single parenthood

River

It is Saturday night, and I’m settled on my couch, and my kids are currently boarding a plane to fly across the ocean. They return to familiar soil in something like 9 more days, and then they are finally home to me a couple days after that.

I kissed them goodbye today by 11am, and since then I’ve walked the neighborhood with a podcast or two, cleaned the house, and browsed store aisles to waste time. I grocery shopped and watched television. And finally I took a bath and let the silence in my house settle around me like a blanket. All I can hear is the rhythm of the ceiling fan and the clacking of the keys as I type this.  I’ve been alone in this house a million times before, but it feels different with them going so far away.

I listened to the Super Soul interview with Richard Rohr this morning. I know I reference him so often here, but again, it is worth a listen if you have time.  He spoke about the general idea he explores in so many of his writings – that we all have a false self and a true self. That the task of growth and spirituality is that we have to shatter that false self somehow, crack that shell of the ego, to get to the real thing. And how it is often hardship that does this for us. I thought about that first post that I wrote years ago when I was trying to fit myself in the new box. I thought about all the times before and after that when I have had to shed a layer or two of ego and lean into the unknown. I thought about ways I am still learning that lesson. Like the Velveteen Rabbit in that classic story, becoming more real as I move along and as I age.

Though the initial crack, the big explosion, the biggest griefs of my past few years – those have forcefully pushed aside the false self that was so tightly wound – I am still losing layers sometimes, in both big and small ways. This is one of those things. as I sit here in the dark typing these lines. The removing of the motherhood hat, if even just for a week or two, the loosening of the tight grip. It feels itchy and weird to have no label or role to put on next week at all and to have half my heart across the ocean from where I sit now. But any good thing I have come to find has revealed itself at the edge of my comfort zone.

I told the kids yesterday that they could choose what we did last night since it was our last night together for a while. I was hoping for a cozy night in, but Norah had a Build-A-Bear gift card burning a hole in her pocket, so they begged for a trip to the mall. I do not enjoy the mall, and I think the last time I was there was perhaps Christmas time. It seemed like the opposite of what I was imagining our night should be, but I obliged. We got there, and they were short-staffed, so we waited for ages in line for her to make a bear. Jude got a metal fidget spinner to entertain him across the Atlantic, and then we opted for a food court dinner.

When we went to leave, the automated doors opened to heavier rainfall than I’ve seen since I don’t know when. I didn’t have an umbrella and didn’t want to swim to the car, so I suggested the little play area inside the mall to entertain us while we waited for it to pass. We did that and we browsed the displays in the Lego store, and I thought for sure the rain must be gone by now. We walked to the doors again and we found the same thing. Buckets and buckets of rain. At this point, I felt like we had to get home somehow, so I told them we would run for it.

We held hands and ran across the parking lot in that kind of rain that soaks you all the way through your underwear in only a few seconds. The kids were screaming and laughing, and before I knew it, I was too. When we finally made it to the car, Jude was cackling and saying how much fun it was while Norah was wide-mouthed and laughing at her reflection and at my dripping hair. Teddy bears and food court trays and rainstorms turned out to be the most perfectly imperfect and memorable send-off for what is our longest separation so far. But I would never have orchestrated it that way if I held the reins to it all.  Parenting always works like this, it seems. And the rest of life does, too. Even when life gives me something beautiful or perfect beyond my comprehension, it is never the way I would have written it myself.

I’m a planner to a fault and I know this about myself. It is hard for me to let go of things – to let go of timing and outcomes and expectations. I pay attention to my retirement account and I eat my vegetables and I wear sunscreen and I plan most everything in advance. And I think of the one million ways that something could go wrong in any given moment and how I could mitigate that damage if it does. I grocery shop weekly and write out our menu on a little dry erase board in my kitchen. I erased it this morning – no need to plan for only myself. And I wrote in its place a Rohr quote that I need to say again and again like a mantra: “Faith does not need to push the river because faith is able to trust that there is a river. The river is flowing. We are in it.” Amen and amen.

I am not pushing. It is hard, but I am holding steady. I’m leaning into the silence and the new and listening closer for the real. I trust that there is a river. I’ll ride the current.

 

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single parenthood

invisible notes, recorded

My kids slept until past 8am these past three days, which is beyond rare.  Even in the slow pace of summer, that doesn’t happen much. They both made their way to my bed in the middle of the night last night, so I woke up under a pile of heavy heads and limbs with my own back a little sore. The outright neediness of baby and toddler days has passed, but it sometimes doesn’t feel all that different now. Still always someone or something needing something from me. Kids or the dog or the job or the house. Or my own self which is the last thing I have time for in the frenzy of regular life.

