio’s wife.  She tried to make small talk with me, and I, probably quite rudely, walked away.  All I could remember was how much Izzie and I had wondered about this woman all those years ago.  What was she like?  Did she know of Sergio’s affairs?  Did she suspect?  Did she care?  What was wrong with her that he looked elsewhere? (This last was, admittedly, horribly unfair, but a product of the mindset we were in at the time.) And now here I was, forced to make small talk with her, and — gasp! — maybe even grow to like her.

Competitive volleyball is a grueling sport for parents — two to three practices a week and weekend tournaments that start at 8 am and don’t end until almost dinnertime.  There is lots of waiting around between matches and lots of coordinating food and travel.  After a season of this, I have realized the utter foolishness of my earlier belief that perhaps I could simply avoid Sergio and his wife for the year or two that our girls might play together.  I can no more avoid them than I can avoid my own daughter at matches.  It’s impossible.

And so I have done the unthinkable:  I have sat and talked with Sergio’s wife at length at matches.  We have emailed occasionally to confirm practices or set up tournament details.  And I have grudgingly come to like her.  But we have not shared a single interaction during which her husband’s betrayal did not lurk right under the surface of my consciousness. I wish that it would go away, but it won’t.

As for Sergio, he probably thinks me somewhat aloof; certainly he has not guessed at our connection.  My last name, unlike his own, is very common, and I have been careful to avoid mention of Izzie’s name in conversation with or near him.  Still, I find myself unfairly disliking him.  More so than Izzie, I cannot seem to forgive him for causing her tears and heartbreak.  Yes, I know they were consenting adults making a mutually inadvisable decision, the outcome of which was not likely to be good, but I cannot help but lay the blame at his feet.

And I find that it is not just Izzie over whom I feel protective, but Sergio’s wife, too.  I do not know her well or even consider her a friend, but I like her, and I hate that I know this about her marriage and she probably does not.  I hate to imagine that she would likely feel humiliated and betrayed by my silence, too.  And so I blame Sergio for all of it. For Izzie’s tears and his wife’s ignorance and my strange, awkward position.  It’s probably not fair, but I do.

I know for certain that I will never, ever, in any small or large way, betray what I know to Sergio or to his wife.  I would not violate Izzie’s trust in that manner under any circumstances, and I have no wish to cause possible pain to Sergio’s wife.  Instead I will continue to sit through practices and tournaments, musing silently to myself about how far and wide our choices resonate.  Nothing that we ever do is completely over.  It is there, always, reappearing in surprising places and with never-anticipated results.  Our pain, our mistakes, our lapses, all there, capable of being discovered at any given moment and inflicting further pain even years and years later.

I will keep my thoughts to myself.  I will wonder at the possible irony of someone in the gymnasium knowing something equally painful and unexpected about me or my life.  And I will continue to sit on the hard, wooden bleacher bench, watch my daughter’s team, and silently contemplate my friends and their lovers.

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unlovable

My cousin Brady and his girlfriend Allyson are expecting babies. Twins, to be precise.  He’s 26, and she’s 24.  They found themselves on the unexpected end of a positive pregnancy test after Allyson became one of those women to defy the birth control odds and become pregnant while taking the Pill.  So, they have moved in together and are planning for their family.

But the babies aren’t the problem.  It’s the history that predates their conception by many, many years that is. Brady and Allyson’s mutual histories are fraught, but the details are not really relevant.  What is relevant (at least to me, at least today) is that Brady is scared to death of losing Allyson and (in his own words) doesn’t understand why she won’t let him love her.

Fortunately today he called the right person to talk about this one.

As Brady began to describe Allyson’s behavior, the things she is says to him, and her overall demeanor, I felt, with a sinking heart, the recognition of an old and powerful foe.  Allyson is making demands of him and, when he complies, making more.  She is throwing down the gauntlet, and when he refuses to pick it up and submits himself to her will, she is enraged.  She constantly tells him that he needs help, that he is messed up, that he needs to work on himself, and when he does, she is not mollified for even a moment.  The more he tells her he loves her and wants to be close to her, the more she pulls away and gives him more lists of things he’s doing wrong.  Even as she acknowledges that he is trying and doing a good job meeting her demands, she cuts him down and threatens to leave.

He is, understandably, a bit confused.

I’m not.  Because I understand Allyson perfectly.

Allyson has abandonment issues.  Serious, deeply-rooted, abandonment issues from a personal history guaranteed to bring tears to your eyes.  I know, in the core of my being, that Allyson is testing Brady because she is scared to death.  And the biggest, worst, most unforgivable thing he has done is to believe himself capable of loving her.

Because, you see, Allyson believes that she is unlovable.

Somewhere in the darkest parts of herself, Allyson does not believe that she is worth loving.  Her life history has proved this to her subconscious, and a subconscious stubbornly clings to the defenses it believes will protect us from future wounds.  It sees truths where there aren’t any, because it seeks the simplest and most obvious answer to every pain.  When people who are supposed to love us by the simple laws of nature do not, then clearly it is because we are unlovable.  The laws of nature cannot be wrong, certainly, so it must be us that is lacking, unworthy, flawed in the worst way.

Therefore, it logically follows, the subconscious tells us, that anyone who could possibly love us is horribly flawed themselves.  Obviously, there is something terribly wrong with them if they believe that they could love us, that we are worth loving.  They must be awful themselves, because no sane, emotionally healthy person could find us worthy of true, unconditional love and acceptance.  So it is up to us to figure out what is so wrong with this person and do it before they figure out for themselves how worthless we really are.  It is a race to push them away before they discover the truth about us and inevitably leave, disgusted and appalled that they ever considered making a life with us.

Of course, the subconscious does its devil’s work without consulting the conscious part of our brain.  That’s the part that really, really, really hopes that this person is true and honest and so wonderful that he has seen something in us that is so perfect and special that we are actually deserving of love after all.  We hope against hope that he is right and we are wrong and somehow he will rescue us from our self-imposed exile from love and intimacy.

