Tag Archives: London

Beauty, Forgiveness in Letting Go, Finally

lantern

I published this post originally in September 2011—a year and a half ago. I learned today, however, that my divorce is final. While I’ve been raising two boys solo for nearly four years now, I’m surprised by how emotional, yet surreal, this final parting, delivered unceremoniously via a curt email, feels. There are just no words to accurately describe it—even for someone like me. So with that said, I’m re-posting this post “Beauty, Forgiveness in Letting Go.” I let go of my imagery paper lantern tonight, to sail across the ocean to my ex, my former best friend, the father of our beautiful boys, with just two words inside: “Thank You.”

***

I can’t stop thinking about The New York Times article “Untying the Knot in Japan” by Paige Ferrari. In fact, ever since reading the article that outlines this new Japanese trend of divorce ceremonies, I can’t stop the steady stream of images from daydreams, clearly inspired by this idea. Obviously, I crave closure. One snippet of my dream keeps popping into my mind—like disjointed, still frame, romantic images. I even sent a message to my soon-to-be Ex about wanting to have a divorce ceremony. Not surprisingly, he didn’t reply.

Perhaps I’ll just have one on my own. Before reading this article, I had thought (once the divorce was final) I’d invite a friend or two to come with me as I throw my wedding band off the end of one of the Southern California piers into the Pacific Ocean. I imagined I’d say a few things before the toss about mixed blessings; becoming stronger; putting my sons first; or living a better life. But now I see what I really want is a ceremony that would honor the 12 years my husband and I spent together. I’d love a ceremony that is like a symbolic blessing to us both—releasing us to move on and inspiring us to be respectful of one another for the sake of our boys.

In Ferrari’s article, a divorce ceremony is outlined where both the ex-husband and ex-wife come together, say a few words in front of a witness, and then both use a hammer to crush their wedding bands. It’s a somber occasion, but one that respects their former union, blesses the two to move on, and confirms the importance of their child’s health and happiness. More ex-couples would benefit from a ceremony such as this, don’t you think? Since I’ll likely never have one with my Ex who lives in London, I will dream of one that allows me to let go and continue on with beauty and hope.

In my recurring dream, a paper lantern floats wobbly in a river—the candle light inside flickering in and out through a heavy layer of fog. It moves with fragility in the water and I am compelled to reach out to it. I have been waiting for it alone on a dock and I stretch to reach it, but can not. I am frightened that the light will burn out, so I stretch my body along the scratchy wood planks of the dock, my upper torso dangling precariously over the water. Finally one long finger touches the side of the lantern and I pull it towards me. I lift it up and put my wedding ring inside. I let myself think for a moment about the beauty of our wedding, the sweetness of our love that day, and the hope we both once had. Inside the other crease of the lantern, I place two folded pieces of paper with messages to my soon-to-be ex-husband.

“Don’t forget your boys,” is written on one note.

“I forgive you,” on the other.

I visualize all the hurt and pain that I have felt over the past two years as a smoke rising from a flame. The wind lifts it up in the crisp night air and allows it to combine with the fog. I place the paper lantern with my ring and messages back into the river and push it gently into the current.

As I watch it drift away, I let go of all anger and bitterness.

I close my eyes, envision my beautiful boys, and allow myself to feel blessed in this parting.

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My Heart Breaks for Syrian Children

War_Is_Not_Healthy

Another Mother For Peace logo

Children should NOT be targeted in war. End of story.

Tonight I weeped as I watched an unbearably graphic video on CNN. I had just tucked my little guys in for the night, crept upstairs to drink a cup of coco, turned on the TV (thinking it was on a different channel) and there was a little girl screaming directly into the camera. I sunk onto the coffee table—frozen by the terror unfolding in front of me. A little girl is shouting for help, with only a photographer in her face and no one to protect her. I’m not going to provide a link to this video. It literally showed children screaming and somehow the person taking the picture was apparently terrifying them more—a baby in the arms of his big sister was shaking uncontrollably and screaming hysterically while his sister tried desperately to find a place to run.

I instantly thought of my good friend in London, a Syrian doctor with two young children. Her son was my oldest son’s best friend in Kindergarten. I adore her two children. She has family near the Lebanese border and I recall how brave she was when she flew back with supplies (diapers, medicines, etc.) to aid those who had been affected by an Israeli bombing in the region six years ago. How does she sleep at night knowing that her country’s leader is literally targeting children? How will she explain this terror to her kids, now 10 and 6 years old?

A quick search online reveals how many horrors Syrian children have witnessed in the past year. Bashar al-Assad’s regime has killed thousands of children in the past year: bombing them in playgrounds, killing them indiscriminately, and purposely. They have bombed hospitals and targeted neighborhoods with civilians. In May, more than 32 children, many infants, were “mutilated” and killed in another attack. The last estimate by UNICEF, (which was in February), reported 500 Syrian children had been killed. Well, we know the number is clearly three or four times that amount 10 months later.

And now, al-Assad may use chemical bombs or gas in a desperate attempt to not lose control—or take everyone with him if he does. He could wipe out thousands of innocent children and families in one swoop.

Even without the threat of chemical gas…how will the hundreds of thousands of refugees living in camps at border towns—at least a third of which are children—survive the winter? How will the families whose homes are now bombed survive the winter? It’s getting bitterly cold and aid can’t be supplied.