Neighbor kids were over two weeks ago playing hide and seek, and my living room curtain rod was a casualty. One bracket came down, and the wall left behind seems a little crumbly where it was drilled in before, so it’s not a straight-forward fix. Add to that my apprehension on using a drill, and it has been abandoned for the past two weeks, along with a large box of self-assemble furniture sitting in my dining room for a full month now and at least three large piles of clean laundry upstairs that need to be put away.

Do you ever feel like the piles of unattended tasks in your life somehow take up real estate in your brain so that there is no fresh air there to move around? I prioritize what is first, squeeze by and turn sideways among all the lists and piles, glance the other way, and do all I can to function despite the unfinished mess. But sometimes it just reaches a point where I cannot do it anymore. As my students say, I can’t. [As one complete sentence.] I just can’t. I can’t do much of anything. It takes a lot for my brain to reach overflow status, but when it does, I’m done.

I think motherhood is a challenge because so much of our work is invisible to everyone else — the meals that appear magically on the table 3 times a day and the laundry that is cleaned and the school schedules that are recorded and the million other minutiae that are pulled together somehow. But when you are the only adult in the house, you can feel even more invisible somehow. Invisible to your own self, too. Treading water all the time.

Last week I tried and failed to set up my cable television myself. Then last night, I tried and failed to put the furniture together myself.  Then I drove 2 kids at 8pm to purchase heavy duty Command strips and pray they’d hold up my curtains because I had also tried and failed to drill the bracket back in the wall, and there is only so long I can stare at the fallen curtain before losing my mind when what sits in front of it is a cable box that doesn’t work and what sits above it is a water stain that I should have attended to weeks ago but haven’t.

I had a ten minute span of time this morning as I finished my coffee where I thought my curtain solution would hold and felt mildly successful, but then it fell. And I consequently cried in the shower for a good 30 minutes while hiding from my kids. The little things feel big sometimes. And I think everyone always says just ask for help, but I do that in nice or subtle ways that no one hears. Or maybe they do, and they have their own agenda to tend to which is entirely understandable.  But whatever the reason, it just sinks in sometimes in that particularly heavy way: you are alone. entirely. on your own. man up. figure it out.

I’m so exhausted from figuring it out. I feel like I am out of creative solutions, and I’m spent. Done.

The truth is I’m not done, of course. The truth is that I have felt this way a million times before, and I just keep moving and the wheels keep turning, and it works out. Every time and always. Frederick Buchner says, “Life is grace. Sleep is forgiveness. The night absolves. Darkness wipes the slate clean, not spotless to be sure, but clean enough for another day’s chalking.” Grace always comes along last. Just a little last bit, just a little more room to breathe deeply and say thanks for what is here and what shows up for me. Then tomorrow is new.

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We went to the park this morning. I was knee-deep in laundry and wanting to finish it, but a neighbor knocked at our door with a last minute invite, and both kids started jumping. So I dropped the laundry [again] and said let’s go. Jude took a notebook for his “field notes” and numbered his observations with his first grade penciled lettering. Seeing a blue bird, rubbing two sticks together to try and make fire, watching “a butterfly in spring,” and seeing a large ant.

He takes so much solace in these observations, like our time outside only really happens if these things are recorded for him to see and feel. I get that. Writing does that for all of us, I think. In so many ways, that is exactly what I do here – write my observations and experiences as they happen, not always trying to do anything with them, just writing them here to see them staring back at me and know that they aren’t invisible.

Sometimes I do that to reflect on what’s good so I can say yes, remember when? And sometimes I do that with the hard stuff, too. So when it gets better, or when it comes around again, I can say see, hear that? You’ve been there before and you did it. Just hang on; grace always comes last.

Life and Randomness, motherhood, single parenthood

right, left, right, left

Monday night I did my usual routine with the kids. Read a couple books, talk a bit, say our “blessings” as we call it, and relax a minute as they drift off. I normally let them drift to sleep and then head back downstairs for a little time on my own – practical things like cleaning the kitchen and packing lunches or necessary things like yoga or writing. But Monday I laid there with them a minute, noticed the clock said 8:20, and then woke up to see 1:40 staring back at me.

I’m not sure how I can feel so exhausted and heavy when I just had a weekend snowed in alone and 48 hours to reset. How does that happen? The energy reserves seem to drain faster than they refill in my life.

There is always something to do. Always. I got a reminder email about a kindergarten reading incentive chart that is due next week, and tonight I managed to look at our bookshelf and scribble in the titles of what we’ve read recently as Jude was bathing and Norah was brushing her teeth. It’s the tiniest thing, just a list of books. But all the little things make your life so crowded. There is always something.

