Enough

Cleaning my house stirs up mixed emotions in me. On the one hand, when everything is clean and orderly, I get a deep sense of satisfaction. This is my house. This is what I am providing for my children. Yes, a lot of the furniture is second-hand and was given to us. Yes, the kitchen decor is from the 70s. Yes, the wood floor could use some work. Yes, there is only one bathroom that was wallpapered in psychedelic silver foil paper with bright pink and green and blue flower designs with a striped wallpaper on the ceiling giving one a sense that they were relieving themselves within a gift wrapped by someone on an acid trip, which made me immediately tear the paper off upon moving in, although I still haven’t replaced it four years later. Yes. But it is mine. And theirs.

However, while I am in the midst of cleaning I often have a bunch of other thoughts running through my head that sound a lot like this:

When I get some extra money, I am going to replace that table. I’ve always wanted a big farmhouse style dining room table with lots of chairs and a bench. It would totally fit here and be perfect. Maybe then this table could move into the kitchen as sort of a breakfast table or I could just get rid of it because it is on its last legs. I’d like to move this other table down into the basement and keep using it as an “art” table. Actually, I should probably spend money for a table on replacing the carpet in the basement. How much could that possibly cost? If we then paint the paneling and get some comfy beanbag furniture like at that new place that the boys always run in to when we pass it at the mall, it would be the perfect place for the boys to hang out with their friends and I could finally clean off that desk and make my little “office” down there too and we could have a place to do crafts that wasn’t the kitchen! But, I guess if I do have extra money, I should consider re-doing the cabinets in the kitchen. Or replacing the dishwasher. Or the microwave. Actually, I should really just suck it up and spend the money to have that bathroom built out in the basement. The people who lived here before had the wiring done and put up the beams to wall it out. How much could it cost to finish? It would be so nice to have an extra toilet in this house. And a shower, especially for the summer when coming in from the beach or being super dirty from sports, they could just get clean before even going upstairs. Perfect! I can’t imagine even having that kind of extra money though. There are always other things to spend money on. First, I should have my brother-in-law stop paying for my EZ pass. Then, when I am really on my own I can consider spending money on home improvements. Oh, and I still owe Dad money from what he loaned me for summer camp for the boys a couple of years ago. I never finished paying him back. I’ll do that with my tax money this year. If I even get any back. Of course, I need that for camp this year. Maybe I should start putting away a little money each month for all of these things. So many things! I would love to buy an electric fireplace for the blue room and a rug, then that would be a perfect room for our winter reading and snuggling. I suppose I could break down and get a TV for that room, too. If only I could get a new couch for the TV area that I could be sure the cat wouldn’t pee on. Then we could all stretch out. The boys are getting so big. That area isn’t going to hold all three of us for much longer. And I want them to be able to have friends over. I want them to have a house that they want to invite friends to. A house that will be a comforting place for them and for everyone to be.

And then I stop and sigh. And realize that for a house to be a comforting place, it is about the love of the people who live there and not about the decor. And realize, again, that I’m doing the best I can and should probably not even go down that wishful path of “It would be so great if…” We have enough. We don’t need more. Better that I can take them to the movies from time to time, or out to eat. Better that I pay for groceries and clothes. Better that they can play the sports they want. Better that we can sit at our second-hand table and play a board game and eat supper and know that someone thought enough of us to give that table to us.

We are constantly barraged with images of “perfect” homes and families on the television and in magazines. It is easy to slip into the mindset of wanting more, of trying to reach this standard of living which is pretty improbable for the majority of people in the world. It’s easy to confuse this idea that having the perfectly decorated house means you have a perfect family and life. It feels almost like if you can achieve that perfect backyard, you will certainly have the loving family memories that go along with it. But of course it doesn’t matter what your house or yard looks like. I don’t love my family any less because I have an unfinished bathroom and a Brady kitchen (sans avocado fridge).

They say that women get a low self-esteem from reading fashion magazines. Well, I had to stop looking at Pottery Barn catalogs and home magazines for similar reasons. If a furniture catalog comes in the mail, I throw it out.

It’s too easy to get caught up in the idea of “keeping up with the Joneses,” especially when one lives in an affluent, Northeastern suburb like I do. Many of my children’s friends live in large, gorgeously decorated homes. They often “wish” we had a bigger house. I always respond with, “Who would clean it? You boys don’t even like to clean the one we have!”