Again, my heart aches for these children. It’s time for the world to say ENOUGH.

Avoiding Gossip and Other Survival Strategies for Single Moms

A year ago, just after launching this blog, I wrote the post “Adjusting My Attitude”. The title itself is misleading, but I was new to blogging and often picked titles back then that didn’t accurately convey the real subject-matter at hand. Yes, I was adjusting my attitude—but the post really outlines survival tips to help us single moms keep our sanity and our families intact. Last weekend at one of my son’s soccer games, I was reminded of how easy it is—just after a few careless remarks and questions from an insensitive mom—to sink into self-doubt or pity or fear. The mother of another child, who has known me for four years, says loudly (after watching me run after my 3-year-old and not watch my 10-year-old play): “You clearly need your husband.”

I smiled and looked at her, with my huge, wiggly three-year-old in my arms, and saw a few moms and dads of the other players whom I didn’t know well, look up at me—and I took a deep breath. Here we go again, I thought.

Talking about the divorce with strangers is never a good idea. It not only sets you up to be the subject of gossip, but it also re-hashes old issues that may really not bother you anymore—even if it bothers others. This woman did not have my best interests at heart, but I felt I had to respond when she continued with her questions by asking why he didn’t come to the games.

“He lives in London and I’m divorced,” I say to her. (I figure it’s better to say I’m divorced than I’m still separated as I’ve been separated for more than 3 years with a lengthy, drawn-out divorce process.)

She begins tisking and sighing and I literally block her out  as she starts asking question after question very loudly and I can sense the other parents intently listening: “Does he see the boys?!” “How can you deal with this?” and “OMG, I’d just DIE!” I somehow pretend I see someone I know and walk back to the playground with my little guy. I swear I told this woman about the divorce 3 years ago at a playdate at her house when she inquired about my husband and where he was, etc. I think that she’s doing this on purpose—or that she’s incredibly dense—or just socially inept and insensitive in the very least—but I decide to shake it off. I don’t need a husband at the games. My boys are loved and they both know that I’d do anything for them. I’m juggling just fine and we ARE a complete family, I think as I clap loudly for my older son—whom I’m watching from a distance away from the chatty Cathy, gossipy mom.

I’ve learned a long time ago to block out the noise and the opinions of others and to focus solely on the health of my family: my boys. So with that in mind, I’ve decided to re-publish the majority of one of my first posts. It’s a great reminder to me, (and likely other single moms) as I prepare for many more soccer games with this woman and the others who may dig up the past for me with a barrage of questions and/or gossip—that I am strong. I am focussed. I am happy. Their self-projecting pity, gossip, or wonder over my situation is not my problem and I’m not obligated to talk about anything with them. Talking about the divorce doesn’t do me or my boys any good. I’m focussed on the future—and it’s already becoming a better one every day.

Single Mom Survival Tips:

1. Think of your divorce as a springboard for positive change.

Instead of thinking of myself as a victim, I have to think of myself as a champion for change. This is our opportunity to live a better life. I thank God every day that I have this chance to build a better life and a better self for my children.

2. Your family is complete if you are.
Another well-meaning friend came over for dinner one night. I made a roast chicken, roasted vegetables and a salad. As we sat at the table with my two boys she seemed really sad. Later after the kiddos were asleep (which was a miracle!), she admitted to me, “I feel so sad for your boys. The family just doesn’t seem complete” (meaning without their father.) I know she meant well, but I told her that it has almost always been just me and the boys or just me and William, my oldest, as my ex hardly ever made it home before dinner time. I still think it’s important to have dinner and sit around a table and chat. She apologized profusely, but I still had her thought in my head.  To clear it out, I remind myself that we are complete. I take an even more concerted effort to plan dinner. As we sit around the table and chat, giggle or make fun of the two-year-old who wears more food than he eats, I say a silent thanks for my complete family as I watch them eat healthy food. (See my Cooking section for more inspiration.)

3. Be thankful.
Every night for the past 9 years I have made William, my oldest, say a list of what he is thankful for. Because he’s ten, he says the nine things he’s thankful for. Jamesy says the three that he’s “tinkful” for. It’s a great way to remind us to focus on what’s good and what’s working in our lives. Since I’m a bit in denial of my increasing age … cough … just know that I now have a long list to come up with each evening of what I’m thankful for—and what a great way to end the evening!

4. Become a planner.

I’m trying hard on this one as it’s not my strong suit. Every weekend seems to spring upon me and I end up a bit lonely as I shuffle to find things for me and the boys to do. (Most of our married friends are enjoying family time and there are few playdates to be had for my little ones on the weekend, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t stay busy!) If I don’t plan something ahead of time, I end up a bit blue with bored kids on my hands. Now, I plan day-trips and museum outings and am reaching out to other single moms who may want to get together for dinner, brunch etc, in order to stay busy and survive the weekend! (Read this post of my two-day unconventional Thanksgiving escape with the boys: “Wide Open Spaces.”)

5. Continue with or make family rituals. 

Who says I have to have a husband to have family night with the kids? I love long dinners and board games. There, I said it. I am definitely not very hip. I love playing games of monopoly, charades, trivial pursuit, checkers, scrabble, etc. My oldest does too. Since I’ve been separated, I barely manage to do these things as the then baby, now three-year-old, usually grabs game pieces or makes it a bit tricky. I’ve decided to re-institute family game night slowly this time. It may be hard at first, but we’re going to try to do games the youngest can master too: big puzzles, for instance. We’ll see. It may end up as family movie night until Jamesy is at least four. But we’ll get there!