Sometimes I want to know who these moms are with pristine homes and matching clothes and cars that aren’t littered with water bottles and food wrappers. Do they have less on their to-do list than I do? Probably not. But the older I get and the farther I get into parenthood, the less I even strive for that anymore.

My kids are clean! Their lunches are packed, and their bellies are full! We have a house where I can keep all the things we need! And we occasionally have fun! All of these things feel like accomplishments lately. I’m grateful for all of it.

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Right, left, right, left. Just keep walking. They look to me for these million things that have to get checked off the list as we engage in our daily lives. And sometimes that can feel like a thankless task, as any mom will tell you. But the daily grind is where it’s at. I think one day they will see that more clearly. And even now, it’s in between these million busy moments that you can steal seconds of insight. It’s easy to get tired of being the glue that holds together this delicate balance. The chauffeur, the chef, the maid, the tutor, the event planner. So many heavy roles we carry. But without all of these things, I’d have no front row seat to their lives and the million subtle ways they grow and change with every experience.

Now that my two are getting a little older, I think a lot about what they will remember about this time in our lives. I don’t know what they will recall, what they will associate with me and with these years. But I think we are seeing each other in the truest way, even among the busy daily demands. They see me for what I really am and give me space to grow into something else. And I strive to do the same for them in return.

The hump is over, and we are completely in a new normal. Our rhythm feels worn and comfortable, even among the chaos.

 

 

gratitude, single parenthood

snow and quiet

Atlanta was bracing for something more exciting than we we ended up with, but we were left this weekend with a little dusting and some uncharacteristic windy chill. The high is only 30 today, but the sun is bright, and I can hear drops running down my gutters right now as the rooftop thaws.

I went to take the dog out last night before bed, and the neighborhood was quiet. Just the slightest dusting can feel special when you live in Georgia.

southern "snow"

The kids are away this weekend, and it brings more consolation than sadness – if I can be honest. I have been trapped inside with them for days at a time alone more times than I’d care to remember. In 2011 when Jude and I spent 7 days alone in the house unable to conquer the driveway and neighborhood streets. In 2013 when I had two kids under 4, both sick. And again in 2014 when Atlanta was hit with a lot that year and I had a husband working in sunnier climates. I love my kids. I do not love winter and the thought of icy streets and no snow plows. When I remember the frayed nerves that resulted from days on end of no real adult contact in those storms, I’m grateful for the time alone to pause this weekend.

This morning, I wandered down the stairs at 8:30 to brew the coffee, and I already heard the chatter of neighborhood kids outside with hats and mittens. It brought a tinge of sadness and a tangible ache for a minute, but as I’ve settled into the rest of the day busying myself with things around the house, the solitude feels worn and comfortable.

I was told that this would happen eventually, that being alone would get easier. It felt so unnatural in the beginning, but I am there finally.

Winter takes a lot of deliberate focus for me to see the bright side and push through. It can feel long and dark. I’ve been making a conscious effort since the new year began to be still and use the early dark and time at home to tend to what’s close. It’s working well to calm the restlessness or anxiousness or dreary outlook that can sometimes emerge from winter.

Ram Dass so famously said, “The quieter you become, the more you can hear.” And one good thing about this time of year is that it is so quiet – if you let it be. School and work and activities keep us rushing, but by 6pm it is dark and we are home and glad to be here. The kids are in bed by 8, and I make myself (no matter how much I don’t want to) turn off the distractions and unroll my yoga mat for half an hour. This goes in the category of duh, why didn’t I know that already? but that half hour has brought so much foundation and awareness to the rest of my day. It’s funny how much I’ve paid for occasional classes in a studio in years past, and it’s the home practice that is making such a difference for me. That’s how it always goes though; it always starts at home, all of it.

Looking to something or someone else to get you somewhere has hollow results. You have to see the abundance in your own self. Winter is good to remind me of that. All these little things – baking a bit, getting an extra hour of sleep, lighting candles after dark – they all echo what I already know which is that what you need is all right here.

divorce, single parenthood

some thoughts on dating

I’ve hesitated to write a post on this because it is such a complicated issue and because I feel like my comments here are usually centered on my own perspective (as memoir always is) and not others’ actions, and it is incredibly hard to discuss this topic in specific without reflecting on others.

But it’s such a central issue to everyone’s questions, and I occasionally get an email from a reader who is encountering a new chapter of unattachment and wondering what my thoughts are on dating. It’s a central issue to my own path right now, so I decided to finally type a few words on the screen — though I don’t know where this will end.

