Tag Archives: Sunday

Finding Strength, Keeping Kindness

BagnoVignonitoes

Photo by: Laura Roe Stevens

I’ve come to realize that I’m learning so many lessons during this painful four year journey as a single mom navigating divorce. I know so many of you can relate to what I’m going through, sadly. While I don’t want to talk about the particulars of my roller-coaster ride,  (which is a long story) I can tell you ,that even when I’m incredibly down, something inside me has started to shift. Maybe it’s the wonderful life/spiritual coach I had last year. Maybe it’s my yoga. Maybe it’s the meditation. Likely, it’s all three. But I’m *finally* realizing that I have needs and they need to be recognized and respected in order for me to ever garner any respect from anyone else. While I’ve said this before, it’s slowly starting to sink in that always putting someone else’s needs first, while swallowing my own—or trying to smooth things over after someone hurts me, instead of speaking my mind—doesn’t work.

Last year, my spiritual coach advised me to read Robin Norwood’s book Women Who Love Too Much. She feared that I would not learn the lessons of co-dependency that had been instilled in me since childhood. And she’s right. In graduate school, I saw a therapist who treated adult children of alcoholics and I became quite aware of how watching a co-dependent parent always cater to an alcoholic, trained me to put my needs last. When I watched a co-dependent parent always forgive after being repeatedly hurt, I learned that being treated badly is normal and to forgive divine. I ‘got’ the pattern with this therapist. I saw that when I was neglected and ignored by my alcoholic parent, it showed me to always watch for his moods, his needs, and to stay quiet and to rarely voice my own. I didn’t feel important enough. And when you don’t feel special, it’s hard to fight be treated with respect and as an equal. Deep down, I didn’t feel that I deserved it. (I mean, who else would tell their husband to take a new job that paid less and required him to work 2 weeks/month abroad while I’m at home, after an international move, with a 5 month old colicky baby and a sad 7-year-old. Seriously, it’s nuts.)

Putting husband, friends, children, work, first is something I was taught, like many women. But the underlying message screams: ‘I’m not worthy.’ It’s something that I never admitted consciously, but subconsciously, it was there. Depak Chopra calls it ‘conditioning’ based on how we are treated in childhood and by significant others. Norwood explains that we are not what these messages tells us, but we can’t feel any other way unless we recognize it and work toward ‘reconditioning,’ through yoga, meditation, saying positive attributes, therapy, etc. So, basically, it takes time.

After therapy in graduate school, I swore I would never put myself in that situation and I went years without dating. I had the two month litmus test, even back in undergraduate school, which meant, I broke up with someone after two months. The reality is that I was scared I’d give too much and give up on my writing dreams and myself. And I had good reason to be scared. I fall back on what feels comfortable, what feels like home. But that’s not a safe place for someone like me.

So, the lessons continue.

This past weekend was a low point as I was terribly lonely and exhausted after working at an insane pace (which I am actually grateful for!) and juggling the needs of my attorney with a settlement we’re trying to wrap up, and my sick four-year-old who was often at home instead of school.

I needed some R&R. My boyfriend had a needy friend and father to contend with and their own agenda. So, at one point, I let my older son play with a friend, walked my little guy to the beach in the stroller. He was so tired he fell asleep and I just laid in the sand. I listened to the volleyball players and the laughter and I tried to shut out all the negative messages that started back up regarding the divorce and focus on my breath. And I prayed. I prayed for strength and kindness. As simple as that. I prayed to be strong enough to stand up for what I need and believe in, while also being kind. It is possible to be both, don’t you think? I can voice my needs and be firm in situations that involve my children , yet remain true to myself. I can focus on what is healthy and positive while walking away from what is toxic, in a kind, loving way.

So, even though I didn’t have a sitter for the weekend, I kept my thoughts at this level. I dragged my boys to yoga on Sunday morning and left them in the lobby with yummy snacks and video games. I worked out and prayed for strength and kindness with one of my favorite teachers and let my boys see the healthy vibe of the yoga environment. There has to be a way to get through all of this madness with healthy boys, and a sense of self-respect.