Because, let’s just acknowledge the obvious here:  real intimacy isn’t possible with truth and vulnerability.  Innately we know this.  It is why, early in relationships, we all share our stories and hear theirs and gauge reactions and are buoyed by every acceptance of every little quirk and shortcoming.  We know instinctively that the only way to get close to someone is be vulnerable in that moment and see them accept our vulnerability and whatever weakness it allowed them to see.

Adults with abandonment issues are not always closed off.  In fact, I think what confuses the heck out of the people who do love us is that some of us (Allyson and myself included) share a lot of ourselves.  We seem open and forthcoming and the types who proverbially wear our hearts on our sleeves.  We also tend to be initially very accepting of others’ flaws and emotional baggage.  I believe this is because subconsciously we’re hearing their stories and thinking “Hell, that’s nothing.  Is that all you’ve got?  I’m a freak of nature.  I’m unlovable.”  People — friends, lovers, spouses even — are sucked in.  They, understandably, are comforted by the acceptance we offer and reassured by our own apparent willingness to share.  We seem to, as a friend once described me, “incapable of having a superficial relationship with anyone.”

And it’s not an act.  I swear on a stack of Bibles that it’s not.  Our acceptance and our willingness to share are real and honest and well-intentioned.  We do sincerely want to be close to other people.  We do sincerely accept their short-comings.  We aren’t acting or manipulating.  I promise, and if you don’t believe me, read the psychiatric journals and you’ll discover I’m telling you the truth.

But, inevitably, when the person we are getting close to begins to truly care about us, the subconscious sends up the flares and sounds the alarms.  What is wrong with this person?  And we begin to dissect them, searching frantically for clues as to how they could believe us worth this attention and caring.  We are some of the friends, lovers, and family members you have known who seem to self-sabotage Every. Single. Relationship.  We can run off a good man faster than you can say “What the hell was wrong with that one?” And we can stay and defend a total loser for decades if we have deemed him as unworthy as us and therefore our perfect fit.  We are the women who date the users and players, and the men who pamper and coddle the princesses and manipulators.  Our emotional brethren are those who have been beaten and abused; in fact, sometimes we start out as one and end up as the other.  Some of us engage in breathtakingly self-destructive behavior in a pathological display of self-hatred.

What makes this insecurity so insidious is that it is deeply buried.  I am quite sure that were I to say all of this to Allyson, she would have one of two reactions.  She would either a.) be appalled and defensive and tell me that it’s ridiculous because of course she is lovable.  She would point to all the people who love her and list her achievements and accomplishments and reassure me sincerely that she values herself.

Alternatively, she would b.) be shocked that I had seen through her myriad of protective layers and discerned her truth.  She would dissolve into tears and stammer through an explanation of why she isn’t truly lovable, with her subconscious swimming to the surface to offer into evidence the many reasons for her unlovableness.  She would acknowledge that it sounds ridiculous, but explain how and why it is true.  She would apologize — for what, precisely, would not be clear — and she would assure me that she doesn’t expect me to understand.

And no amount of love or reassurance or sympathy or empathy on my part would pierce the carefully constructed and defended self-concept created by her subconscious many years ago and supported and reinforced in relationship after relationship that she has likely self-sabotaged.

But the remarkable thing about humans is our capacity to grow beyond our emotional limitations.  We have the innate ability to identify and correct wrong mindsets and patterns.  It isn’t easy, of course, but it is, in all likelihood, the answer to the greatest existentialist question of all, “Why are we here?”

I don’t know what it would take for Allyson to break down her protective walls, allow Brady in, and accept her own worth in his eyes.  It has taken me more than 40 years to understand the problem.  It might take me another 40 to fully understand the solution.  One thing I do know, however, is that once the truth is out, once you are able to say all of this for the first time to someone you love, the ramparts begin, slowly, to crumble.  The moat of fear surrounding your vulnerability starts to fill in with all of the love and warmth and caring that people have poured into your soul for years. And gradually, glacially, that reeking, rotting layer of your self-concept begins to shift.

Alter.

Heal.

I have no idea if Brady will have the patience, maturity, and love to stick it out with Allyson as she thrashes and rages and battles with her own sense of self-worth.  I can’t say whether his own difficulties and history will interfere with his ability to understand and appreciate her feelings.  I do hope, however, that there is some kind of happy ending waiting for these two at the end of the story.  Because I love happy endings.

Especially for the unlovable.

unlovable

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retrospective.

5 Months and 26 Days.

That’s how long it’s been since I last curled up with my little MacBook Air and poured my thoughts into this blog. Writing used to be habit, meditation, and prayer all melted into one, a late-night respite and means of organizing the thoughts colliding in my head all day. Since I’ve been writing for a living, however, I have found myself hard-pressed to embrace it after a long day of working, parenting, and partnering.

But my soul misses this blog. I miss the self-discovery. I miss the insights that unfold. I miss the marking of time passing and lessons being learned. And I miss the human connections with my readers through the gossamer threads of the internet.

As my regular readers know, I have never been one to simply journal here. In part because I am not comfortable sharing every corner of my life and in (bigger) part because I don’t believe that my life provides enough interesting tidbits to justify writing about. Having said that, however, i believe that readers of future posts will benefit from some contextual background.  So please bear with me, as this is a spectacularly long post.  So, grab yourself a cup of coffee and a Danish and settle in. Here we go…

Love Story

James and I have been in couples counseling with a new therapist since August. As indicated in my last post, all those months ago, we’d hit the make-or-break point and threw a Hail Mary pass in the direction of a couples therapist who came highly recommended. We had worked for a full year with our previous counselor, but with very limited long-term success. We agreed it wasn’t her fault, but we also agreed that we weren’t making enough progress to justify continuing. So we stopped in January of 2014 and gradually watched our relationship take two steps forward, three steps back over the next eight months. By the time August came around, it really did feel as if we’d lost our way and were hanging by a fraying thread.