I’ll begin by asserting that I think everyone’s path to healing is different. I have met divorced women who dated every single weekend that they were away from their kids. I’ve met divorced women (and men as well) who didn’t leave their house much at all the first year and elected to hardly speak to the opposite sex for quite a while. I hold no judgment for either of those approaches. I will say, based on my personal experience and the advice of every therapist and book on the planet, that I think an actual committed and serious relationship is highly complicated and dangerous territory as you deal with the wreckage of what is left in that first year or so. But whether you choose to casually date or not? That scenario is entirely up to the person herself and what she feels brings the most healing in that moment.

Some people have flat out asked me if I’m dating yet (the best approach). Some have just asked others if I am, and then that gets back to me. Some have encouraged me to date and others have completely assumed that of course I wouldn’t go on a date “this soon” and that the idea itself is preposterous.

The answer to all of these questions is somewhat complicated. I know enough about myself to know that if I went a substantial length of time without going on a date, I could lock myself in a pattern of fear and inhibition. That is not the case with everyone, but it is with me. I’m shy, always have been. I am introverted at first meeting someone. And of course, I emerged from a situation where I’d spent 15 years with the same person, and a sudden betrayal ended it.  And, to be honest, for a while it abruptly ended my faith in men in general. (I’m still working on that one.) Combine all of these factors – personality and history – and I could easily become a homebody who reads and writes and knits and has a rich inner life but feels scared to connect and share that with anyone else. I think that type of life has its place and brings a certain kind of comfort and happiness, but as humans, we are wired to have connection with others.

I made a promise to myself last February that if someone asked me out, I’d say yes. Simply because I knew that this year would be stretching and growing, and I knew that dating again after 15 years in a relationship is an incredibly frightening thing. You only grow when you do scary things. I wish it was different, but sadly, that’s the way it is.

Truthfully, the act of sitting across a table from someone I do not know well and answering his million questions about me as we eat is pretty much the definition of the scariest thing I can do. But I am getting braver, and I’m figuring things out little-by-little.

A single friend of mine suggested I join a popular dating app to “boost my confidence” and “see what’s out there.” (You know the one with 12 million users.) That experience alone could be a post itself because it was eye-opening and hilarious, and while I don’t think it has restored my faith in men (not at all) and it was a short-lived experience, it has shown me that I am emerging quite well on my own, and there is a wide world of possibilities beyond the horizon.

So anyway, fast forward a few weeks, and word leaked out that I had a profile there. I was pretty shocked to receive written messages from someone from my former life insisting that I must be “screwing random people” and that I have a “big internet sign saying open for business” and please “don’t put yourself on Craig’s List, ok?”

I’ve been a feminist for all of my adult life, but for anyone who needs a quick refresher, I want to talk about something for a minute.

 

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The glory of slut shaming, if you are not familiar with that term from Gender Studies courses or modern culture, is that you don’t even have to actually be having the sexual relationships to be chastised; you just have to behave in a way that makes someone assume you are.

And those assumptions can come from lots of things: being attractive, being secretive (aka private) about your dating life, actually going on dates with someone when he asks, showing any remote interest in the opposite sex, not abiding my cultural norms on age and marriage, and apparently even having a profile on a dating site with more than 12 million other people.

What’s interesting to note is that these rules don’t apply to men.

When men divorce, they are expected to date immediately, I’ve noticed. Friends set them up; their own mothers encourage them to find a suitable girl as quickly as possible. And most interestingly, if nothing is said or revealed, people assume that they must be dating. And are completely okay with that.

The rules are different for us, I’m finding. Can you imagine a single man encountering judgment that he is wearing a huge internet sign that says “open for business” if he has an online dating profile? Me either. Because it doesn’t happen. That phrase alone is a reference to prostitution which is one of the oldest insults in the book used to shame women for assumed sexual relationships – real or imagined.

My past year has changed me in a million ways.  One of these ways is that I’m painfully aware of the many times in my own past that I’ve listened to someone shame a woman for presumed romantic interests when the speaker likely knows nothing of the woman’s situation at all.

So here’s a quick list of questions I ask myself before I open my mouth to comment on someone’s dating life… Is she currently in a committed relationship so that her romantic actions are secretive and could hurt someone else? …. Is she involved with a man who appears to be controlling, demoralizing, or bad for her? … Are her actions hurting herself or someone else?  …. If the answer to any of these questions is yes, and you are friends with the woman, by all means, open the conversation with her. If the answers are no, shut your mouth. Her private life is none of your business. Period.