6. Stop talking about the divorce.

This is difficult, but I’ve learned the hard way over the past three years that it’s better not to talk about the impending divorce with anyone other than your therapist, trusted friend or sister who remains positive, or your support group. I find that when I do respond to well-intentioned questions from neighbors or friends, that I end up feeling badly when I might have been feeling great before I started talking with them. It’s weird isn’t it? Maybe it’s just that I start to see their pity. Or maybe they may say things like “He’s such a jerk!” or “How the Hell do you do it? If I were you I’d have slit my wrists by now. Your two-year-old is such a handful!” These are just two comments I’ve received from well-meaning friends over the past few months. Ok, they aren’t helping. So what I can do in response to a well-meaning question is just smile and say, “I’m really doing well. Do you mind if we talk about something else right now?” It’s a better way to go. It also limits your exposure to being the focus of gossip. Even on my bad days when I’m actually not doing well. Fake it till you make it, isn’t such a bad way to go sometimes!

7. Limit Drinking.

I’ve never really drank much. But I find that when I do have a glass of vino with friends on the rare occasions that I go out now, I start to feel worse, rather than better.   And, I still have to get up at 6:30 a.m. every morning. Enough said.

8. Work out!

Think of this time in your life as parenting boot camp. I take out all of my frustrations with the impending divorce and parenting solo during yoga class or on a bike ride. I’m lucky enough to live near the beach, so I run, walk or bike every day during the week. It’s the best way to clear my head and get the endorphins soaring!

9. Learn to Meditate.

I’m new at this, but over the past year, meditating has helped me tremendously. Even if you can just focus on your breath for 5 minutes, do it. My good friend and wonderful therapist Lisa Nastasi, Ph.D., outlines a great mindfulness meditation technique in her guest post: “The Power of NOT Holding It All )together).” 

Did any of these tips help you? What ideas do you have? Please chime in!

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A Mother’s Legacy: Music and Memories

A rare event: mom playing piano for an audience in 1999.

My mother escaped in her music. I imagine that it held magical qualities for her. It lifted her up out of her life. It gave her a voice when she didn’t allow herself to speak. It gave her eloquence. And it was private. She played at home, preferably alone.

If you’ve ever seen someone play piano by ear, you might have an idea of what I am describing. It’s amazing to hear and watch a person completely transformed while they play. But again, with mom, it was immensely personal and I always knew it was how she communicated best, or worked out her feelings. My mother rarely said she loved you without crying, for instance, so it wasn’t an every-day thing to hear. As her child, you knew she loved you, but she just couldn’t speak it easily. She also rarely talked about intensely personal things. She did so through her songs—most from the Big Band Era. Not only could she play by ear, but she would get into a trance-like state and would free-associate by playing one song with a meaning that led perfectly into another that carried that meaning a bit further until she seemed to come to closure or have had a complete conversation. I so wish I had recorded some of her “sessions.”

When she was going through her divorce and I had taken a bit of time off college to stay with her, I felt privileged to listen to her play. Some evenings after work I would tiptoe into the house if I heard the piano so she wouldn’t stop. She might play for 30 minutes and had no idea I was there. She played dramatically with an emotion that you’d never see her display anywhere else. I could even hear her nails clicking the keys she was moving so fast. I’d sit in my old room upstairs and listen as she played old musicals that might lead into a Tommy Dorsey tune and then surprisingly to a pop melody of Lionel Richie‘s, as long as they held a key element of a similar message. Anything she heard on the radio, she could play perfectly, as she only needed to hold the melody in her head to translate it to the keys. She didn’t like to “perform” and rarely played for others. I was therefore, really shocked when she played piano at my wedding. Every song had “baby” in the title (as I’m the youngest of her four children). I don’t recall all of them, but “Yes, Sir, That’s My Baby” and “Take Good Care of My Baby” and Dorsey’s “You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby” were some of them. I don’t think anyone, outside of family, knew how emotional it was for her to play these songs in front of a crowd and the photographer caught her shy feelings of love perfectly. I was touched beyond words.