But then a strange thing happened. Still madly imperfect, but using some of the understanding and tools that we acquired during our counseling sessions with the new therapist, we began to recover from mutually-inflicted wounds more quickly and more completely. There were definitely difficult disagreements and hurts during the fall and holiday season, but I noticed that we seemed better able to find our way back to each other. Our commitment seemed more solid beneath us, and I felt like fewer small things were blowing up into big things.

I have consciously wondered to myself if this is what it’s like for couples who stay contentedly married for many years… Perhaps they have the same grievances and difficulties as the rest of us, but they recover from them more quickly and without inflicting the deep cuts that are so very hard to heal later. I don’t know really because I wasn’t in one of those couples in my marriage. But I do know that what I have with James feels completely different from what I had with Bryce. I think Bryce and I worked at it because it was the right thing to do and because we so desperately didn’t want to end up divorced, like our parents. But I think that James and I work at it because we just plain love each other. Corny, I know, but sometimes the simplest answer is the best one.

Family Affair

2014 was, for me, a year of extended family drama. It began before 2014 actually did, in December of 2013, when James and I decided to offer my young cousin Brady the opportunity to move from Southern California to Colorado and work for James at his company. Brady has always been special to me, having arrived in this world on my 20th birthday. He had a tough time of it as a kid. Born to two addicts (one recovering and one not), he was raised mostly by my dear aunt, but was nonetheless an addict himself by his early teens. For nearly 10 years, he was almost completely lost to our family, but then, at 22, he asked a judge to order him to rehab. The judge obliged and Brady spent many months locked in a room at a low-grade state rehab facility, reading and praying and avoiding the drugs that were more plentiful inside the facility than out. When he got out, clean for the first time in about a decade, I sent him tickets to visit me in Colorado. He spent three weeks with us and fell in love with the area. And I was delighted to see the sweet boy I’d once known re-appear in his clear blue eyes. So, in December of 2014, when James said he was having a hard time finding good workers for his company, I proffered Brady, and after some consideration, James agreed.

Now, we all know it’s a bad thing to mix family and business, right? And it’s also a bad idea to mix business and homelife, right? Sure, we do. But that didn’t stop James and I from inviting Brady to move to Colorado, work for James, and live with us until he got on his feet.

Yeah, I know, I know. But it seemed like a good idea at the time.

Brady arrived in mid-March, but within a few short months, James and Brady’s relationship had rapidly deteriorated at work, spilling over into things at home. I increasingly found myself feeling caught between my soulmate and my little cousin. It was frustrating for all of us. Brady finally moved out, with considerable prodding from me and James, in June, after James’ kids arrived for the summer. Brady continued working for James, but even that crumbled by the mid-fall. James eventually asked Brady to move on to another job, and we made the difficult transition of separating from him professionally and staying close to him emotionally. That’s not easy in the best of circumstances, but in the midst of this painful separation, Brady had a serious car accident, totaling his car. To say it was a stressful period is a gross understatement.

Right after Brady arrived to work for James, my dad’s health took a very serious turn for the worse, and by April, I was heading to Seattle to be with him for three weeks and help my poor step-mom, who was exhausted and barely keeping things afloat. His situation was so serous that on the plane ride to Seattle, I prayed that my dad wouldn’t die before I got there. Three weeks, five doctor appointments, one surgery, and 1½ weeks in a rehabilitation care center later, my dad was well on the road to recovery and I was back on a plane for Denver. But the emotional roller coaster of it all, including the ever-possible drama with my step-brother, left my tank on empty.

As it turned out, my Seattle trip had repercussions through the rest of my year. Within weeks of my return home, my mother’s health seemed to nosedive. Her phone calls became increasingly alarming. She was in so much pain. She was depressed. She was lonely. She missed her granddaughters and wanted to be near them. She hated Southern California. She felt that she was probably going to die soon. Gravely concerned, I booked a flight in October to my mom’s dusty town outside Palm Springs to ascertain the situation in person. When I arrived, my mom was pale, achingly frail, and seemingly in constant pain. As an only child, I had always known the day would come when I would have to step in and take care of my mother. Apparently that fateful day had arrived.

I began making plans to move my mom to Colorado. We reviewed her finances, talked about putting her tiny house up for sale, and discussed the necessary medical care she would need. I lined up various doctors, a home health nurse, and a realtor to make my mom’s transition as seamless as possible. I moved James’ youngest daughter Chloe out of her room and prepared it for my mom to occupy until she found a permanent place of her own. After her house sold unexpectedly quickly in November, she packed up the rest of her belongings, but refused to ship her car to Colorado after hearing horror stories of cars that were shipped but never arrived at their intended destination. At her request, James and I flew to California and drove her car back to Colorado in advance of her arrival. It should have been a fun and restive road trip, but the timing and circumstances mostly prevented that. Even so, we got her 20-year-old Honda to our house 24 hours before she arrived by plane in mid-December. I took a deep breath and thought that the hardest part was surely over.

Exactly 26 days later, my mother boarded a plane and moved back to California. Don’t underestimate her, though. In those 26 days, She had inconvenienced me, James, and the kids, threw a few obligatory tantrums at various holiday functions, and then floored us all by announcing that was moving back. Less than a week later, she was gone. And I was left wondering what the hell had just happened.