There are a thousand things to worry about as a single mom in the 21st century. We think about our kids and how they weigh in on the already-hefty equation. We are more mindful of safety and personal agency than ever before. And as women, we are finally simply expecting to receive the respect we deserve. So if I’m conversing with someone new, I’m turning so many things around in my own mind to see how it feels with me. Which is the point, you know. How does this person make me feel? How does he appear to treat others? How does it all sit with my own soul and my own sensibilities? The last thing that we should be adding to that list is the expectation that women abide by some arbitrary rules that men are not expected to adhere to.  If it insults your soul, dismiss it. If you want to spend time with someone, do. If you don’t enjoy it, decline his invitation. That’s all that really matters in that moment.

I’ve always claimed the label of feminist, but I think it’s only recently that it is being made real in my personal life. I’ve spent my last decade walking exactly in line with the expectation of society. I was married and mothering small children and doing all of the things expected for me during my late twenties and early thirties. It’s when we step out of the cultural norm that our ideas of feminism are tested. And sadly, I’m finding that it’s also when the misguided patriarchal judgment comes out from both men and women. When you don’t follow that path expected of you, people simply don’t know what to do with you. And sometimes they deal with that confusion by revealing completely unfair and ridiculous judgment.

My friend Elizabeth and I email often, and last winter, she wrote to me, (and I’ve quoted this before when I wrote about Imposter Syndrome) “Breaking out of the molds others have made for us or the narrow minds of loved ones we once trusted is extraordinarily painful – and so necessary in order to become your best self.” I’m feeling this now as I move forward to uncharted waters, and I will feel it for many years to come, I think. Once you see things through that lens, you can’t un-see it.

I think those narrow minds and constricting molds often come from a place of fear or inexperience. Mohadesa Najumi is a British-Afghan writer whose words are hanging on my bathroom wall: “The woman who does not require validation from anyone is the most feared individual on the planet.” Seeing rude comments or judgment as springing from a place of fear and ignorance softens my response to it and certainly lessens the blow – which is helpful. Because truth be told, it is hard to shake these ideas from our own minds as women. It is hard to unlearn what you have spent decades absorbing. It is hard to see yourself through your own eyes without acquiring the filter of someone else.

So you see what’s happened here? I’ve started writing without knowing where it will end, and I have ended in the exact same place I always do.

It is my still, small voice that matters. It is my body I am living in. It is my ship I’m steering. And though it is scary at times and it’s hard to drown any voices that shout behind me, it’s a beautiful place to be. This in-between space. This moment where I don’t owe anyone anything and I answer only to my own calling.

 

 

In the Home

on creating a home

I spent time with old friends over the holiday weekend earlier this month, and they are both in the early stages of house hunting and preparing for a move.  We talked a lot about houses and family life and why we make the choices we do to live as we choose to.  Money is always the determining factor on this decision, of course. But I think within family budgets there’s always the question of just how much you want to devote to housing. And within the perimeters of each home, we choose what sort of things we want to surround ourselves with. Our conversation got me thinking about the choices and routines that make a house a home and how those things can differ for everyone.

I think one of the perks of single motherhood – if I am allowed to say that or “allowed” to see a silver lining here – is that you get to set the tone of the house on your own. You don’t have to ask someone else’s permission or opinion on decorative or practical choices. It’s something I didn’t expect to feel so liberating, but as I settle into our house and roots are beginning to grow five months after our move, I see how monumental this is to me as a mother in this chapter of my life. I can create the reality around me with intention and purpose without asking someone else – or the rest of society for that matter – what I’m “supposed” to do.

I was recently reading The Gifts of Imperfection (as I wrote about recently), and in that book, Brene Brown has a chapter on the importance of creativity.  She reflects on her own childhood and sees it in retrospect as two distinct chapters: one with her family on a limited budget with her father in law school when they lived in New Orleans in a tiny duplex and the other when they graduated to a new lifestyle in Houston. I was struck so much by the simple description she gives that details how she remembers it through a child’s eyes. “In New Orleans, every wall was covered in art done by my mom or a relative or us kids… In Houston, I remember walking into some of my new neighbors’ houses and thinking that their living rooms looked like the lobby of a fancy hotel .. My parents were launched on that accomplishments-and-acquisitions track, and creativity gave way to the stifling combination of fitting in and being better than, also known as comparison.”  Her description is much longer and more detailed as she explains the safety and comfort and encouragement she felt in the tiny New Orleans home (as her parents no doubt scraped together what little funds they had) and the more hollow feeling she absorbed in the Houston community when she was given a message to compete with others by striving for that shiny, unattainable perfection.