And now with Christmas rapidly approaching I will be faced with the boys and their desires for toys that are way too expensive and homes all around us that are beautifully decked out for the holidays. We will make our humble house homey for the season with our tree that we pick out together and a collection of ornaments that I inherited from my mom from my own childhood, as well as ornaments the boys and I have been picking out and collecting over the years. The boys’ will get new bikes for Christmas and a few other gifts and will be spoiled by their relatives and not even realize how lucky they are. But I’ll know.

The truth is we are luckier than 99% of the people out there in this great big world. We have our health  and a roof over our head and food in the refrigerator and a loving family and lots of “extras”. My kids complain that they are bored if they aren’t playing video games on their ridiculously expensive devices. I was able to buy and cook a Thanksgiving dinner for my mother and brother and have leftovers to feed us for a week. I have a job and a steady income and my boys can go to school and get an education and learn music and art and play sports. And at the end of the day, we are together. We can snuggle on our almost too small couch and read a book or watch a movie.

We have enough.

Change of Heart

Although I have a lot to say on the matter, I don’t, as a rule, write about the boys’ father or the lack of relationship there or what transpired between him and me. I stick to the facts, if I feel the need to mention it at all and give the bare minimum of context because I realize that words on the internet can live for a very long time and I don’t ever want to inadvertently write anything that may later haunt my children.

It’s probably best that I didn’t have time to blog when they were babies and toddlers because I don’t think I had the same control over my thoughts and feelings about the situation.

Recently, on my impromptu gratitude list, I noted receiving child support after many years of nothing.

It’s true, I am thankful for the extra money. Every little bit helps and to not have to put anything on my credit card each month and finally be able to pay down the debt that has accumulated over these expensive child-rearing years has eased a great load of pressure off of me.

But I think I am most grateful that something changed in this man’s heart that allowed him to see that it is right to provide for his children, regardless of how he feels about their mother.

Through the years, many people have suggested I get a court order to make him pay child support.

I have one.

When I tell them this, people’s brows furrow and no one can seem to grasp how he was able to carry on for so many years without paying. I used to feel this same way until I learned the hard way, dealing with the Department of Child Support Services in California, where it all began.

I could fill a book with the drama that transpired over the years. Maybe I will someday. But what I learned is that the system is hugely flawed. As one worker told me, “This agency is really set up to enable willing parents to pay. Not to enforce the order on those who don’t want to.”

Well, alrighty then. Don’t get me started on how ridiculous that is. I will have to write another post on how utterly unfair the child support system is.

But the fact is, the woman I cried to all those years ago was right. If a parent wants to skirt the law, they can find ways to get out of paying. It isn’t like Johnny Law finally caught up to  the boys’ father and he had no choice but to pay. He had to make a decision. He had to finally take action. And he did.

I can only hope that his change of heart will extend to the harder stuff of parenting, too. Getting to know the boys. Establishing a relationship with them. Becoming a good influence in their lives.

Part of me feels angry and resentful knowing that he skipped out on some of the hardest parts. Part of me feels sorry for him that he missed some of the most important parts. Part of me is supremely pissed that we had to go through so much during these years and that he could have done things differently from the start and we would all be in a much better place now. Part of me knows that the boys will always remember that I was the one who tucked them in at night and sang to them each morning; I was the one who made the frantic trips to the ER or stayed up while they were sick or scared; I was the one who cheered them on at their games and school events; I was the one. But part of me thinks that the allure of having “DAD” is going to be enough for them to welcome him into their lives with open arms and no questions asked, when and if he makes the decision to be a part of their lives, and that it won’t matter to them that he wasn’t there for all that stuff. And maybe that’s OK. In fact, it sure would be preferable to them being angry or hurt or feeling abandoned and mistrustful.

Part of me is fearful of what lies ahead between the boys and their father. Part of me is just grateful that he seems to be ready to take steps toward a better future for them.

I just need to have faith that this change of heart is purely motivated and permanent. And I need to make sure that my heart stays open for whatever change may come. Cautious. Protective. But open.

“Single Mom”: Dirty (and Inadequate) Words

Single mom. A phrase that carries with it so many stereotypes and mixed connotations. It is alternately used as praise and condemnation. If a child gets into trouble, the fact that he or she is raised by a single mom will surely be pointed out, and more than likely pointed to, as the reason for his or her behavior. And there is always an extra note of triumph in the success stories of adults who were raised by a single mom, as if their achievements are even more remarkable because of it. Admittedly, there is also often a sense of awe that being a single mom inspires. I sometimes feel this is unwarranted, after all, being a mom is awe-inspiring whether you are single or not. However, being praised and acknowledged is obviously better than being treated as a scourge on society, so I’ll accept the compliments uttered in wonder that I “do it all” on my own.