In the days immediately before and after her departure, I began to unravel the craziness that had just blown through my life, leaving a swath of wounded feelings, bewilderment, and exhaustion a mile wide. Based on things my mother said to James during her final days in Colorado, I abruptly realized that the drama around her health had originated, consciously or not, with my trip to Seattle. My mother’s intense resentment of my dad and anger at my relationship with him prompted nothing less than outrage that I had spent three weeks in Seattle and only a few days visiting her during the same calendar year. So, consciously or not (and I choose to think, not), she had created a whirlwind of need and anxiety around her, prompting us all to figuratively and sometimes literally drop everything and focus on her. It was, of course, the kind of drama she had been concocting for much of her life, but I, in my distracted state, had failed to recognize it for what it was. My mom likes to tell people now that she “simply made a mistake,” as if she’d worn unmatched socks for a day. But the truth is, at some point in our lives, each of us has to be responsible and cognizant of the effects our actions have on others. Apparently that time has yet to come for my mother.

So, since her departure, I have worked to remind myself that she is on a different journey from me; to forgive myself for being taken in, yet again, by her ridiculousness; and to recreate the healthy boundaries that protected me from her machinations through most of my adult life. I manage these things with more or less success, depending on the day. And so it goes.

A Penny Earned

For me, 2014 was the year of living dangerously. At least in a financial sense. Never in my life did I have so many financial responsibilities and so little certainty that I could meet them. While in Seattle, I read a fascinating article about women who crafted a “career” out of several small jobs (in some cases, as many 15), rather than relying on a single job for financial security. Most of these women were stay at home moms, had been laid off in middle age, or had personal constraints on their lives that necessitated a high degree of flexibility. Inspired, I spent many late nights in my dad’s guest room in Seattle brainstorming about how I could do something similar, and when I returned home, I set my plan into action. I created a new umbrella LLC and spent the rest of 2014 freelance writing, providing life skills coaching for a young woman with substantial ADHD issues, and doing the occasional interior design job. I had a selection of business cards for different tasks and mostly worked non-stop. And when I say non-stop, I really mean it. My family became accustomed to me sitting in front of the TV at night, typing away as we all watched TV or they played games.

In fairness, however, my ex-husband Bryce ended up helping me out financially, although not exactly by choice. At the end of 2013, as my unemployment benefits were winding down, I attempted to engage my ex in some re-negotiations about child support. He brushed me off, and I reluctantly let it go. But then he did the thing that he shouldn’t have: he suggested that I wasn’t pulling my weight financially with the children and asked me to contribute more. Now, let’s remember, folks: I had been unemployed (and actively looking for a job!) for nearly a year, I’d run through my savings, and had begun to dip into my retirement accounts on a too-regular basis. Bryce earns a healthy salary in the six figures, and he wanted more money from me? I was incredulous.

Now, my ex-husband’s mistake was understandable, in a way. When I was married to him, I pretty much caved to his demands, so perhaps it was natural for him to assume that what he said, would go. But things had changed. I had changed. Unbeknownst to either of us at that point, in the time it had taken him to consider and refuse my initial request for a small increase in child support,  a new law had taken effect that completely revised the child support guidelines. In my favor. So, instead of being a good girl and going along nicely, I gathered all my legal wits about me and filed for an increase in child support. After my attorney buckled to Bryce’s demands (Bryce is a far superior attorney), I fired him and spent most of a weekend negotiating the fine print with Bryce directly. When the smoke cleared, I was set to receive nearly double the amount of child support to which I had previously been entitled, and significantly more than I had originally asked for. Bryce was annoyed, but resigned. After all, if he had simply acquiesced to my initial request and/or not insinuated that I was somehow financially negligent toward my children, he would be paying considerably less. But he didn’t. And my children and I gained.

And so I paid my bills. Not without a little anxiety and a lot of creativity, but hey, what does that matter? They got paid.

Kali Comes

For my birthday last month, just days after my mother left us, my 11-year-old daughter Bryn gave me a pendant of the Hindu goddess Kali. She mistook Kali for Sarasvarti, the Hindu goddess of music, writing, and creativity, who is something of a totem for me. As it turns out, Kali was a more appropriate choice given my circumstances, because she is the goddess of destruction, transition, and new beginnings. I wasn’t sure how or why this beautiful Kali pendant had found its way to me, but I embraced it, slipping it on a silver chain and wearing it next to my heart.

Within days, I had my first job offer since my firing in February of 2013. After careful consideration, I concluded that by accepting the position, I would actually be in a worse position financially than I was on my own. I had built a strong client base with good job security, and, while it wasn’t making me rich, I was paying my bills and enjoying a lot of flexibility that enabled me to spend time with my girls and James’ kids. That realization gave me a renewed confidence and sense that perhaps, finally, the worst really was over.

And then two weeks ago, I received another job offer, this time for a position that was a truly perfect fit for me right now. It’s 75% time, with good pay and benefits, doing creative and interesting work. I will still be able to keep my favorite freelance writing client, doing the work some evenings and weekends. And, maybe best of all, I probably won’t have to hire a nanny to be with my kids.

Ever since I got the offer, I have been walking on clouds. My first week of work – precisely two years after my firing – was challenging and exhausting but also fun and dynamic. I truly cannot imagine a job I would want more right now. After wondering, off and on for two years, if I might have become one of the terminally unemployable, I now find myself like a child on Christmas as I head to work in the mornings.

So, life at the moment, perhaps courtesy of Kali, appears to be in transition, but for the first time in a very, very long time, my intuition is at peace. And now that I am no longer writing nonstop for money, I am hoping to return to writing for the sheer joy of it.

If you’ve actually read this whole saga that I call a post, thank you.

Next time we’ll return to our regularly scheduled program.

My Kali pendant from Bryn.

My Kali pendant from Bryn.

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after the fairy tale

Some lessons are harder to learn than others.

And some of us are just slow learners.

Or perhaps we’re stubborn, or maybe it’s persistence, or optimism, or hopeless romanticism.  Whatever it is, some of us seem biologically incapable of letting go sometimes.

Like me.