As Alzheimer’s grips your loved one, you sit by helplessly as they slip away. When living in London, I flew back each summer between 2005 and 2008 for a few weeks or longer each visit. I’d notice that she had a harder time with the piano by 2007, but would continue to play. Although sometimes, she’d have a harder time with verbal conversation and would still play perfectly. Alzheimer’s is funny that way. By the time I was really going through the ringer with my husband, my mom was in the moderately severe stages. She got easily upset and I hid the fact that I was going through Hell from her. Even though she might not remember specifics the next day, I knew she was a sponge and would absorb my sadness and would worry about me every time my name was mentioned. Somehow that worry would carry over. She might not know why she was worried, or couldn’t remember my soon-to-be ex-husband‘s name, but I only wanted to bring her happiness when I visited. I swore my siblings to go along with me and not talk about my separation with her. Well, in July 2010, I was far from happy. It was incredibly hard to visit and pretend everything was ok. I had my then one and a half year old with me, who was sick a lot and had a hard time sleeping. I was barely 100 lbs from grief. My soon-to-be ex had left me for another woman in September of 2009, less than a year after we had moved back to the States when I was pregnant. He was back and forth with his emotions and his behavior was erratic when he was back from Europe. But at this point, I’d been a single mom for almost a year. I had just dropped the older son with relatives in Tennessee for a camp before coming home. I don’t want to use this blog to post sorted details, but suffice it to say, I’d been through a year with broken promises and many attempts to reconcile, and I was now trying my hardest not to show any of this mess to my fading mother. Southerners can be excellent actresses—and I’m the queen of being able to ‘fake it till you make it’ for the most part—but this was going to take an amazing feat. I pulled it off, remarkably, for most of the week spent on walks with the dog or visits with the neighbors or in her garden. One evening, however, Jamesy just would NOT sleep. He cried most of the night and I was at breaking point. My mom came down the stairs at 3 a.m. to the room where we were. She was having a remarkably lucid moment. The kind of moment that loved ones pray for. For a year I knew I had angels helping me survive and I guess one came on this trip too. As mentioned, I didn’t tell mom anything about what was going on in my personal life. She adored my ex and I didn’t want to give her one more heartbreak. But she saw I had been crying and she calmly took Jamesy’s hand. They walked into the living room and she played this song. It’s not the best performance of hers, but out of her entire repertoire, she chose: “On the Sunny Side of the Street.”  (For those of you who aren’t well-versed in 1930’s Broadway tunes, it was also performed by Judy Garland, Benny Goodman (one of Mom’s favorites) and Louis Armstrong.

I’m convinced that she was trying to help me with Jamesy and send me a message of comfort at the same time. Somehow, she was able to break free from the entangled plaques crippling her mind and play once again. It was a miracle that I caught it on tape as I never seem to have the camera at the right time. I’m so thankful for this moment as I haven’t seen her this lucid again. Happy Mother’s Day, Annie. And yes, I’m finally finding my way to the sunny side of the street. I wish you were here with me, but I know that you are, somehow, in spirit.

Laguna Magic

Blissful Laura.

There is nothing like a quick get-a-way with a girlfriend to refresh your soul. And what better place on Earth than Laguna Niguel? Seriously, how lucky am I to be barely an hours drive away from such insane beauty. I’m realizing that it’s critical to take time away from the kids with an old friend—even if just for an afternoon, like we did. My girlfriend from London is in town and I wanted to immerse her in the Laguna magic that is reminiscent of Nice or another Mediterranean seaport towns. Its dramatic cliffs and coves and ever-changing winds, weather and moods, can lift anyone’s spirits. Since she is an artist, I knew she’d love the views and colors by Dana Point.

View of Dana Point

So we drove through town and went to The Ritz where the best views can be had. It’s quite nice to be able to enjoy the view from the patio, and chat over a cup of coffee. I’m not sure if many people realize that even if you can’t afford to stay at The Ritz, you can pay for parking and have lunch, or a drink at one of the hotel’s outside lounges or cafes and soak in the outstanding views.

Life has been incredibly stressful lately, and not being able to exercise has been taking its toll. (I tore a ligament three weeks ago.) But as the clouds finally began to shift, I took off my boot/cast, sat back and watched the sun peak out from under the moody fog and literally felt lightness seep into my being.

Sometimes all you really need in life is a different perspective and a change in venue.

Of course, a bit of drama and a good friend makes it all that much better.

And why is it so magical to breathe in a mix of salty sea air and fragrant tropical flowers?

Putting physical distance between you and your regular routine, helps you see through the entanglements.

As I drove back in the heavy traffic at 4 p.m. I was content, stress-free and couldn’t wait to see my boys and get back to my role as mommy. (But wasn’t it delightful to just be a girlfriend having girl-talk for one lovely afternoon!)

A Mother’s Legacy: Beauty and Brains

Photo By: THE Herb Ritts (Exhibit currently @ The Getty)

The photo is stunning. Its elegance, drama, lines, curves, shadows are absolutely breathtaking. A good friend is visiting from London this week and I took her, with my boys, to The Getty museum yesterday. Kate has always adored old Hollywood glamour, and since this is her first trip to America, what better way to get an infusion of that glamour than at the Herb Ritts’ exhibition at The Getty—which has the best views of Los Angeles as well. We took turns in the delicious exhibition that featured many celebrities and sculptured bodies against dramatic backdrops. Kate played with the boys in the kiddie room and allowed me the time to wander, meander and soak all the beauty in. What I noticed, (besides the intensely chiseled men) is that the women Ritts tended to photograph had a raw and natural beauty. Not much makeup. Large eyes. Voluptuous lips. Intense presence that smacked of intelligence or wisdom beyond their years. As I walked around the exhibit, I began to think about what my next blog post within A Mother’s Legacy should be. I’ve been a bit distracted with my friend in town and have gotten a bit behind, my apologies.

As I was looking at a photograph of an anonymous woman with gob-stocker -sized eyes, plump lips and strength in her features, it hit me. My post will be of my mother’s raw beauty. Mom never thought of herself as beautiful. She didn’t shop much. She didn’t exercise beyond walking and gardening, but was skinny as a rail for most of her life. In her photographs from college, which I found and saved after helping to settle her estate, you can see her timeless beauty.