Either way, being a single mom is more than being a statistic, more than the left-handed (or right-handed) compliments, and more than media and political hype. It is more than the news stories and small-town gossip. It is more than the scarlet letter people tend to pin on us and more than what people assume about us. Being a single mom is more than the label itself.

Being a single mom is having double the love and half of the money.

Being a single mom means having to make all the hard decisions and living with doubt that you are making the right ones.

Being a single mom means saying “no” to things when you really wish you could say “yes”.

Being a single mom means saying “yes” when you shouldn’t because you are so tired of saying “no”.

Being a single mom is holding your child in the middle of the night when they are scared or sick and knowing that you wouldn’t trade places with another human for anything.

Being a single mom means feeling guilty for ordering pizza when you just can’t cook a meal after a long day of work or serving peanut butter and jelly because you can’t afford pizza.

Being a single mom means accepting money and hand-me-downs from people and letting gratitude and pride duke it out in your head. (Spoiler alert: gratitude wins)

Being a single mom is having a heart full to bursting as you watch your child grow and learn and succeed and you know that you are doing everything right.

Being a single mom is also having a heavy heart as you watch your child struggle and fail and you are sure you are doing everything wrong.

Being a single mom means Father’s Day could comfortably fall off the calendar.

Being a single mom means that every person you date will be seen through highly discriminating eyes.

Being a single mom means that those same eyes are going to be even more scrutinous toward the dates of your children.

Being a single mom is simultaneously feeling like you have something and nothing to prove to the world.

Being a single mom means that church can be painful.

Being a single mom is feeling like a failure and a rock star within the same day, sometimes within the same hour.

Being a single mom means cringing when someone mentions discussing a family decision over with “your husband”.

Being a single mom means double cringing when someone asks your children about their father.

Being a single mom means that there are going to be some very lonely, difficult, and dark nights of the soul.

Being a single mom also means you will experience fulfillment and satisfaction you didn’t know was possible.

Being a single mom means being resourceful, outspoken, independent, tired, upbeat, and hopeful.

Being a single mom means eating the food left over on your child’s plate and maybe nothing else.

Being a single mom is wearing the same shoes until they fall apart so that your kids can have new sneakers.

Being a single mom means sometimes a clean house is not a priority.

Being a single mom means haircuts, manicures, and new outfits for you are luxuries.

Being a single mom is sometimes breaking down and admitting how hard this life can be.

Being a single mom means thinking about your kids when you are at work and work when you are with your kids and feeling pulled in a million different directions.

Being a single mom is not the life you once envisioned.

Being a single mom is finding strength you didn’t know you had, humor in the chaos, and a fierce, protective love for the family you have devoted yourself to.

Being a single mom is being the MVP in your child’s life.

God bless all the single moms doing the best they can despite being bombarded by ignorant remarks and attitudes. Like the Peace Corps, this is the toughest job you’ll ever love. Too many women get stuck believing in the bullshit that we hear about single moms and their kids, as if our futures are practically a foregone conclusion. Do not believe it.

Single moms are strong and capable and our children have inherited these traits from us. They will live what they learn and when they learn that determination and hard work pay off because they watch as their parent tirelessly gives and does and advocates and provides for them, they will know that they too can take on the world. Someday, they will thank you. And maybe, just maybe, the world will stop blaming and shaming single moms for everything from gun violence to poverty and instead start encouraging and helping the women who show up every day to do the hard work of raising kids on their own.

Art and life

I had high hopes for this weekend. Now that we have eliminated the dreaded coxsackie, I figured our summer was shaping up.

Our town put on a Wayne Day Bazaar and I put aside some dough so the boys could enjoy themselves. Of course it wasn’t enough in their eyes and oh how I wish money were no object, but hey, we do the best we can. They really did have fun riding the unlimited rides and after playing the one game each we had money for they pronounced all carnival games a rip-off. Amen to that.

We had a late night, the kind all summer nights should be, but we had to get up relatively early to make it to the city for G to have his EEG. This was to be a 24 hour ambulatory test so the technician put the electrodes on and wrapped his head up and we tied on a bandana and off we went. G was prepared to tell anyone who asked that he was bionic or a wizard. I think was mildly disappointed that no one asked.

We ate a nice picnic lunch in Central Park and I thought about how lucky we were to live in a place people only dream of going. C mused that he would like to live in the city but deduced we would have much smaller living quarters which didn’t exactly float his boat. I pointed out that they would have to be a lot quieter too because neighbors. C said we would have to live on the bottom floor and I nodded but then G stated that we would then have to deal with people trampling overhead. Very wise.