I wish more than anything that I could write of how wonderful and perfect my life with James is now.  How happily we have merged our families and how blissfully in love we are.  How I now have everything I ever dreamed of when I broke my marriage apart.  But of course I can’t do that.  Because Cinderella isn’t real and neither is Prince Charming.

I have not written much since James and I reunited and moved in together.  At first, it was because I genuinely was so blissfully happy I didn’t want to sound like a horrid braggart at my good fortune.  Then, later, it became about not wanting to disappoint my readers, and later still, about not wanting to admit that I might have made an enormous mistake.  The conclusion I have reached now, however, is that I love writing and I love this interaction with all of you, and I love knowing that — just possibly! — I might put something into words that someone else can relate to and feel understood by or reassured by or empowered by.

And so I am picking up my keyboard again and going to try to write about a love that is terribly flawed, potentially damaging, and possibly beyond salvation.


With age has come the wisdom that it’s usually pretty impossible to pinpoint the precise moment that signals the beginning of the end of something.  I cannot exactly remember when I first wondered if James and I had made an awful mistake buying the house and moving in together.  But I know that, as often happens, that unwelcome thought has become more and more present and persistent in my head, culminating this summer with me making plans to move out and going so far as to look at several houses and inquire about financing. (That was an adventure in itself.  I was reminded that when a rental ad says that a property “needs some love,” you’d best expect broken floor boards, inoperable windows, and peeling paint.)  It was sad to admit defeat and contemplate separating, yes, but things were so very bad that there was also some relief in the idea of a small place of my own for me and my girls and the assurance of peace in my life.

The rub was that I still love him.  Perhaps I shouldn’t, given the things he has said over the past year, but I’ve never been a big fan of “shoulds.”  So before I took the leap into one of the houses that needed some love, I sat down and examined what it would take for me to stay.  I examined this question from a very pragmatic perspective — not what would I have to feel, but what he (and I) need to do in order for me to stay.  Actual, concrete steps or actions or promises.  So, because I’m a list-maker and addicted to my iPhone, I made a note on my phone containing my list.  Then I slept on it for a couple of days, revised it, and finally told James (via text because we were hardly speaking) that I had a final proposal to make to save our relationship, and if he was interested in discussing it, he should let me know.  I sent the text just days before his children left us to return to their mom’s for the school year, so I didn’t expect to hear anything back right away, and I didn’t.

The day his children left, I spent the day back-to-school shopping with my girls and returned home just before dinnertime.  James said he’d like to talk, made us some cocktails, and we went out to our balcony.  Then, using my iPhone list as a guide, I walked him through my proposal.  It included some relatively easy demands, including “No serious discussions before I’ve had caffeine in the morning,” as well as some more difficult ones, including couples counseling with a therapist of his choosing, and if he didn’t seem engaged in the process, I would not go or pay for it.  Given that James is quintessentially the man who does not like being told what to do, I was fully prepared for him to say, essentially, “No way, no how.”  I really was.  I had absolutely no expectations beyond being able to know that I had played my best hand at the end.

But he didn’t say no way, no how.  He agreed to my proposal, and I agreed to halt my moving plans.

It has been a long enough road for us that I knew not to be too optimistic about our commitment to this new path.  But, we did find some equanimity after that conversation.  We went away for the weekend to his eldest daughter’s college graduation and had a truly nice time together.  So nice, in fact, that I dreaded coming home.  I just wanted to stay in that warm cocoon of ease and peace for as a long as possible.  But when we returned, I was further heartened when James found the name of a counselor we had interviewed back in March and ended up not revisiting because she doesn’t take insurance, and called her for an appointment.  He also located the paperwork she’d given us at the time and started completing it.  So I did, too.

The first time we saw the counselor, Liz, she talked to us briefly about our goals for the therapy and how she typically works.  Some of it we remembered from our appointment in the spring.  At the end, she asked us to take two online tests that would help her understand our personalities better, how we probably relate to one another, and how she could best support us.  She wanted us to complete them and send her the results before our next meeting, four days later.  I could tell that James was loath to take the tests, but was pleased when he did the very next day.  The results were fascinating and we spent the better part of that day comparing our results and discussing how they made us feel.***  Again, I was heartened — this alone was progress!

Our next meeting with Liz — our first real counseling session with her — also went well, and we left feeling, I think, like we might be able to actually do this.  That perhaps we could be one of the couples who bucks the odds and saves our relationship!  I think we both knew how dire our straits were, so I don’t mean to make light or understate the depth of concern and fear that our relationship was beyond saving, but I also think that we were increasingly hopeful.  Unfortunately, she was leaving to spend a month back East and so our next session seemed far away.

My friend Annie has always described my relationship with James as taking two steps forward and one step back, and James and I are apparently slaves to our pattern, for not long after that counseling session we had another disagreement that culminated in him suggesting that we sell the house.

And that is where things sit, my friends.

Over the past six months or so, I have had some personal growth spurts unrelated to my situation with James, but those have served to better inform me of my own short-comings and blind spots.  I have tried to figure out what the wisest course of action is with regard to me and James.  I have tried to analyze what is right for my girls.  I have tried to dig deep and ask my heart what it truly wants.

But I don’t have any clear answers.  Because here is all I know:  No one ever said it was supposed to easy, but it shouldn’t be too hard, either.  I know that if we manage to make this work and grow old together, we will be one of those couples that signifies the value of hard work in a relationship, and this whole period will be told and re-told of evidence that relationships require work to survive. But if we don’t make it, we will both likely be saying, to others sometime in the future, that we should have pulled the plug sooner and not wasted so much time.

In my marriage, I knew when it was time to go, and once I knew, I hardly glanced back.  That almost unwavering certainty was of enormous comfort to me during the darkest days of my divorce, and the lack of it is what paralyzes me now.