MaryAnn Roe

Growing up, I rarely saw my mother, who was a child-protective services social worker, put on make up. She had her signature lipstick, but beyond that, she was a bit helpless in the makeup department. As you can see in her graduation picture, she had a natural beauty. What I love even more, is that she also had incredible smarts. She was accepted into both Brown University and Duke University and decided upon Duke, where she met my father and lived her entire adult life. I don’t think my mother ever made less than an A in her entire educational career. She could have done just about anything (or nothing, as she didn’t have to work) but  was driven to help the down-trodden and less fortunate. In the early 50s, when most women were concentrating on finding Mr. Right, mom seemed to concentrate on finding Mr. Right AND helping women to achieve their dreams and equality. I love the photo taken in college as it shows a bit of her chutzpah. She is gorgeous, even with a man’s haircut, and has a rebellious cigarette in her hand. I can see her drive that likely inspired her to later help found Women In Action, and volunteer relentlessly, even with most Democratic elections. She dedicated herself passionately to her job as a social worker, requiring her to often visit others in slums and sometimes put herself in dangerous situations.

She had a way about her, through the life that she led, that taught her three daughters that they could do anything they set their minds to. She didn’t preach to us and rarely said a negative word about anyone. She showed that beauty, grace and intelligence are not mutually exclusive. I will never understand how someone who woke every morning at 4 a.m. to read the newspaper back to back and do the Times crossword puzzle, could have her brain so horrifically attacked by Alzheimer’s at such a young age. Life isn’t fair. My sincere hope, by writing these blog posts, is that the women and men who take care of my sweet mother will read my words, see the pictures, and treat her with dignity. Because the person who is ravaged by Alzheimer’s does not represent the beautiful soul still somewhere within. The hardest thing about leaving your mother in the care of other people who are not family and who have never known her in her prime, is that you have to take a leap of faith that they will care for her in a gentle manner with patience and respect. It’s hard to know. She can’t talk to me. But hopefully they’ll get a sense of her kindness. I know from the director of the facility that mom is still trying to help others, even in her condition. It’s just a part of who she is. I think we are born with innate gifts and hers (besides playing piano by ear, which I will write about later) is definitely a sincere kindness and need to help others. And that is a rare beauty that isn’t found often in my world of LaLa land—or anywhere else  for that matter.

Single Mom’s Budget Travel Tips

Photo by: Sam Squansh

Summer is around the corner. As a single parent, instead of getting giddy about your well-deserved time off, or some family fun, you may likely be getting depressed. Are you looking at your check book and thinking there’s NO WAY you can afford a vacation? If you are newly separated or divorced, you may feel like you will never travel again. I mean, it’s hard enough to even drive to see the grandparents with kiddos of a certain age, right? Even if you could afford a European or Hawaiian vacation, would you want to fly alone with the little ones? (I’ve done this many times,  as I used to live in Europe and my Ex still does, so I transport the kiddos to him. I’ve learned many tricks to entertain and distract the one, two, and three-year-old minds on transAtlantic flights. Even so, it’s extremely taxing. For tips on how to survive flights with your children read my article Survival Tips for European Travel with Children .)

But, back to reality…How can you afford a holiday with the little ones this year? If you’re creative, flexible, open-minded and resourceful, you’ll be amazed at the many ways to subsidize travel expenses. I’m going to share a few of my favorites. There’s NO reason why you can’t figure out a way to get away—even if for a weekend. If your Ex has the kiddos for a week or two over the summer, that might be the perfect chance to escape solo. If you are traveling with them, however, there are ways to lower costs, make new friends, and find affordable babysitting or camps so you can rest. I hope these ideas inspire you and if you have more, PLEASE chime in!

Top Travel Tips for the Single Mom: 

Try a House Swap: My favorite site is Sabbatical Homes. This site was founded by Nadege Conger when she realized that there was a need, predominately in the academic community. Her husband, who is a professor, travels a bit for work. Like many of his colleagues, he can take sabbaticals or visiting professor gigs at other universities. From this idea—to cater to academia—her site has grown to a larger audience. It is still much smaller than the main home exchange sites and feels more manageable—as it’s easy to identify and conduct background checks on the people who respond to your ads. If you’re thinking, “who would want to swap houses with me since I don’t live in California or Florida?” this site is for you. Academics often want to get away to work on a proposal or book—or need to teach at another university—expanding the typical search requests and making your house more viable. Since Nadege is French and travels a lot, there is large audience on this site from Europe. After posting my house, I had requests for house swaps in Italy, France, Spain and Hawaii. You can also rent your house via this site. If you are interested in an adventure and are flexible about where you go, this could be a great option. Plus, house swaps provide a great way to really enjoy your holiday with a local’s perspective. I’ve house swapped via craigslist (before learning of this site) and had amazing trips to Paris, Venice and London. (Which I will write about later, since they were all amazing holidays with local flare.)
Another great site to rent homes for your next vacation, or perhaps to list your own is: Vacation Homes and Villas.

Take a short cruise:
Lisa Van Riette, a single mom of three from Orange County, Calif., took a three night/four day excursion with Carnival Cruise Line this year for just under $1,000. Yup, you read that right. This included meals and kids camps and activities for her kids, ages 7, 11 and 13. “They had so much fun together! There were so many activities, like a build-a-bear (camp), a scavenger hunt for my 13-year-old and an all-you-can-eat (ice-cream) sunday party. I had time off and then we’d all get together for dinner. And, the food was good! You can’t beat it!” says Lisa.  This mom has taken many cruises with Carnival, but experts also rank Disney Cruise Line high for families as it has nursery staff for infants.

