Tag Archives: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

Why Can’t I Embrace Time Off?

In my own way, I really do know why the caged bird sings. And I know why the bird stays too—even when the cage door is open. It seems selfish to take more than a quick flight around the room. No, the bird comes back to where she’s comfortable and finds beauty in her surroundings and in how happy her singing makes those in the house. Even when those in the house barely notice her and come and go as they please—she knows her role and knows that, somehow, the beauty of her singing and her reliable presence is helpful to those she loves.

I read that in Vietnam (and probably elsewhere) Buddhist worshippers release caged birds to improve their karma. In theory, this sounds wonderful. But I doubt that it’s a wonderful feeling for the birds. A picture I saw of a Buddhist releasing three birds spoke louder than words. Instead of flying away, the three birds crashed into one another with their wings barely opening widely enough for flight. It’s not easy to just take flight away from all that you have known, is it?

Now that my cage door has been blown apart, I see how ridiculous living for others all the time truly is. It’s okay (and healthy) to do things for yourself. It’s okay to take flight once in a while just because it makes you happy. Taking flight is scary for some of us. Doing things for ourselves can seem selfish. Especially if we are the person who fixes things, who kisses booboos, who makes sandwiches, checks homework, listens to woes and gives advice, and who lives daily for the crazy schedules of playdates and homework and dinners, and sports events and mommy-and-me classes. That’s the good stuff, right? It seems to give most of us (I’m talking the co-dependent us) more pleasure than our work—if we work outside the house. And it’s tougher than most work too—at least the two- and three-year-old tantrums are. When you’re the person who supports others, it’s hard to support yourself. (You know who you are: you’re the one who remembers birthdays, writes thank you notes, sends presents, plans parties, playdates, activities, camps, Dr. visits—all between other work duties you master. You’re the one who feels guilty taking time for yourself to exercise or get a rare manicure—as your goal is to make others happy and pleased and not to think about yourself, right?) So where do you exist when all of that is cut off? Where are you when that fades to black? Sound familiar?

I wrestled with all of that after my husband left at the end of 2009. But since he lives in Europe and I care for the boys pretty much 24/7, they kept me insanely busy and not able to focus too much on this question. Back then, I was just making it day by day and trying for force myself to eat and keep going. That’s how it was in the beginning with a baby and an 7-year-old to take care of. Flash forward two years and you’d think that I’d have overcome this crazy guilt I have about taking time for myself. To be fair, I have really been taking strides that started with baby steps and I’m getting there. At first, I felt insanely guilty about putting the baby in daycare so I could write (I’m a freelance writer) and get a break. After a year of separation, with me weighing in at 90 lbs and getting little to no sleep due to my insanely sleepless toddler, a good friend urged me to put my little guy in a small, family-run daycare so I could pursue my work and get a break. I did and within a few months landed some great freelance writing gigs. I was able to grocery shop without drama. I wan’t driving for an hour to let the baby sleep since he doesn’t nap at home. I was able to take a run and eventually joined a gym. Taking a pilates or a yoga class felt crazily selfish—even though I went months without a day off to sleep in. Why I felt this way is such a long story including a family history of co-dependency and an upbringing in the South where ladies who do-it-all and support their man are still highly admired.

But all of this is part of why the rare, cherished time-off from the kiddos, can be extra-ordinarily and oddly, hard for me to adjust to. The summer holiday for my kids with their dad should be a time for joyous celebration, right?

I should be thinking: Hurray! I’m finally going to have some time to myself!

And I am excited about that. I’m so looking forward to being me, traveling, writing and reading and just being a woman and not always a mommy. But a large part of myself is also wondering if my kids will put on sunblock or whether they’ll remember to say their prayers/gratitude lists at night or whether they’ll have fights that I can’t help them with, or if a tantrum might push someone over the edge, etc. Seriously, it’s so sad. Even as I write this, I wonder about my sanity. I am the quintessential co-dependant woman. There, I said it. So now, I guess I’ve become the co-dependant single mom who is having a hard time adjusting to the fact that she’s going to be away from her boys for a full MONTH. I haven’t had a week off since last Christmas and I think the last two days off was three months ago. So, yeah, I guess I’m due.

Why, then, am I not jumping up and down with glee!? It’s scary to take flight. It’s frightening to venture out and try to reclaim life outside of motherhood. I’m grateful for the chance, but hesitate at the door.

Any advice out there, my soul-sister, single moms? Seriously, any words of wisdom will be greatly appreciated this week as I say goodbye to my little guys.

Lots of love,

L. x

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The Grass is Greener Where You Water It

A wise friend told me this and I’ve repeated it to several women recently. I’ve had so many conversations over the past three weeks with a variety of new and old girlfriends who seem be to stuck or tempted by the grass is greener ideology. For instance, one married woman lamented to me that she was a bit jealous of my single status. “I miss getting butterflies while getting ready for a new date! I miss the first kiss, the romance. You’re so lucky.”