I may never be able to stay still and calm in the midst of a storm, like Buddhist teachers try to do (See my post Zenful Reminder at Bedtime), but I can anticipate the storm and watch myself carefully. See, there is a storm approaching for me personally and its likely to come to a head at the end of the month. My goal is to stay strong and not lose my cool. As a very wise friend told me yesterday: “You can be self aware and not selfish. You have to respect yourself if you want respect.”

Baby steps.

Zenful Reminder at Bedtime

zenfulpanda

Photo by: Ivan Ellis

Tonight my four-year-old picked out Zen Shorts by Jon J Muth for me to read at bedtime.  He has never picked out this book before. All the times that I’ve suggested it, he’d say no and hand me a truck, car, or train book. One night I tried to read it anyway, and he couldn’t follow the story and started flipping through the pages of a favorite garbage truck book. Tonight, he seemed to be channeling Stillwater, the book’s main character—a giant Panda who tells Buddhist short stories to his new young neighbors: Addy, Michael and Karl.

As I read the stories Stillwater tells the children, based on centuries old Zen Buddhist literature, it became very clear that I needed to pay attention to these stories.

In the past 11 to 12 days, I’ve been out of my element. I’ve been very distracted and not able to do regular meditation or exercise. The kids were out of school for ‘ski week’ last week and I had work to do for a new client, as well as the boy’s grandmother in town. We had fun and it was so lovely of her to come in to help, as her son had to cancel his week with the boys. It really was a gift to have an old friend back and I’m very grateful. I was able to  go out of town for two days,  and then the two of us took the boys to Vegas, which was a bit nutty, but I’d never been. All in all, it was fun, but then of course, the typical happens—which is that my youngest gets sick again on Saturday night and up all night Sunday. So, my Monday was a mad dash to get a sitter, juggle an important early morning meeting and get all the documentation together for kindergarten application. I just haven’t been present. In my mind, I’m juggling a million things—which really isn’t that unusual. But having thoughts drift to even more things—such as past events, people, places, things people have done to hurt me, pressure to move or change careers, etc.—doesn’t help.  I let my mind wander, scatter, jiggle and otherwise dive in and out of this sort of fear-based, or guilt-based, nonsense for at least the last two days. During this time, I also wasn’t able to do regular yoga or meditation—and it showed with my tired, defeated mindset.

Stillwater, Jon J Muth’s panda, gets his name from the Buddhist’s method of meditation—which is to sit very still, while remaining completely alert. Quoting the Zen Short’s author: “When you look into a pool of water, if the water is still, you can see the moon reflected. If the water is agitated, the moon is fragmented and scattered. It is harder to see the true moon. Our minds are like that. When our minds are agitated, we cannot see the true world.”

As I read these Zen Shorts, it became clear that I’ve got work to do. Being able to stay still and calm in any storm is a Buddhist’s goal—and likely only obtainable by Tibetan monks! Still, when I let my mind race, get scattered or fearful, it’s easy to jump to conclusions or react—when I might not have done so if I had been taking better care of myself and had a calm mind.  As I read each parable to my son, who was commenting on each one and somehow listening intently, I realized: ‘wow, if he learns this now, just think what sort of man he’ll become!’

For instance, the story of “A Heavy Load” is one that I need to keep close at heart. It’s about letting go. And to truly let go, we have to do it in our hearts and minds too. The parable is about two monks who run across a wealthy woman who is being carried across the mud. The men carrying her and her packages, can’t manage to lift her across without soiling her silk gowns. A young monk notices how she yells and snaps at the servants and does nothing to help. The old monk, goes over and carries her on his back across the mud and sets her down. She pushes him aside, doesn’t say thank you and walks away. Two hours later, as the two monks travel, the younger can’t help himself and complains about how awful the woman was and how she didn’t even say thank you. The older replies, “I set the woman down hours ago. Why are you still carrying her?”

Can you think of a time when you’ve held a grudge? Do you go over and over events in your mind making it impossible for you to be present? It’s easy to do, yet changes nothing. It’s really difficult to forgive those who have hurt us. It’s especially frustrating to see injustice done or cruelty. But sometimes, we just have to let it go. The person who is cruel or selfish will ultimately have to look in the mirror someday, or not. It’s out of our control. Karma may or may not exist. That’s life. But giving power to those who hurt us by thinking about what they’ve done over and over again, robs us of our precious moments in the here and now.