Explore Single Parent Holidays:
Organizations like Single Parent Travel offer group-discounted vacations for single parents and their children. A current package includes a a five day/four night Harry Potter excursion at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando. Other trips include Telluride and the beaches off the Turkish coast. I can’t say the vacations are extremely cheap (Harry Potter costs between $850 and $1,300 for rooms alone), but they offer a group discount on rooms and a built-in community of other families with children, so your kiddos will make friends and play, while you can enjoy adult conversations with other single parents. It’s a brilliant idea.

Find Travel Deals:  
There are plenty of agencies out there to sign up with, but my favorite is Sherman’s Travel Deals . Highlighted on his site right now is a great article entitled Fifteen Summer Trips on Half a Tank outlining great weekend get-a-ways. Sign up and you’ll receive his weekly email of travel tips and the latest deals. For instance, BookIt.com has a hot deal for discounts on summer vacations, ending May 1st.

Rack Up Miles.
If you have credit card debt and a decent credit rating, transfer your account to  a credit card that is offering you airline miles. For instance, some credit cards will give you 25,000 miles for opening an account and then offers miles for each dollar you spend or transfer over. To compare credit cards offering miles, go here.

Single Mom’s Wanderlust: A State of Mind

As many of you may know, I used to live in London and traveled quite a bit. I moved back to California in the summer of 2008, when 7 months pregnant. Southern California is a great place to be when you’re sleep deprived and in need of sunshine and fresh air. But lately, I find myself starting to get that twitchy foot. The itch that, in the past, would make want to purchase a last minute rail ticket for a weekend excursion to somewhere in Europe. Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t miss my old life at all. I really do believe that I was supposed to go through this mess: this divorce, this single motherhood thing and that it’s all part of a plan. It’s forcing me to grow and realize my inner strength and  I have embraced that better things are yet to come. BUT, that doesn’t mean that I don’t sometimes need to GET AWAY.

Now that I’m regularly sleeping through the night, (isn’t it marvelous when your child finally lets you??) I’m feeling the urge to hit the open road. I crave getting into my car and driving for long periods at a time with no real destination. I recall reading Ann Tyler’s book Ladder of Years where the main character, a 40-year-old mom, took a walk and just kept walking until she moved to another town altogether. I loved it. (Although I adore all of Ann Tyler’s books.)

Don’t worry, ya’ll. I’m not about to do that. But I realize that I need vistas. I need to explore. It’s always been a part of my DNA. My Ex hated that I rarely planned or structured our trips beyond arranging a house swap or renting a flat or house somewhere. I liked to meander and discover things—to sit at cafes and people watch or talk with a chatty local and get the low-down on where to go that evening. I miss spontaneity. In college, I’d take off and drive from Georgia to Maine with no set stopping places in between. I’d stop where it felt good to do so. I naturally gravitated to journalism as I liked the constant change of scenery or new voices. As a child, I wandered in the woods and horse trails. I love discovering by happenstance. With that said, I’m literally and financially too grounded to take off as a single mom of two kiddos.

But I’m realizing that I can still get a little bit of that flight feeling by opening my eyes wider and exploring closer to home. By being present and taking in my surroundings or taking short excursions with the boys, we can explore. So, I’m rarely without my camera these days. I’m far from a photographer, (and none of my pictures were taken with special lenses or have been touched up in some way) but I find that shooting pictures of the beauty that surrounds me in Southern California reminds me there are things to discover in my own backyard. It helps ease that yearning for an excursion I can’t have right now.

There will be days ahead for faraway travel. But for now, I’m going to keep drinking in my sun-kissed part of the world. When I take pictures and look at them later, I’ll remember to thank God for second chances at a new life. I am grateful to stay put at the moment. I am grateful to have the time to create and discover what beauty surrounds and lies within.

Grab Your Zen

SO … I’m just going to start off this post saying that I haven’t always believed that you could just choose to be happy. I mean, when you’re dealt some crappy cards, maybe you can muster a poker face and “fake it till you make it”, but really, how can you just choose to be happy? Well, it might start with baby steps that involve taking care of ourselves. If you’re a single mom who doesn’t get much relief or family help, like I am, it can seem especially hard to do. But really, it can begin with one commitment. Even if you have to force fitting it into your day, do it. You’ll be on your way to seizing your happiness. Here’s what it looks like with me on an especially chaotic day, such as today. (And I’m sure many of you single moms know exactly what kind of day this is.)

6:10 a.m. Three-year-old wakes me up by hitting the cat when crawling in bed, then crying because “I don’t want the sun to come up!” To this I reply, “Ok, so go back to sleep. Pleeeassee.”  “NO!!”

6:20 a.m. – 7:45 a.m. Re-edit and then re-print oldest son’s biggest report of the year, while keeping boys from killing one another as they fight over who gets to pull paper out of the printer. Breakfast, feed cat, feed fish, etc.

7:50 a.m. – 8:15 a.m. Yell at boys to get dressed, brush teeth, change a huge poopy diaper (Is there a potty-training fairy out there??), rush to the car. At school, realize oldest son has report, but doesn’t have violin for practice.