I’ve written a lot lately about how the comparison trap is losing it’s power over me as my life situation is not the “norm” anymore. The striving for a combination of fitting in and being better than? Not happening over here. In part because I’ve learned that comparison means nothing and you can turn yourself inside out to be as close to perfect as you can muster and someone will still deem you not good enough.  And partly because I have broken the mold anyway. I know that I had the pressure before to create the pristine coordinated hotel lobby within my own house, and that pressure was coming from both outside my home and inside it as my partner wanted that life and prioritizes it so intensely. Like so many other things in my life, I didn’t realize the extent to which it was drowning me until I unloaded that weight from my back.

When I began reading blogs regularly, about five years ago as I was a stay-at-home mom, I stumbled on so many sites that detail how to create perfection in your home and what routines or purchases can achieve that for you. I now understand that it’s not that simple. Different things work for different people, and you have to decide what matters most to you and what routines bring the most comfort or benefit to your home. And the same goes for aesthetic choices. Like everyone else, I want my home to look nice. But I am beginning to see the difference between wanting it to look like a magazine because other people like that and wanting it to look like we live here – reflections of our own tastes and our own personalities in every room.

I’ve surprised myself at how quickly our home is feeling worn and comfortable, how these walls are already beginning to absorb and reflect the essence of my little family of three. The kids’ complete disregard for the “downgrade” in the size and newness and price of our home earlier this year speaks volumes. Much like the description that Brown remembers in her recollections, my kids clearly crave support and connection and space to feel a sense of belonging and a place to be creative.  The rest is not important to them. It’s inspiring really. And a good reminder to parents and all the “grown-ups” in the world that the rest of it doesn’t matter.  We are definitely not a shiny catalog over here, but it’s home to us.

Our house is busy and full of energy, and half the time it is also full of neighbor kids who run in and out as often as they can. The moment we walk in the door from school, my two are asking if they can head through the backyard to see what the neighbor kids are up to. Before long, they are into something here or somewhere else. Always imagining and always talking and always at play.

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Jude woke up in the middle of the night last week and told me in a panicked tone that he had a bad dream.  I did the usual shhhh and back rubs and asked him what happened so that I could soothe fears of imaginary monsters or catastrophes. He replied that “We were at the playground, and we came back home, and another family bought this house! They were living here! We had to leave!” It cracked me up. That was his nightmare. That I sold this house to another perfectly normal family.

And it is never exactly spotless in this house except for that one moment just before the kids come back from their dad’s house when I’ve had a day or two to catch up. But it never lasts long, and as soon as I’ve got them under my feet again, we just do the best we can. Each parent has her own routines that speak to her priorities. For me, food on the table and clean laundry in the drawers are the only demands I make of myself during the week.  Beyond that it doesn’t happen, but I am okay with it. Bathroom counters are cluttered, and toys are strewn in the playroom a bit. But it’s lived in, and to me that feels better than a showroom.  I want my kids to have memories of real life here. Moments when we are doing nothing at all or we are doing all the little things that regular life brings. No special agenda. Life moments as they happen in a house with two kids under six.
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I make my bed before I leave each morning even if there’s clutter elsewhere. (It’s another routine that is a personal quirk and makes me feel better.) But by evening, it is crumpled as all three of us have piled on it to read and talk, and usually the dog joins us. This is my favorite part of the day. It might be a bedtime stalling technique, but it is definitely when Jude shares the most about his day and the details of school. We talk, all three of us, and even the most hectic of days can slow its pace a bit in that half hour or so before I turn the lights out and tell them to go to bed. The master bedroom in this house is ridiculously large, and it is sparse given that I don’t even have a headboard at this point. I’ve slowly added a lamp, an Ikea side table, repurposed some curtains from elsewhere.  It feels like a safe spot despite the sprawling unused space. It’s lived in and comfortable.

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I am fortunate that I was able to maintain a house in the town we were already residing in, with good schools and few worries about safety or peer groups for my kids. I am fortunate that I could purchase a house only ten years old with ample room for all of us. I understand this, and I can say with honesty that financial support from their father, combined with my own income, makes this possible (as it should, given that they are his children and we had a nearly ten-year marriage wherein I supported his demanding career).  I don’t want to be dishonest in misrepresenting that, and I acknowledge that my situation is entirely different from single mothers who are given no financial support at all.

That said, I am still raising two kids in the suburbs on an income that is just enough to make this happen. And though I can’t spend money at whim, I am seeing value in this chapter and this lesson it is granting me. We live with so much more, on the whole, than what we truly need. We buy things to fill holes that can’t be filled with things. We see our worth in these material things, and I am not immune to this. It’s a lesson I am learning still.  I am always asking myself why I want to buy something – if it is a want or a need. And if it’s a want, there is no shame in that, but I look honestly at why I want it. If we are honest with ourselves, the reasons are sometimes uncomfortable to admit.  My restricted income has narrowed my purchases to only include things I really need or things I feel a connection to that I save for and consider for a while before buying them.  It’s resulted in a home full of things I really love.