And you know what? Not all things that seem bad, end up that way. Like the  parable “The Farmer’s Luck” teaches us about bad luck resulting in good luck—sometimes the worst things that happen to us, are exactly what we need to grow and make space for even better things to come. That doesn’t make them easy to move through at the time, and I really get that. But what I’m really noticing with me, is that when I don’t write, breathe deeply, meditate, exercise regularly or do yoga, I notice that even petty grievances, fears, or past hurts, can spring back into my mind. I can be in the room, but a million miles and years away. That’s not serving my health or the wellness of my boys. I know I won’t be able to achieve stillness all the time, but if I can just become aware of it, as I drift away, and gently bring my focus back to the present (as mindfulness expert Janice Marturano explains in this interview) I’ll get one step closer. This is going to be a daily process that will require forgiveness and a sense of humor.

A Mother’s Legacy: Staying On The Brink

Mom and William, one week old, November 2001

“I want PIE!” Jamesy yells at me this morning. He has already climbed onto the second shelf of the pantry, which he knows he isn’t allowed to do.

“Well, I didn’t make the pie, and besides, that’s not a breakfast food, is it? Lets get down from there,” I reply calmly, trying to mask the tension that is rising like bile in my throat. I look at my angelic, chubby three-year-old with star-lit, midnight blue eyes and tousled blond hair. I know what is coming next—what has been happening in our house for months now.

‘NOOOO!!!!” he wails like a super sonic boom and then hurls a kitchen timer against the wall.

I take a deep breath and  pick up his squirming body. “Ok, time out buddy.”

His legs kick my calf. Hard. A zinger of pain flashes up to my kneecap and down to my swollen achilles’ heel. Why did I forget to put that damn boot back on? I think as I grimace with pain. Almost three weeks ago I tore a tendon in my left calf, so chasing after my three-year-old has now become an Olympic endeavor. I manage to strap him into his time-out chair—which is my second car seat. As I walk to pick up the now broken kitchen timer, he kicks his seat over, landing with a thud. His head is now on the floor, his feet raised above him in a sitting position. The crazy guy laughs, looks at me victoriously, and then starts screaming again.

“I HATE TIME OUT!!!” he screams.

William and I just shrug and sit down to eat our breakfast. We have gone through this scenario many times since we took the advice of Jamesy’s teacher who recommended that I place a car seat in my kitchen and strap him into it for a time out each time he throws things, yells, hits, climbs the pantry walls, bites, etc. Ignoring him, threatening with a consequence, taking away toys, and dare I admit, even a spanking, all don’t work on my little guy. Putting him in time out didn’t work before because he just refused to stay seated. Strapping him into time out is helping, believe it or not. It’s just taking an extraordinarily long time. I have a very stubborn three-year-old who hates to hear the word No or not be able to do what he wants to do. Like most I guess, but his older brother was never this ballsy or stubborn. Eventually, he stopped these shenanigans.  Plus, I didn’t have William and Jamesy close together in age. William is 10, James 3. I can’t imagine surviving life as a single mom with an insanely stubborn James and a brother only one or two years older. Seriously, with an ex in Europe and no family help, I might have ended up in Betty Ford or some mental facility.

Today, when I was taking James to school, I thought about my mom. You may be wondering what my son’s behavior, and how the scene I just described to you, has anything to do with a Mother’s Legacy. Well, a lot actually. My mother had four children and a husband who would work three-day shifts at the hospital. Back then, three-day-shifts were not frowned upon like they are today. She was virtually a single mom in Boston with my brother 3 and two sisters ages 2 and 1. They were all still in diapers!!

“Well, I just didn’t know any better,” my mom said to me 10 years ago when she visited me after I gave birth to William. “I mean, back then, you didn’t expect your husband to help you. You didn’t complain either. And I just thought it was fun,” she laughed. I clearly didn’t believe her last statement.