8:15 a.m. – 8:30 a.m. Try to calm down 3-year-old who is now screaming because big brother didn’t kiss him goodbye. Race in to get violin. Get back to car (oh, still wearing jammy top with stretch pants) and smell more poop. Get baby out of car seat, change diaper, yet again, put him back in. More screaming over not being able to buckle the seat, then go to school to deliver violin. Then realize that I owe someone an edit of a big proposal, so we rush back home.

8:30 a.m. – 9:15 a.m. Edit proposal with bullets for changes, send emails to editors, cancel appointment with accountant, wash face, freshen up. As I start to go to the car, remember the f***ing valentines! Go back up with the youngest to put together 15 Buzz Lightyear valentines for his party.

9:30 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. Mommy and Me class with youngest. Dance, sing, make valentines crafts, give away valentines … and almost go postal on a special needs child from a different class who hits my son over and over again on the playground. Not one teacher intervened, so after he tried to bang my son’s head into a play structure, I lean in and say, “NO. You don’t hit. You’ve lost your playtime” and walk my son over to the other side of the playground. As I play with Jamesy, I see this kid hit at least 5 more kids and no one stopped him. I’m starting to wonder about their discipline strategies. Go back in for circle time, listen to some younger moms babble about botox and leave early….For me.

11:30 a.m. – 12 p.m. I race to take Jamesy to daycare and run like mad to make a community yoga class. While I’m racing to get there, I actually feel a twinge of guilt for taking the time out. But the minute I put my mat down and see my smiling instructor, I instantly know I’ve done the right thing. (Insert wind chime, Hindi music here.) The topic for the class: Choosing Happiness. How marvelous. We smiled through the difficult poses and it seemed a metaphor for my life. Instead of ruminating about a proposal from an attorney, or the surmounting work with demands from the kiddos and my own deadlines, or the fact I haven’t slept-in or had a break in a loong time … I took a time out. For one hour, I sweat, I breathed deeply and tried to hold insane poses. During meditation I focussed on lightness, happiness, and letting anger, stress, anxiety, jealousy and other ego-centric issues holding me down, lift up in a balloon and sail away. Leaving that class I was at peace and ready to race on with the rest of my madness:

1:30 p.m. Pick up oldest from school. Race to the high school for his honors strings performance rehearsal that I’m helping to coordinate.

2 p.m. – 4 p.m. – Assist the strings teacher with all the children, which included kids from five elementary schools, one middle school and the high school. The music is overwhelming. (I’m so proud of my son for making this honor’s orchestra. I found myself in tears at the back of the performance hall—overwhelmed with pride and gratitude.)

4 p.m. – Race with son to find white shoes for his orchestra performance uniform. (It’s harder than you’d think!) Buy more Sudafed for the nagging allergies.

5 p.m. – 8 p.m. Pick up youngest from school. Race home to start dinner and oversee math homework with oldest, while trying to keep youngest entertained. (Oi! Math is getting harder.) Struggle to get meatballs finished before both boys nosh their appetite away. Take picture of 3-year-old eating a huge meatball and send it to my godsend of a friend. Email a Syrian friend and former London classmate of my oldest son’s to see how his family is doing. (Long discussion ensues about Syria, The Middle East, democracy, etc. with oldest son.)

8 p.m. – 9 p.m. Bath, (resulting in water fight soaking all towels and bathroom floor with youngest peeing on oldest…I know…) books, teeth brushed, thankful lists said, and more water, before bed. (Why do kids have to have more water just after they get under their covers??)

9 p.m. – 10 p.m. Gently try to get youngest to fall asleep. (STILL having sleep issues.)

10:15 p.m. – 11:30 p.m. Clean up kitchen, do two loads of laundry, send an editor two pitches as promised, wash face … and … write this.

Why, you might ask, am I venturing to write this when I’m obviously sleep-deprived?? Because it’s a reminder to me (and perhaps to some of you too) that even when you are overwhelmed with responsibilities—take a moment for yourself. Doing so allows you to continue with this lovely chaos that remarkably means the world to your children. It’s essential for our health and mental sanity. It helps us be better parents.

And, over time, it might just help you to believe that you can, in fact, choose happiness. What do you think? Is happiness a choice? Maybe it is something you have to seize. Perhaps happiness is something that us single moms have to realize involves putting ourselves on the mounting To-Do list. We deserve a moment to take care of ourselves because our work is never, really done. I challenge all of you single parents out there to force yourself to take one hour a day, three days a week, for some exercise such as yoga. Get back to me and let me know how it goes. And, for those on a tight budget, check out community classes at your local studio as they’re much cheaper and usually for beginners.

Nameste, y’all.

Do Hand-offs Ever Get Easier?

Does it ever get easier to say goodbye to your children? As a single mom who hasn’t had a week off from both her cherubs in over a year, I should have danced a little jig tonight. Instead, I found myself gutted so deeply that words can hardly convey how I felt. Do any of you get this too? If so, HOW do you deal with it??