So I wait.  I wait for a signpost signaling the next right path.  I wait for my heart and mind to synch up.  I wait for a certainty that won’t betray me later on.

amazing-trees-1-1


*** The personality tests that James and I took are called the RHETI Enneagram test and the Instinctual Variant Questionnaire (IVQ).  They are similar to the Myers-Briggs tests, but simpler and, for us, more accurate.   They can be found on the Enneagram Institute’s website.   The full RHETI Enneagram test is 145 questions and costs $10.  The IVQ is much shorter and costs $8.  The results can be emailed to you and do not require a therapist’s interpretation to be useful.

 

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me, too.

When I began this blog in February of 2011, my mantra was to live an authentic life and to manifest that intention here, in writing and sharing.  Living authentically sounds nice and good and pretty simple, and it is all those things, but it is not easy.  Or, rather, it was not easy for me.  The mask was more familiar.  And much safer.

When I was married, it was very important to my husband that we not “air our dirty laundry” with others.  This included sharing our problems with friends, or really anybody at all.  He saw my tendency to share as a weakness, as a means to seek validation or sympathy or… something.  No matter how minor it was, it always felt like oversharing to him.

So I stopped sharing my true self.  I became the world’s best listener and advice-giver.  Our friendships were based on shared interests, our children’s friendships, and our work connections. Is it so  surprising that over time, no one really knew us?  True, they didn’t know our problems, but they also didn’t know us.  We were simply the construct that we created for them, the masks we wore, the facade we carefully maintained.  The perfectly matched couple with the peaceful, supportive, and easy marriage.  Our children were well-behaved and lovely, our home warm and welcoming.  Our friends had problems that they confided to us openly, and we counseled them with the confidence and self-assurance of the righteous.

But all of that was unreal, fake, a fraud that we were so accustomed to and so frightened to let go of that at some point we genuinely began to believe in it as much or more so than those close to us.

It was neat.  It was tidy.  It was pretty.

And it was so god-awful lonely.

What a relief after my separation to finally begin to make friends again to whom I could confide!  That I could tell my darkest, dirtiest, most horrible thoughts to!  Who could truly know me and still love me! How wonderful to no longer put so much energy toward the impression of a perfect life, to throw open the windows and let the truth pour out…  How liberating, inspiring, and energizing to be real, authentic, and open again!

It seems to me that there are a lot of studies being released recently proving that social media is our latest means of crafting the perfect image to those around us.  The smiling family photos, the perpetually-happy status updates, the tweets cataloging all the wonderful, perfect moments in our lives.  And there also seem to be an equal number of studies telling us that the more time we spend on social media, the worse we feel about our own lives.

Ugh.  That kind of news is very sobering to me and very discouraging, too.  Why do we do this to each other?  I honestly understand not wanting to be the Twitter Debbie Downer or Chronic Facebook Complainer.  I get that nobody wants to log on to be force-fed negativity.  But what happened to authenticity or balance?  Why are we so afraid to show people the messy parts of our life?  What exactly are we so afraid of?

I can answer my own questions, of course, because I was long one of those people.  I can only imagine how some people must have felt sickened by me and my “perfect” little family, and I don’t blame them at all.  I realize now that at some point I’d bought into my husband’s flawed dogma that if people see your mess, they will judge you and they will discount you and they will no longer respect you.

That’s true, of course.  People do all those things when you show them your messy life.  But not all people.  And not all the time.  And the ones left in the room after we dump our mess all over the place are the ones that we need to fight for and hang on to.  The rest were just taking up space anyway.

I know that some mothers will suffer bouts of maternal envy on this Mother’s Day.  I know that because I have been one of them.  I have a long history of difficult, discouraging, and frustrating Mother’s Days.  I even wrote a post about it last year that called the anti-mother’s day.  And I am here to tell you that that post generated a massive amount of hits.  I think it’s because, if we’re being honest, we can all relate.  Kids aren’t perfect, and parenting is a lesson in imperfection, so the odds are against having a great Mother’s Day each and every single year.

Similarly, my rant why I hate being a stay-at-home-mom is poised to become my visited post ever.  That means it will surpass worst. sex. ever. and all the salacious thomas murray posts I’ve written.  Go figure, right?

Well, actually, it makes perfect sense if you think about it.  Because I genuinely believe that what we all want, more than anything else in this world, is to be known and understood.  We don’t really need someone to tell us what we’re doing wrong; I think most of us have a pretty decent grasp on that.  And we don’t really need someone to lecture us about how we can do better; deep down, I think we have that one figured out, too.  What we need, what we crave, what drives us to turn to the internet late at night or when we’re all alone, is to have someone say to us, “Me, too.”

I am having an unexpectedly amazing Mother’s Day today.  Truly.  I can’t remember ever having had a better one.  So, to those moms breathing a sigh of relief that you’re not facing a trip to the ER today or having to clean dog puke off your new rug, I say, “Me, too.”  But to those moms who are wondering why the hell they ever got out of bed today and why isn’t it bedtime yet, I say, “Me, too.”  Because I’ve been there.  For sure.  It’s no fun, but it’s okay.  It doesn’t mean anything except that you had a bad day that happened to fall on the second Sunday of May.

Life is messy, and that’s really okay, too.  It’s supposed to be.  And anyone that tells you otherwise or tries to sell you an air-brushed version of their life has deeper problems than you can probably imagine.  So be authentic.  Embrace the mess.  Say “Me, too.”  I think you’ll be glad you did.

life-is-messy

 

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Filed under parenthood, relationships

always the gentleman

Eleven days ago I got a phone call I’d been anticipating and dreading.  It was my stepmom Meri calling to stay that I needed to come to Seattle because my 85-year-old dad, Dex, was very ill and possibly dying.  That afternoon, I booked a flight with my frequent flyer miles, and I was on a plane less than 24 hours later.

