Where is her heart leading her? Is she listening? A path emerges from the depths of her despair. Will she follow it? When she hits rock bottom and has nothing left, she has nothing left to lose. No one to please. No one to worry about. Will she follow this path? Or will she stay safely stuck, tucked away in her narrowing mind of grief that closes all doors, folding her further into darkness.
This is her pivotal moment. This choice can change everything. Will she choose it? She has an inkling that it just might make everything that happened—every God damn shitty thing done by those who loved her most—almost make sense.
But only if she gets on that plane. Only if she follows the nudging of her heart. It feels like running away. It is. It feels like giving up. It is. It feels terrifying. It is.
Finally, when she can no longer get up in the morning in the same house decorated with sinister smiles peering behind photos in every hallway, she’ll know what to do. When she’s finally had enough of being left with the mess; being left to walk alone past the empty nursery; being left with the trinkets of 15 years of betrayal and longing mixed within memories pushing her six feet under, she might muster up the courage to go.
A path is unfolding. And because she no longer cares whether she’ll live or die, she may just get on her first international flight and leave everyone and everything she’s ever known behind.
I’ve got that twitchy foot again. And this time it’s bad. I mean REAL BAD. I feel boxed in and just want to get on a plane or get in my car and GO. Of course, I can’t do that. But lately, the feeling is becoming overwhelming. It’s been building for months. I periodically go through this every year since becoming a full-time single mommy of two boys. It usually starts in February. (Here’s a photo montage on how I tried to cure my wanderlust through local trips last year: A Single Mom’s Wanderlust: A State of Mind.)
The aching wanderlust hit full tilt earlier this week when I had an ichat with my ex. He was in a taxi with this amazing light flashing in an out of the window and wind blowing lightly in his hair. He was driving through Brussels at sunset and smiling at me and James, our five-year-old who was sitting in my lap waving. My ex looked so happy. He looked so free. And suddenly, all I could think was “I’ve got to get out of here.”
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m glad that my ex is living his dream and that he seems so happy. Truly I am. (I know some of you don’t believe me!) We’ve been through a lot over the past five years since he’s moved back to Europe. We are now friends again. But even if we weren’t, I’d still be happy for him. It’s just the way I choose to be. My wanderlust isn’t about him. I’ve always had it. And now that I’m boxed in, I start going crazy after two months without a weekend off. Waiting until August is going to be tough…although it can’t be helped. So, it’s only natural that I start to miss some aspects of my old life. There, I said it. Six years ago, when living in London, I was able take advantage of a lastminute.com sales promotion or a craigslist house swap and with a few clicks I’d purchase rail tickets and we’d be off to Paris for the weekend.
My life is clearly, completely different now. I love this small beach town. I do. Really. I love watching dolphins every day. I love biking and watching surfers. I’m obsessed with sunsets and sunrises over my stretch of the Pacific Ocean. I love looking for treasures on the beach with my little guy. But…I appreciate this small town and my two boys SO much more when I get a chance to refuel, get away and come back. So, while I LOVE these boys more than anything, I’m starting to go LOCO. Here’s a list of what I’m calling survival tips for wanderlust. If you are someone who is also afflicted with a periodic need to see new vistas, meander in new distant cities, sit in cafes and people watch, sans children, or crave the freedom of getting in your car with the windows down and driving AWAY, to ANYWHERE…sigh…these survival tips are for you:
Detach. Detach. Detach.
One of the biggest perks to traveling is that it lets you leave your little world, your little community and any worries within it, behind. My first taste of freedom happened when I was 16 and went to Russia and Europe for the summer with the People to People Student Ambassador Program. This was before cell phones and Facebook. Two months were spent in Russia, Finland, Denmark, Sweden, England, Ireland—I was off the grid. I didn’t speak to my parents, my boyfriend or any friends (all good for me to distance myself from at the time!) the entire summer. I was out of all the gossip and petty concerns. I didn’t have to worry about that boyfriend who was doing drugs and cheating on me. Yup. I didn’t have to worry about my parent’s marriage that was falling apart. I didn’t have to worry about trying to be a good dancer even though I have flat feet. … I got away from all the concerns in my North Carolina town and immersed myself in drastically different worlds and lives. I saw poverty, beauty and kindness in Russia. I met the most charming and entertaining people in Ireland. I could see the contrast from the proper and inhibited English and all the nakedness in Denmark—two nude beaches and nude hikers, go figure! It was a great experience and later fueled my desire to keep traveling. Which I did, to abandon. When wanderlust hits, I try to remember how it feels to be away. I meditate. I remember what I did in certain locales, or people I met and how little they may have had materially, but how much richer their lives seemed to be. I meditate and imagine exotic sounds or smells, like when I was shopping in Jaipur, India. I imagine the marketplace, the incense, the spices, the colors, the dirt, the broken teeth, the hooka tents, the cows, the tattered Bangladeshi children, etc. I put myself there. I drop into that place. If that doesn’t work, I meditate with a guided CD (my favorite being David Ji) which usually forces my thoughts to still. And finally, after 15 minutes, I’ve detached from this place and am able to garner a better perspective.