I’ve been raising these two boys solo for two and a half years. If you follow my blog, you know that my ex lives in London, and we live in Los Angeles. He does visit, but typically flies in and will have them for an overnite or two at a local hotel. And usually during that time I’ll have heard from them, or met them on the soccer field, with a weird feeling of relief. Thanksgiving 2010 and 2009 I flew both boys solo to London—which is nuts!! I was so exhausted from flying there by myself and returning solo with all the bags, stroller, gear, etc. that any time off I had in Europe was hardly enjoyable. I should be thrilled that my ex flew into Los Angeles and is flying them both to Tennessee to see his family this season. All I had to do was pack the bags, buy warm, winter clothes for them, and drive them to his hotel by the airport. That is so much easier than flying solo and doing a hand-off after hours of screaming on an airplane with a sore back to boot!

So why was tonight just as hard as last year?!

I know I need the break. Any sane person would need time off. I haven’t had a good night’s sleep in months. My house is a wreck. I am in desperate need for yoga classes and meditation. I need to spend some quality time with the man in my life. I’m looking forward to all of that! But somehow, I found myself filled with the deepest form of melancholy tonight.

My sweet 10-year-old started to cry as I said goodbye. He turned his head away from me and choked up. Somehow I became brave enough to fight my tears, hug him, and say how much fun he was going to have and how excited all the family in Tennessee is to see him. (I so desperately don’t want to become the pathetic parent whose children constantly worry about when they are away. I want them to have fun and to see that mom is okay and that mom takes care of herself and loves them.) So, I held it together until they walked into the hotel.

I sat in my car for a few minutes in front of the airport hotel. My ex and my older son had already walked out of my sight and I sat there frozen watching my little three-year-old. He was wearing the candy-cane, red and white sweater I bought him, and was struggling with a red carry-on suit case in the hotel lobby. Both his dad and older brother had walked ahead and he fumbled and dropped the case and fumbled again and started to cry. He was still close to the automatic lobby doors of the hotel and I almost ran in to pick up the suitcase and help him steady himself, but something told me to stay put. I just sat mesmerized by the scene, praying that the suitcase would right itself and that he could run ahead and catch up with the others. He finally got the case up and began running (likely screaming too) ahead.

I sighed with relief and then the tears started to flow. Watching him with the suitcase seemed like a metaphor for the dynamic of the relationship between the three of them. My older son and his dad are much closer since they once lived together. So he misses his dad and begins to talk like a chatter-box-cottage (his former nickname at his school in London) with his father the minute he sees him. The two get caught up and little Jamesy has to fight to catch up and butt in. Then, of course, like all two- and three-year-olds will do, he makes sure that they all hear him and my older son gets frustrated with his little brother’s antics as he can no longer get a word in. My baby really doesn’t know his dad very well at all, as he’s been with me almost all the time since he was eight months old and before that his dad was gone two weeks a month anyway. I’m proud that he doesn’t shy away and fights to be heard and seems to hold not one grudge. He is love incarnate and it’s really a gift for my ex right now. Who knows what the future of their relationship will hold?

They’ll have to figure out their own way when they are together. I’m no longer a part of their relationship and I can no longer play referee or try to help. They have their own dynamic, separate from me. And the woman my husband left me for is still in the picture. She’ll be with them this trip and who knows how she’ll behave or how they’ll get along. But again, it’s about letting go of what I can’t control, right?

I guess the emotions trickled up and surprised me tonight as we are so close to finally getting our divorce. Finality always brings back memories and past dreams doesn’t it? I don’t want to go back, and I know my life will be richer and I am stronger because of all this too. But emotions have a way of bubbling up when you least expect them. And for a 100-lb-woman, I have an insane momma-bear mentality. I will do ANYTHING to protect my cubs. So watching them walk away without me, well, lets just say it is one of the hardest things I’ll ever do. I just can’t fathom why anyone would ever want to walk away from them.

Earlier tonight I had packed up most of my son’s infant clothes for my ex to give to his sister, who is expecting in February. I’m still close to her and wanted to pass along the clothes as she, like me, didn’t think she’d have a second baby. She also has a 10-year-old and gave away all of her infant items as I had done. As I was packing up the newborn onesies, sleepers, hats, blankets and tiny socks…I began to feel a pit of sadness open up. Sometimes it feels like I’ve been on my own for a century, and then I see these items and realize that just three and a half years ago I was filled with hope and determination to make sure this miracle baby came into the world safely. I threw up almost every day of my pregnancy with Jamesy when in London and then got chicken pox the week we moved back to the States. I needed a specialist and was put on strict bedrest for two months. While I was on meds to stop the contractions, I just focussed on a happy transition for us all and having a healthy baby. I was filled with hope—but isn’t that how all expecting moms are? And after he was born, with oxytocin pulsing through my veins as I breastfed, I was just filled with love for this beautiful creature. Oxytocin is an amazing hormone that can trigger labor, block pain when a woman goes into labor suddenly (I wrote about this in FitPregnancy), help you bond with your baby and stay positive when you need to most. I researched this fascinating hormone when writing the weekly pregnancy calendar for DivineCaroline where I was the parenting editor. And this remarkable hormone is also released when you orgasm or even just touch, heightening you’re ‘I’m in Love’ feeling. (Read this article.) So you can see, I was in love with family and my new baby while my husband was filled with dread and longing for his former life in London, working at a hip company with young folks, and traveling nonstop.

Well, I don’t know how I didn’t see it coming. I chock it up to breast-feeding and complete denial. But, hey, I’m the lucky one. I can honestly say I’m no longer bitter. And you know what? Somehow,  remarkably, I’m still filled with hope.

Isn’t that amazing?

Happy New Year lovely friends! x