When I arrived at their house, it did indeed appear as dire a picture as Meri had painted over the phone.  My dad could not walk and could barely stand, his mental faculties were equally unsteady, and it was clear from the state of the house that they had been living in Crisis Mode for quite some time.  Fortunately, I am good in Crisis Mode, so I put on my metaphorical hard hat and got to work organizing their lives and providing support and respite for my emotionally and physically fatigued step-mom.

My dad is now in the hospital recovering from surgery received at the hands of a nationally-known specialist, we are making plans for his rehabilitation and eventual return home, and the home he will next see is scrubbed and organized and nearly back to its usual orderly condition.  And poor Meri has stopped looking as if she might fall asleep standing up at any moment.

It has been a long and tiring 10 days here, but I have been grateful for the occupation of my lengthy to-do list.  I do not do well sitting idly when sadness and loss are hovering nearby.  So I have kept busy.  When Dex slept or was lost in his tv shows, I attacked all manner of assignments with a kind of furious energy and determination that seems solely reserved for these situations.  Many of the things on my to-do list had nothing to do with my dad’s illness or recovery and everything to do with maintaining some semblance of normality around the house.

And throughout my fixing and painting and scrubbing and laundering, my mind has spun backward and reviewed, much like a movie reel, the intersection of my life with the man I consider my father.  The story of our relationship and how my former step-father has stayed my “dad” is recounted in this post from two years ago:  https://thatprecariousgait.com/2012/06/17/volunteer-dads/.

But what has struck me most during these 10 days is that the biggest lesson he taught me was one that he delivered by example.  Dex is an unfailing gentleman.  He is the kind of man who, even after  sweating in the yard pruning the shrubs, can sit on the patio with a scotch on the rocks and appear ready to greet the Queen of England for tea.  He would come off the court after a long tennis match with perfectly white clothes and not a hair out of place.   Some have thought him stiff, or snobby, but he’s truly not.  He loves a bawdy joke, “in the appropriate context,” and his sexual conquests are legendary.  But he also felt that being a gentleman wasn’t a suit you put on for special occasions, it was simply who you are (or aren’t, as the case may be).  I never heard him be petty or sexist, and in his older age, he struggled to keep up with technology and understand and accept ideas like gay marriage.  He never forgot a “please” or a “thank you,” and he always believed in helping a friend or neighbor in need.  He adored my mother’s mother, a simple woman with an 8th-grade education, and always called her “one of the finest ladies I’ve had the honor to know.”

Now, all of that is well and good and not altogether remarkable in a younger, healthy man.  But what I’ve seen this month is the proof of how deeply those convictions run in him.

When he fell in the bathroom over a week ago and couldn’t get up, Meri and I had to call over a neighbor to help.  Dex was sprawled, completely undignified and in terrible pain, on the floor of the bathroom when the neighbor arrived.  Dex worked mightily to help us help him into his wheelchair, and when we’d all grunted and pushed and finally launched him into the chair, he turned to the neighbor and said, through teeth gritted by pain, “Thank you kindly, John.  That was much appreciated.”  Later, in the hospital the evening after his surgery, the nurse came by to run some tests for what had to have felt like the 30 millionith time, but Dex just quietly cooperated and then thanked her for taking care of him.   And that’s how it’s been.  No complaining, no being irritable and taking it out on us, just appreciation for our care-giving and companionship.  Really, it’s kind of mind-blowing.

As I’ve been organizing and making phone calls and cooking, I have willed myself to remember this, to allow what was his earliest lesson to me also be his legacy:  just as he was a gentleman, he wanted me to be a lady.  Not a stiff prude or a humorless shrew, but the kind of woman that other people respected and whose reputation among those who knew her spoke for itself.   I have not always lived up to that ideal, but I have done better than I might have without his strong influence in my life.  I’m not foolish enough to make those kind of emotional, deathbed resolutions that none of us can possibly keep, but I know that  I will return home later this week and try to hold tight to his example.

Thanks to this skilled surgeon, it is likely that my dad will survive this particular crisis.  But he is 85 and I have no illusions of his future.  Regardless of how much time he has left on this earth, I am simply glad that I had the opportunity to be here, with him and Mary, during this time, to see him and soak up the essence of his nature, and provide some re-payment of the comfort he has provided me so many times in my life.

My dad loves the Pacific Northwest.   It is his ancestral home. He loves to ride the ferries and watch the water.  We talk about the colors of the sky here and how different they are from Colorado.  We talk about the orcas and the otters and what a blessing it is to catch glimpses of them.  We talk about how deeply spiritual this place is and how you can almost feel the native ancestors infusing the air and water with meaning.

But mostly we just sit.  And hold hands.  And remember.

ferry

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Filed under blended families, men, relationships

deleted.

Adoption is such a mixed bag of blessings.  The most valuable for me as an adopted child has always been the fluidity with which I view relationships.  Family is truly those who inhabit my heart, because any other definition would necessarily create a very lonely life.  This definition is expansive, endless with possibilities and rich beyond compare.

The flip side of this approach has sometimes been that I place more importance on a particular relationship than does someone who has ample and strong genetic family ties.  I have, on more than one occasion, realized that my sense of family with someone was misplaced; in the end, I was “just a friend” or “just a girlfriend” or whatever the small, definitive category was that I occupied.  I don’t begrudge these people their categories; indeed there have been occasions when I have envied them the clear distinctions of their lives, the ease of prioritizing relationships, the simplicity of explaining how one is related to another.  But that was not the hand I was dealt, and so I have bent and manipulated common categories to suit my own needs and life.  And that approach has mostly served me well.