Necessity is the mother of invention, I hear. I am not at a place where I can spend volumes on making this house look like a magazine.  But I’ve made conscious choices to do things with purpose and intention around here and create a space where my kids feel safe and valued and I feel inspired. I decided that a coat of paint that is far from professional but done is better than not done at all for fear of imperfection. I’ve asked the kids to weigh in on things along the way – what do you want here? do you like this color? what toys do you want to keep that you like to play with most? I want our home to be a place that continues to inspire them and make their friends want to gather here. A place that reflects who we are and also what we want to be.

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I am human, and I look around and see so many things i want to replace or improve or touch up. My summer plants are waning, and the pine straw needs to be replaced outside. I have probably at most another two years left before I need to shell out money for a new exterior paint job. Sun has faded my wicker furniture and dried it out to chip away the paint, so I need to refresh that with the start of a new season.  I still haven’t hung shelves in their bedrooms as I said I would. There are broken blinds that need to be replaced and curtain-less windows crying for attention. The table where we eat is old and scratched with stained upholstery.  But I’m finding my kids don’t care at all. Not about any of these details. All they see is home and mom and friends and all the familiar comforts that come from belonging somewhere. We are making memories here.  Special occasions and everyday moments.

 

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I have moved three times in the past eight years. I am tired of it. Each time I move, I think this is it – this is where we are staying. But obviously it hasn’t turned out that way. This time, I don’t even know how long I will be here or if I will leave or what this house will be in my life path. I have no plan. Every day I wake up and do what needs to be done to keep the fires burning, so to speak. Mortgage paid, trash taken out, laundry done, school lunch packed, papers filed away, kids dressed, food on the table. I have no grand plan.

But as I wrote about earlier this summer, it’s liberating in ways. All that matters is here and now, and I scrape by with the routines that work for me and that grant us comfort and make us feel safe and cared for. I’m not sure where the story leads, but I know that home is where is starts, and this place is starting to feel pretty special. I look around and all I see is abundance – pictures on the wall, crayon art cluttering the fridge, plenty of food on the table, little voices always chattering.  All I need is here and now.

 

motherhood, single parenthood

the daily grind

Labor Day weekend is here, and though it is still hot in Atlanta, it somehow represents the beginning of fall.  It’s weird the things you recall years later, the things that stick. This weekend marks four years ago that I found out I was pregnant with Norah.  Four years is not all that long ago, not at all. Yet so much has changed since then. Everything.

I am here in this season with two kids and their own little personalities and quirks. Life is busy busy. Out the door each day at 7:30, all three of us dressed and breakfast eaten. Wave Jude on the bus. Drive in listening to Norah’s daily chatter. (And that girl shares A LOT!) Prep and grade and teach, pick up Norah. Head home. Get Jude. And sink into those glorious three or so hours between the end of our school day and bedtime. Bathe both kids. Bedtime stories. An hour to myself downstairs. Sleep. Repeat.  A month into the school year, and we have a rhythm. It feels good – busy but comfortable.  Weekends are a slow and easy pace when they are here, and even the smallest outings can become special. We have so much time just the three of us, and I’m grateful for the bonds it’s cementing.

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I think back to four years ago and finding out I was expecting a second child and all the questions that I examined in light of that. Will I be a good mom to two?  Can I handle all the demands of a second? Will my relationship with my first feel different?  And even stranger to me is to consider all the questions I didn’t even know to ask. I never expected to be back at work when she was only fifteen months, and at the time I found a little plus sign on a stick, I saw a stretch of years in front of me as a stay-at-home mom.  I certainly never expected that I would find the strength to raise these two as a single parent, nor did I know it would be necessary.  What blows my mind more than this is that I could have a reality in another four years that is completely different from the one I’m experiencing now. We really have no clue what the future holds, if we are doing it right anyway.

I see now, as I look back, that I was so busy making other plans for my future that I didn’t allow space for the magic to happen as it could have. So many of my growing pains this past year are a result of my counting too much on the future I was planning with someone else. Listening to what the world tells me I need – a bigger house, a nicer car, vacations, expensive things – and not allowing my inner consciousness to play around a bit and unfold what can be. When Life issued an ax to all those plans and dreams, and I was left to start over alone, it took a little while to listen to my own voice again. I’m listening now.

Our upstairs a/c broke on Wednesday when I was at work, and I didn’t find this out until I walked the kids up at 7:15 for a bath, and as I neared the last step, I felt an almost nauseating heat wave.  Obviously I knew immediately what it was and looked at the thermostat to see a reading of 84. A humid 84. Inside my house. An hour before the kids’ bedtime and after a long day that had us out until 6pm for speech therapy after school. It almost broke me.