We left the city to drive to Westchester to see a colleague of mine whose husband was having an art show. It was at a gorgeous library in Irvington which is a lovely, quaint town. The boys enjoyed the art (and snacks) and so did I. The artist takes digital photos and then manipulates them in photoshop to look like paintings. They were beautiful. He was very impressed with my sensitive, articulate, creative boys. He also made it a point to let me know that it was my influence that allowed them to be that way. He told me he could tell that I had connection to art and that I was creative as well. It was so nice to have someone see these things about me when often I feel I am only seen as mom. And a single, harried one at that.

I resolved to be in closer touch with that person inside of me. The one who longs for art and travel and beauty and wisdom. Of course when we got home we were all so tired the most I could do was pop in a movie for us all to watch.

Today I had dreamed we would go take a hike and take some photographs and talk of all the places we wanted to see and visit. By the time I was done with my chores, however, I discovered that I had screwed up my back. So I popped some ibuprofen and soaked in a hot bath and told myself there was plenty of summer left for those adventures.

There is so much for us all to see and do and I am determined to figure out a way to do it. Travel is expensive, but living an unfulfilled life without chasing one’s dreams seems more costly. I want to share my dreams with my sons and help them get a broad view of the world. I want them to understand that even though we need to make a living it is even more important to live. Regardless of the obstacles that seem to stand in our way, I will teach my sons that no goal is out of reach if you are determined enough to make it happen. And if there are three more determined, stubborn, creative, sensitive people living under one roof than us–I’d love to meet them. Oh, the places we will go!

20140713-211327-76407951.jpg

20140713-211329-76409770.jpg

20140713-211328-76408728.jpg

20140713-211330-76410227.jpg

I have no gift to bring

1917_41998759162_889_n

It is so easy to get wrapped up (pun intended) in the gift-giving frenzy of Christmas. Every year I try to keep it simple and every year I stretch myself beyond the limits I should. I had to leave work early this week in order to get the giving tree gifts for church that I had committed to getting and since I left it until the last minute and got snowed in two of my important shopping days, I had no choice but to use my last half of a personal day to race to a store and pick up the gifts. “You over-extended yourself,” my co-worker pointed out. Yup. Guilty. A thousand times guilty.

Without getting into too much detail about the thin financial ice I am on, I had a moment of clarity today at work while I was passing out my meager baked goods as a gesture of goodwill toward those who had helped me out all year long. A picture of a coworker’s son–a handsome, young football player not unlike my own–shook me out of my “if only I had more money to gift the way I want” mentality. You see, this young boy lost his older brother this summer in a bicycle accident. This Christmas he and his family will be grieving. They will no doubt try to be happy and celebrate what they have, but there will be a hole in their hearts that can never be filled with gifts or food or good wishes. The mother of these boys will be the pillar of strength that she has been through these long months, no doubt plagued with moments of intense sadness, but she will do what she has to do to keep living for her youngest son while experiencing the type of pain I can only imagine.

It doesn’t matter if I have no money and a ton of debt. I can make more money. It does matter that I have two rambunctious, healthy boys that I can hug and kiss and squeeze every day. It does matter that no matter how alone I feel at times, I am never alone. I have a family filled with amazingly wonderful, kind and generous people. I have a wide and varied circle of friends that range all over the world; some that I have known practically all my life. I have been blessed with people who truly care, who go the extra mile, who have been there and are there and will be there. These are the true gifts of the season.

Advent is about preparing our hearts for Jesus. About making room for the gifts that God alone bestows upon us: love, kindness, compassion, forgiveness. It is a lovely gesture to give gifts to each other to show one another that we matter, that our relationships matter, that the spirit of God is alive in each of us. But if we become so focused on checking off our lists and filling our days with doing and buying and gifting, there is a real danger in not leaving the time or space in our hearts and minds to let God fill us up. I had a reality check today. It is time to be still and let the true spirit of the season fill me up so that I can appreciate these fleeting precious moments of my sons’ childhoods. This time will not come again and can disappear in an instant.

Like the Little Drummer Boy, we all have a gift to bring. But it won’t come wrapped up with bows and be found under the tree. We all need to look inside and realize where our true gifts lie and make sure that we are bringing it. Not just on Christmas, but every day. That is how we will honor Him and each other. Hug your loved ones tight. Pray for those who cannot. Love your neighbors. Forgive. Make room. Believe.