Another married woman said to me that she was tempted to cheat. “I can’t stand the monotony. I get criticized for not making a stellar dinner. He points out if I’ve gained a pound, but just sits and watches football and drinks too much. Where’s the fun in that?”

I understand. Really.

Interestingly, it’s not always rosy for the separated and divorced women out in the dating world. Some of my divorced and separated friends seem to be on collision courses. In their frantic search for a new man, they are with people who have addictions or just treat them poorly because that’s who they are. I can’t quite get it.

“I just can’t be without a man,” said one woman who is with the wrong person and knows it. (A person addicted, mentally unstable and unable to NOT hurt her.)

“But maybe he’s treating me this way because he’s confused,” said another who is putting up with so much cruelty from a man that it’s unbelievable and too painful for me to watch anymore.

So I told these women in my life two things (not that I’m a savant, but taking time off from men can really clear your head!)

One: “The Grass is Greener Where You Water It.”

Two: (aka Gloria Steinem): “A Woman Without a Man, is Like a Fish Without a Bicycle.” Think about it. (By the way, I was reading Steinem’s book Revolution From Within in the kitchen of a newspaper where I was reporter in Maryland back in 1992/93 when the publisher walked in, looked at me, and said, “Shit.” He spit out his tobacco in a nearby trash can and continued, “I knew you were smart, but now you’re going to start asking for a raise. Put that Steinem crap away and get back to work.” KID YOU NOT!)

I know I can’t help my friends with their serious issues. (And I understand them as I recognize them in myself.) I can’t make them see that they are lovable. I can’t make them see that they are beautiful. I can’t make them understand that instead of quickly demanding a man commit to them, they might want to take a breather and decide whether or not that new man is worthy of their commitment. How do I help them realize that they are wonderful and deserve love that doesn’t hurt?

I guess I can’t do that. I can only take care of myself. So, I’ve decided to take a time out from men. Why not? This past month four married men propositioned me. (Seriously? What is UP with that?!)

Anyone who knows me well knows that even the most chiseled man couldn’t get my number if he has a wedding ring on. And there lies another problem … many men nowadays just take them off.

But this isn’t the main reason why I’m taking a time out. I’m not as jaded as I could be! No, I’m just exhausted. So thank you to the friends who want to set me up on dates, but no thanks for now. Taking care of two kiddos solo 24/7 is tiring. I love them dearly and thank God for my boys every day. But there’s only so much space in my life. I’m giving it to them (and me) right now.

Secondly, I’m the personality type (cough, can you say co-dependent?!) that puts another person’s needs WAY before my own. I’ve done it my whole life. Maybe you can relate to that one? I tend to wrap myself around the important person in my life and cater to their needs and put my own very far down the list. It’s time to get re-introduced to myself. I had no idea how bad it was until I was on the phone with one of my best friends, whom I’ve known for 25 years. Here’s how the conversation went:

“I’m SO excited! I’ve decided to hire the nanny and go away for a weekend.” I say to her six weeks ago. (She knew I had been brave and broken up with my first boyfriend since my ex-husband. It’s hard to walk away, but I’m learning to take care of myself.)

Great, where are you going dare devil,” she replies.

“I have no idea.”

“Wow.”

“I know. I’m stumped. I can’t even think of what I want to do or where I want to go.”

There’s a brief pause.

“Is this the same girl who traveled nonstop solo, taking new reporter jobs in random places just to travel. The girl I’d have to track down constantly, who moved to New York on a whim to write and who has at least 25 addresses in my address book?”

“Um, I think so. It’s just been so long you know. I’ve been in lockdown with the kids for two years, I can’t think straight.”

“Yeah. It’s crazy. You don’t even know what you like anymore. But I know who you are and what you like. Wow, you are so lost. Go somewhere, hole up and write.”

I hung up with her and thought about that.

Wow. I really couldn’t think of where I should go or what I should do with any time off. It’s like I had become the caged bird in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. It’s not quite that bad, but you get the idea.

At the last minute, I decided to cancel the solo trip for financial reasons, but it got me thinking, I really need to get back to the basics. Instead of taking what little time I have to go out on dates and to search for another someone in my life, I’m better off writing, working out, going to Al-Anon (long story) and getting to know who I am again.  You can’t build up strength on a shaky platform.

So, I’ve decided not to heed the warning of one man whose argument to begin an affair with him started with the fact that I wouldn’t be this attractive forever—presumably to be able to attract the likes of him … How sweet right? Be still my heart.

No, I’m going to take the risk of mother time creeping up on me and adding a few more wrinkles and thwarting hot prospects from entering my life in order to focus on … well … me. For once.

If you’re one of those single mommas who are spinning like a top in the dating world, what do you think? Can you try a time out for sanity’s sake too? Let me know how it goes and please share your tips of survival if you are still venturing out in this crazy dating world. Lots of love and luck to you if you are! x