When she said this to me, I was in the throws of repeated sitz baths for a class 4 tear, (men reading this, DON’T ASK), sore nipples, engorged breasts verging on infection since I couldn’t get the milk to come in properly, and hormones raging to the point where at certain moments I literally wanted to die. Exhaustion, hormones, whatever it was, I realized that what I was feeling was akin to what clinical depression must feel like. Having three kids one right after another, and than four years later her oops child, (which I am), my mom must have always been on the brink of despair. But I don’t remember seeing her succumb to it, not over raising children anyway. Maybe she was just too busy.

Mom and William, three months.

Over the next two years after William’s birth, she graced me with her stories. But her stories about raising three babies were what inspired me most. She didn’t know why I was in shock, but clearly, she loves babies and has a higher threshold for stress, than I do. Her stories gave me strength, however. Luckily for me, once my breast milk came in with earnest and I could breast feed around the clock, my cloud of depression lifted. I listened to her stories and began to think I can do this.

“Every Sunday I called my mom and we’d talk about politics. I loved our Sunday calls,” my mom told me 10 years ago.  “Well, this one Sunday, I’ll never forget it. Your father was at the hospital and I looked around as I spoke with NiNi (her mother) and I saw your sister (and with her next description, I knew exactly which sister it was) climbing up the curtain rod! I started to go for her, but then I heard something and looked out back and your other sister was pushing down your brother from his bicycle. Well, I’m still on the phone, but as I go to your brother, I turn around and look back and I see your sister now putting a screw in her mouth!” Amazingly, the whole time she’s telling me this story, she is smiling. What lesson did she learn? Not to decorate, or put up curtains partially, and then take a phone call when you have three children. I, on the other hand, was completely horrified. I had my one and only baby suckling at my breast and began to think I will never, ever, have another child.

“Well, I laughed and laughed about that. Of course, I had to get the screw out of her mouth first!” my mom said. Over the years as her Alzheimer’s began to take hold, she repeated that story to me over and over again.

Mom and William, 2 years.

It was as if she knew that I’d need to remember it too. That I would need to pull it out of a file in the back of my mind to remind myself that this craziness is what it’s all about. We’re all pushed to the brink when raising children. But it’s how we handle it and carry through that matters.

Three years ago I was visiting my mother. She was still at home then, although we had assistants to help her. It was evening, and she had fallen asleep with her TV on. I went in to shut it off. She raised up and pointed to the hall light.

“I finally put a cover on it. Like it?” she asked me. I turned to look at the hall light and noticed a new sconce. “Oh. Wow. Yes, we finally have one.”

“I know, I never replaced the old one because I was so ashamed,” she said to me, clear as day.

When I asked her what she was talking about, she replied, “Well, one day, when you four were up to something. I can’t recall really, but one of your sisters was yelling and your brother was doing something, I don’t remember what, but I got so mad, I actually threw my shoe up the stairs and it hit the hall light. I never did replace it (the sconce) because I wanted to look at that ugly bulb to remember how stupid I was. I didn’t want to lose my temper like that ever again.”

I swallowed hard and held her hand. “It’s ok mom.”

“Oh, it’s silly. I should have known better. Don’t do that kind of thing, ok?”

The next morning, when I told her I enjoyed our talk she replied, “Oh? What talk? Didn’t you just get here?”

Well, call it Divine intervention, but I know we did have a talk and I’m so grateful—that even though she didn’t remember it—I always will. And I thought about her advice today after Jamesy threw his smoothie across the car and it landed with a SPLAT across the entire backseat. Sigh. I’m clearly on the brink too. But I’m going to be brave and stand on the edge and take a deep breath. I may have to dig in my heels and brace myself or a long stay. But my little guy will grow up eventually, right? And if I make it through with my sanity in check, just think about the stories I’ll be able to embarrass him with!

25 Reasons to LOVE Being a Single Mom

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Yes, you read that title correctly! There are reasons to LOVE being a single mom. The consensus is in. Single mothers across the country have been polled about what they like about parenting solo. Sure, we all know that it’s one of the hardest jobs in the world. But, lets focus on the positive, shall we? And, while we’re at it, lets have a laugh. Life’s too short and getting too serious these days. Sure, most of us didn’t choose this path, but while we’re on it, let’s acknowledge the perks. (And did I say have a laugh too??) Enjoy ladies (and brave men) and just note these thoughts represent the contributions of MANY women out there, but I’d love to hear from you, too! … Especially if you can make me chuckle.