And some people might be reading this to say shut up. It’s only air conditioning. Don’t be overdramatic and deal with it. But really, sometimes it is the little things that almost kill you. When I look back at my past few months, it is always the little things that feel heavy. The car trouble. The trips to doctor with sick kids. The broken air conditioner. Sometimes single motherhood can feel like a grand adventure, and as I said this week on Instagram, sometimes it can feel like a pile of shit.  The daily grind alone.

But I plugged in a large fan that my mom brought over for us to use, and I opened a window. The kids came in with arms full of stuffed animals and flashlights and saw this as some fun adventure, a night out of the ordinary. We all piled in the one room with a fan and a bed, and I wished for just a moment that I could see this season through the lens of my future self looking back. When I know I will see the shimmers and adventures and not always remember the pain of daily struggles. One day those rough edges will smooth in nostalgia, and I will just remember the roar of an electric fan and the window open to the rain outside and the two little bodies breathing softly next to me. I won’t remember the sweat and tears and money woes and panic. I really see clearly already that this is the best of times and the worst of times. Sometimes all in one day.

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I read or hear things everyday that work together with other ideas circulating in my head, and it gives me further assurance that there is a greater force at work here and that a new reality emerges when we have the eyes to see it. I hang on to every word, every idea.  I’ve got things scrawled on paper and hanging on my walls. Pinned online, saved anywhere I can.  The written word is a life raft to me. I ran across a Rumi quote this week that says, “You have seen your own strength. You have seen your own beauty. You have seen your golden wings. Why do you worry?”  And I have seen it – my own strength and beauty. I have seen it in these months, and I am counting on it to lead me to some place new that I can’t even imagine right now. And I don’t mean a new house or a nicer wardrobe or a world where I don’t have money panic when things break – because I have seen firsthand how little that matters. But I mean that my entire reality is changing little by little each day to create something richer and fuller, and outside circumstances are losing their power over me. That well of stillness and joy inside is growing louder and deeper everyday.

I follow a couple of yogi Instagram accounts that offer inspiration to me, and I ran across a passage last week from Pink Roses Yogi that spoke to me so much that I couldn’t let it go. “I believe that your tragedies, your losses, your sorrows, your hurt happened for you, not to you. And I bless the thing that broke you down and cracked you open because the world needs you open. I believe that life lessons are less about getting it right and more about getting it wrong. I believe that you are more on track than you feel, even if you don’t feel it – especially if you don’t feel it. For the further you get off track, the closer you actually are to abandoning the wrong path and leaping onto the right one. I believe that you are closer than you think and more qualified in your message than you could ever fathom. …  I believe that the darkness is a birthing process and that, in order to find your light, first you need to venture through the shadows of your ego. I believe that in order to be a light in the world, you first need to come home to who you truly are and then bravely show it to all those around you.”

I’m starting to bless the things that cracked me open. They’ve shown me my own strength in ways I didn’t expect. By Friday, I’d lined up an air conditioning repair service that luckily was not too expensive. We ventured to Jude’s first soccer practice of the season in the hot sun and followed that with a quick dinner out. Then on Saturday I nursed a sick kid yet again with cool washcloths and cartoons and kale smoothies. Sometimes the bravest thing you can do is just put one foot in front of the other, again and again. Doing what is needed this very minute and giving little thought to the distant future.  But that is harder than you think in a world that tells us we should always be planning for something bigger and better. We should always be climbing some ladder to a more prominent place. Preferably one with new hardwood floors and granite kitchens and Tory Burch shoes and expensive purses.  Because that’s what shows that you are worth something and you don’t have cracks and bruises.

Broken air conditioning and overflowing laundry baskets and feverish kids and exhausted moments are not what we show the world, but they happen.  And sometimes I feel like I just want a break from the daily woes, but I see that this is where it happens. Where it gets real and where my strength is made.  I’m waving my hand to you today to say that I’m knee-deep in all of these challenges everyday, but I am making it. And I can see the strange beauty in this season.

I’m reading Daring Greatly right now, and in the early chapters of the book, Brene Brown assures us that “the willingness to show up changes us. It makes us a little braver each time. […] It’s daring greatly. And often the result of daring greatly isn’t a victory march as much as it is a quiet sense of freedom mixed with a little battle fatigue.”

I feel this everyday. Battle fatigue punctuated with little moments of joy and a quiet freedom that assures me that my path has already led me to something greater when I just do the task in front of me with love and awareness.