My new habit during the week is to cut off the TV, turn off my phone and shut down the computer every night after the kids go to bed. If there are dishes to do, I leave them for the morning. I then go downstairs into my room where I have photos that I shot in Sweden, Denmark and Italy, and I turn on my little clock radio. Yup. The one that crackles. I play the public station and listen to opera, or classical or jazz. I open the window slightly, so I can hear the ocean. Then, I either start writing or editing my novel, or I read one of my favorite authors. I instantly feel like I’m away. I feel like I did when visiting Eastern European cities like Prague or Budapest or small coastal towns in Spain or Portugal. For some reason, there was never good wifi and few modern conveniences. So crackling music, sometimes in another language, feels just right. This is my time to feel like I’m completely away.
Find creative, inexpensive ways to get away!
I am a BIG fan of Airbnb.com, VRBO and SabbaticalHomes.org. Here’s an article where I outline affordable ways to get away. Single Mom’s Budget Travel Tips. Just planning the next adventure can be a bit of cure for what ails ya. This May, for my birthday, I’m either taking the boys to New York, or to Yosemite. I’m trying to figure it out. In August, I plan to go to Paris or Barcelona for two weeks while the boys are with their dad. I want to put the finishing touches on my novel in a far-a-way venue. I’m listing my home and reaching out to friends for home swaps. It may not happen, but I’m trying and putting it out there!
Find a partner-in-crime.
Thelma had Louise. Find your Louise. Find another single mom to swap babysitting with. Whether you get an overnite or a night out once as month, just make sure that it’s an equitable swap. So mom’s of three, don’t swap with a mom of one. It may take some time to find the perfect partner-in-crime, but SO worth the effort!
Every night I make my boys say their “gratefuls”. James says 5 things he is grateful for, since he is 5. William says 12, since he is 12. (They both always go over!) We’ve done this since they were old enough to understand how. I used to do this as a child and find that now, more than ever, I need to do it. I tend to write down my grateful lists and I’m amazed at how long they’ve become! On especially challenging days, I’ll even stop what I’m doing mid-day, and start one. Thinking of what you are thankful for is the best pick-me-up on the planet. I can never find fear when I’m living in gratitude. Try it.
STOP comparing yourself to others.
The minute I notice that my thoughts are veering down this path, I imagine the sound of an old fashioned record getting ripped by a needle: RRIIPPP!! And I stop. My path and my journey is just that. And I’m on a very unique one. I’m embracing my writing and my yoga teaching—both very creative and low-paying venues. But I decided a few years back that when I stopped doing these things and focussed solely on work that paid well with little flexibility, I wasn’t happy. So, I have to stop comparing myself to those who have more, do more, and maybe do what I want to do better than me. There will always be someone out there smarter, more flexible, more creative, etc. ENOUGH.
Since I’ve shut down my computer every evening, I’m clearly not on Facebook as much as I was. (This is really helpful.) Do I really need to know what my crush is doing, or not doing? Honestly. It’s not with me, so time to move on! I also don’t need to know how many ‘friends’ are traveling to far away places or going out on weekends that I can’t. I used to get so jealous of all my ‘single parent’ friends who could still get away or go out on weekends because their exes or parents took the kiddos. My life is very different from theirs and I just need to not think about it. This life of mine must have been chosen for a reason. I’m much stronger now than I’ve ever been. I have a novel that’s pretty awesome and nearly finished. I have totally wonderful boys. I live my life on my terms. I need to focus on the positive.
STOP pining for the past or an unattainable future.
Enough said. Being present is a gift. There’s a reason why it’s called present. If I live in the past I can’t move forward. Ironically, if I focus on what’s ahead, I miss what’s right here; right now. Try to focus on what your children say. Try not to check email or text when with your children. Just try to be. As much as possible.
Find ways to make your life work, just as it is.
A good friend and intuitive life coach, Louise Hauck, wrote in her book Streaming Consciousness, that one has to strive to make the present work, even if it isn’t exactly what you want, to open up space for something better. I’m paraphrasing, but Louise wrote about one situation in her book where she coached a woman who was miserable in her job. Louise suggested that she work hard at making things better in her current position before quitting. So, that meant, communicating better with co-workers who annoyed her. Trying to be more patient with those who offended her, etc. When she felt much better in her job, ironically, her dream job offer appeared. Making the here and now livable, workable, enjoyable, helps you to be grateful and then opens up space for something better. For me, that means, getting rid of junk in my garage. Organizing this small condo so it’s more functional for my boys. Clearing out closets, old toys and inboxes on my desk to Fung shui. Planning for fun excursions with the boys. All of this makes the here and now better. It helps me to be more appreciative and opens up space for whatever it is that I’m trying to manifest. As Louise taught me to say and/or think, “Lord, thank you for this wonderful life. This— OR—better, please!”
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.
AloneTogether: Single Moms Support Group (This is a closed group, please say you found their site from me, Laura Roe Stevens, when requesting to join.)
The UCLA Family Commons: http://www.uclacommons.com/
Single Parent Housing: www.SPAOA.org
Pell Grants For Mothers: PellGrants.ClassesAndCareers.com