TOP REASONS:

  1. It’s now My house, my rules. Rough day? Waffles for dinner is just fine. Exhausted? The dishes, laundry and toys can pile up for one night.
  2. No more scary stubble in the sink.
  3. No more sticky, smelly, sweaty gym clothes to be picked up off the bathroom floor. (Unless, of course, they’re yours!)
  4. No more manic 5 p.m. de-motherfying. Don’t know what that is? A rush to shower, shave, change out of sweats and “de-motherfy” yourself every evening before a discerning man comes home—who ironically only notices when you don’t do all of the said above.
  5. No need to hold in that belly 24/7!
  6. There is no one in the house to make you feel like an incompetent person.
    (It’s funny how many women commented that their husbands criticized them for not being capable or put them down for being a SAHM—yet parenting alone, they have never felt more accomplished.)
  7. It sinks in you ARE a super woman. After a year or so parenting solo, it sinks in that we are capable. We take out the trash, fix heaters and toilets, paint, move furniture, weld power tools, get the car washed: ALL ON OUR OWN. We manage budgets (even small ones), kids’ schedules, education and our own career and health needs. Phew!)
  8. You get to watch what you want on TV. No more wrestling or mafia movies! (Well, unless you turn on that mafia movie starring your favorite sexy Italian actor.)
  9. There’s no one to scold you for letting the kids come into the family bed. (And it’s oh, so yummy when you all fall asleep together after watching a silly movie!)
  10. You can sing and dance and be goofy with an audience that joins in!
  11. You are more present with your kids and more focussed on their needs without the stress of constant criticism and arguments. (For some, this happened after the divorce became final and the fighting finally ceased.)
  12. You can get a cat, fish, a parakeet, a chinchilla—or any other creature you can manage to take care of, as your kids need more unconditional love in the house. (And who is going to stop you?)
  13. You can take a bubble bath, wear a mask and do your nails at 8:30 p.m. on a weekday after the kids are in bed. Why? Because you are no longer a short-order cook for the late arrival, or a career coach and therapist, or evening maid required to do laundry and clean the kitchen while said late arrival watches sports or a crime drama on TV.
  14. You no longer have to pretend to be asleep when you hear the door open at midnight. (This is usually from hubby coming home after an unscheduled, but “critical” business drinks meet-up. Of course, you learned about this event at 6 p.m. with spit-up on your shoulder, an older child screaming in the corner and dinner on the stove.)
  15. No more ‘couples with kids’ dinners to endure.
    (Come on, you know exactly what this is. Some friends with kids your age invite you to a family-friendly restaurant for Saturday early dinner or Sunday brunch. You dress up and go through the effort to get the kids looking marvelous—only to find yourself, yet again, having a frustrating, work-filled evening. You and the other mom try to catch up, but keep getting interrupted since you two are managing all the kids’ tantrums and antics and diaper changes during dinner. Where are the fathers? The two hubbies are at the other end of the table drinking brews and having a civilized adult conversation with no interruptions. Your late husband had NO idea why you weren’t interested in sex AT ALL later in the evening.)
  16. No more waiting for a blue moon to go out on a date.
  17. You no longer live with the fear of being cheated on.
  18. You no longer live with someone who churns an internal daily struggle for you to preserve your identity. (The constant pressure to change or view the world differently has lifted.)
  19. You no longer live with a man who treats his mother (who never liked you) and his buddies better than he treats you.
  20. You are allowed to buy chocolate at will.
  21. Alcohol is no longer an every day facet of your family life. (In fact, some moms reported throwing out the liquor cabinets and beer coolers after their exes left.)
  22. There is no one home to poke fun at you when you want to meditate, do a yoga dvd, write in a journal or read self-help or philosophy books.
  23. No more staying awake listening to snoring.
  24. No more smelling alcohol on the breath of the person sleeping next to you.
  25. You no longer have to justify what you buy. If you can afford to splurge on a toy for the kids, or a new pair of shoes for yourself: you can do so without having to render a tail-between-the-legs explanation later.