After I was three weeks old, I didn’t lay eyes on a single soul possessing my genetic thread for nearly 29 years.  It was then that I met my birth mother, Kathleen, after a lengthy search.  Ours was a joyful telephone reunion, followed by pages and pages of emails, futilely trying fill in the missing years since she had held me as a screaming infant in her arms.  There were early morning and late night phone calls, exchanged photographs and small gifts, and a visit by her to the home I shared with Bryce, when I was newly pregnant with Sabrina.  Later, when Sabrina was 18 months old, I traveled with her to Kathleen’s home on the West Coast for a short visit.  Sabrina charmed her new “Gran” completely, and Kathleen seemed delighted by the prospect of a grand-baby, having missed so much with me.

Every relationship has its honeymoon period and, had I read any adoption reunion books I would have known that the same applies to adoption reconciliations.  Our honeymoon period lasted longer than most, but small fissures erupted and, without the grounding of a stronger or deeper friendship, they expanded into deep chasms.  There were so many parts of me that not only reminded Kathleen of her beloved younger brother, but also of her despised older brother.  She disagreed forcefully with many of my life choices and was unimpressed by my choice of husband.  But perhaps most damaging was the fact that, aside from my skin and hair coloring, I physically favor my birth father, a man who brutally hurt her and about whom she cannot speak. So perhaps the relationship was doomed from the beginning, or even from the second beginning, but I was determined to at least keep the line of communication open, even as she clearly withdrew from me.

My first inkling that perhaps I had been abandoned by her permanently came two years ago when Sabrina was in 5th grade and completing a family history project.  I had received lots of family stories and histories from Kathleen in emails during those early, breathless days, stories I had been waiting a lifetime to hear and she’d been hoping for the chance to share.  I’d compiled them all into binders that I stored with my photo albums, the closest thing I had to a family history.  Sabrina thumbed through them, amazed to discover the richness of Kathleen’s family history, the surprising realization that we were, in fact, a Western homesteading and ranching family, and the terrific tales of Irish lore handed down.  Then she sat down and wrote Kathleen a very sweet email, telling her of the family history project and asking more questions.

Kathleen never answered her.

I was more than a little stunned as the days dragged by and there was no response to Sabrina’s email.  We worked on her project as best we could without the additional information.  I offered, but Sabrina refused to abandon Kathleen’s family and instead do something about her dad’s side, which was equally interesting.  She completed her project and received an A, but I was still reeling from the silence.

I sent Kathleen an email via Facebook, where I know she is very active, asking her to please reply to Sabrina even if it was just to say that she couldn’t provide anything else.

Silence.

As an adult, I was able to cognitively process the rejection.  Kathleen is a woman who, at least since the harrowing and unfortunate circumstances of my conception and birth, has struggled and mostly failed at maintaining relationships.  She knew she would be a poor mother, having had a very cold and critical role model to follow, so she relinquished me rather than risk perpetuating the family problems.  The quirky and interesting commonalities we shared did not bridge our larger differences.  And basically, no amount of genetic material could make up for what was lacking between us.  I knew all of this.

But, still.

The adopted child in me cried out for her.  Wondered at how she could abandon me, again.  Wondered how I could be so very flawed that, even having gotten to know me, she could reject me so completely that her rejection would encompass my innocent children.  Wondered at how blood was so thick for some people, but apparently counted for nothing in my own life.

I accepted Kathleen’s complete retreat and did not pursue the family history issue again.  I did notice, however, that she did not unfriend me on Facebook, so I assumed that she had some lingering interest in me, my children, and our lives. I continued to send her school photos of the girls, Christmas cards and presents, and a Mother’s Day card that always read, simply, “Thank you.”  I thought we had reached some kind of plateau, in which I would continue keeping that thread alive between us, and she would continue to ignore me.  I rationalized to myself that there was no harm in it; after all, it wasn’t like she could actually hurt me anymore.  Right?

One day not long ago, she posted an interesting exercise on Facebook.  It was one of those cut-and-paste, perpetuating games in which the poster asks each of her Facebook friends to leave a one-word comment below the post, describing how the poster and the friend met.  I don’t usually comment on Kathleen’s posts, but they are not usually an invitation to participate, as she is more fond of political diatribes and humorous videos.  This time, though, I thought I had a very clever contribution.  And so, because I am apparently a pathetically slow learner, in the comments section, I wrote “Birth.”

Later that day, I noticed her post on my timeline again, as our sole mutual friend had also provided her one-word answer.  I clicked on Kathleen’s post, and as it filled the screen, I saw it.  The void.  The emptiness where my comment had been.  It was gone.  Deleted.

I should not have been surprised.  You, reading this, are not surprised.  But I was.  I truly was.

I stared at it for a long time, the obvious irony settling in.  She had deleted me.  She had deleted my birth.  So swiftly and easily, with merely the click of a mouse.  And I knew, for what was probably the first time, that if she could do that for real, she would.  She really would.

I know that getting pregnant with me changed her life dramatically and my birth father’s cowardly response to the pregnancy demolished her in ways I can’t fully appreciate.  And I know that my birth nearly killed her and did disable her for a year, and that she never had a family of her own after that for reasons that only she knows.  And I know that I am not what she had hoped I would be.

But I am her only child in this whole world.  Her blood.  And she deleted me.

In the days that followed, I felt foolish for the photos and the Christmas cards and gifts that have likely met the trashcan unopened, but not too much.  I offered her as much love as I knew how and I considered her as much a part of my family as the other wonderful parents I have.  I shared the most precious part of my life with her, my children, and encouraged them to pray for her and offer her love, too.

In short, I did nothing wrong.  It was not my fault that I was conceived under such ugly circumstances.  It was not my doing that she suffered an aneurysm during my birth.  I cannot apologize for how I have turned out or who I have loved.

I wish that we could have been family.  Some kind of family.  But I know now that we will not be.  So this holiday season, I instead turned my attention fully and completely to the family that does love me, truly and deeply and without reservation.  Some ties are actually thicker than blood.  And for that I shall be forever grateful.

photo

Me, at about 2 1/2 years old.

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Filed under adoption, healing, parenthood, relationships