Wisdom of Robert Burns

Photo by: Jeremy Dennis

“The best laid schemes of Mice and Men oft go awry,
And leave us nothing but grief and pain, For promised joy!”

Robert BurnsTo a Mouse (Poem, November, 1785)

Time off for me just wasn’t in the cards this past week. If you read my last post than you know how excited I was to have a day off from the kiddos. Something, clearly, was conspiring in the Universe against this plan. My ex emailed me Sunday a.m. that he had missed his flight from London to LA. Well…I don’t always check email first thing on a Sunday, so both my boys were waiting and packed for his 10 a.m. pick up. Around 9:45, I got a nagging feeling, like a pit of doubt, that sometimes settles in my stomach when dealing with my ex. Before checking my email I instinctively knew it was off.

I had a suspicious feeling the overnight visit might not happen for the boys, even before Sunday morning. See, I have this theory about bad things happening in 3s. When I was a crime reporter for a daily newspaper in North Carolina we’d expect a third murder by the next full moon. If there had only been one murder that month, we knew to expect two murders by the morning. And it always worked out that way. Even our EMT friends and emergency room staff would get ready. I still don’t know why that is. … But I digress. My little let-downs are nothing compared to murders obviously, but still, I was on alert.

First there was the poop in the bath Friday night—a sign that relaxing in the jacuzzi sans children might not happen. The second sign happened the next day when I almost wrecked. I was in a hurry to get my son to his soccer game. At a red light I quickly put sunscreen on my face (I’m neurotic now after two skin cancer scares) and then handed it back to my boys. I’m rubbing it in quickly, the light turns green, and as I cross the intersection, I feel an excruciating pain suddenly cut into my eyes and then I can ‘t see. If it wasn’t dangerous it would be hilarious. I start screaming “Mother!” One of my boys starts laughing, the other crying. I pull over after I manage to cross the intersection and tears won’t stop streaming from my eyes. Man, it was so bad, I could barely navigate to the soccer fields and commenced to cry the entire game. I couldn’t see to cheer my little guy on and my two-year-old kept walking up to the other parents saying, “Something’s wrong with my mommy!” Little does he know what a loaded statement that is! LOL

So, I survive the game and start to get excited about Sunday’s impending freedom. As you know, it never happens. Well, I made the best of it. My boys and I actually had a blast. I still don’t know why their dad didn’t call first thing. I called him and asked him to tell the boys via skype why he wouldn’t be there. He promised to squeeze in a five hour visit during his layover the next day on his way to Australia. My oldest held back tears.

So, the lesson learned is that I always need to have a plan B.  I packed them up and we went to a local October fair where we ran into schoolmates and neighbors. It was a great day, even in the scorching heat. That evening I invited a good friend, also a single mom, and her son over for dinner. I made the yummiest salad with heirloom farmer’s market tomatoes and avocados, baked chicken with herbs de Provence and roasted carrots and fingerling potatoes. Even the kiddos loved it! We played puzzles with the youngest and the two oldest boys played with Star Wars legos. I have to say, it ended up being one of the best Sundays I have had in a long time.

And you know what? Their dad did show up the next day during his layover, bearing presents. He met us at school where I volunteer as a creative writing teacher once a week. I was so nervous that his flight might get delayed, or something else might happen to thwart the visit, that I had a backup plan of an ice cream play-date in the works. But, I didn’t need it. As I walk out of the classroom, my ex is leaning against the wall, his suitcase in hand. He has his English blue sweater on—clearly sweating in our Southern California heat—with a smile on his face that I forgotten he owned. It’s a smile the melts hearts. My oldest ran to him. The teacher seemed enamored with him and chatted nervously with him a bit before we three, oddly, walk into town together as if we see each other every day. The youngest, who was with the sitter, got to see his dad later and oh’d and ah’d over his bath toys from Hamley’s. As odd as it was, it ended up being a great, albeit short, visit for the boys. In the end, they are very excited about seeing him next weekend when he’s on another stop over from Australia back to London. I’m confident he won’t let them down this time. But then again, cough, you know what Mr. Burns says about the best laid plans …