Home alone 

In my almost eleven years as a mom, I’ve left my boys a few times. The first time was obviously the most traumatic since they were only about 14 months old. I had a job interview across the country and I REALLY needed a job that would pay more money and allow me to be more self-sufficient. At that point in time, I’d had a nanny for a few months who was very dedicated and sweet and who had two young girls of her own. She offered to have the boys stay overnight with her for the weekend while I flew to New York from California. I did it and still don’t know how I managed to do so without completely losing my mind.

In retrospect, I probably did lose my mind a bit. On the flight to New York, a red-eye, I ended up passing out somewhat inexplicably and needing an ambulance to take me to the hospital upon arrival. Maybe it was stress, combined with altitude, combined with a couple of beers and cigarettes while waiting to depart, or maybe it was hormones or God knows what else, but it wasn’t pretty. When the doctors advised that I check myself in and have some tests run, I refused. I tried to explain that I had an interview the following day and would be flying back to San Diego after that interview and back to my babies, thank you very much. I promised to get checked out by a doctor when I was back in California and checked myself out of the hospital. My mom and my sister drove to Long Island to pick me up since that is where the ambulance mistook me thinking I was staying there and not where my sister lived–2 hours away.

It was a whirlwind 48 hours and I was never so glad to be home and hold and snuggle those babies. They were alive and cooing and nothing awful or tragic had befallen them and in the end I got the job. Looking back, I don’t know how I did it; leaving my kids with people who were practically strangers to me. But then, all working parents know what it is like to have to leave their kids with a nanny or at daycare with people they have vetted and believe to be good, but one never really knows. Most of the times these are the risks we take because we really have no other choice.

The next couple of times I left my boys on a weekend with my sister or my mom so that I could spend a night with my BFF in a hotel in the city and down at the Jersey shore to celebrate my birthday. These were relatively short jaunts to nearby places and I felt exhilarated rather than stressed. I knew they were fine and I was never more than an hour or so away. The boys barely knew I was gone.

I did a long weekend away when one of my best friends got married in California. It was difficult, but I was so focused on the wedding that I didn’t stress too much. And then there was the New Year’s long weekend when they were four and I went a couple of hours away with my boyfriend and left the boys with my mom. This went relatively well except for me waking up in the middle of the night interrogating him about where the boys were and thinking that someone had taken them out from under my nose while I was sleeping. It was similar to when I’d wake up when they were babies and tear the sheets off my bed having dreamed they were suffocating in the blankets or worried that I’d fallen asleep with them in my arms.

There have been work trips that lasted a couple of nights and one trip to CA to see my friend and her new baby, a couple of nights in Boston to see a speaker I love, and a sanity trip to Cape Cod last summer–all relatively short trips away, all with the boys staying with family and basically maintaining their schedule and life and normalcy.

And they’ve also had nights away at slumber parties and friends’ houses. Happily leaving me behind with a “seeyalaterbye” and going off to do boy things that boys do. This past winter they had the opportunity to do a weekend campout at the nearby (read: 5 minutes) Boy Scout camp in cabins with some of the boys and Scout dads I had grown to know and trust over the past few years. I’ve been OK. I’ve taken the baby steps to let them go out on their own a little bit. I have. Really.

But when they expressed a desire to go on a week-long adventure to sleep away Boy Scout camp, I was a little uncertain. OK. More than a little. Pretty freaked out actually. Doesn’t matter that I had left them before for short periods of time with people they spent lots of time with anyway. This would be the first time THEY were leaving ME. For a week!

After much consideration, I decided to let them go. After all, what is parenthood but a series of these moments where we decide to let our children go.

As the time got closer, I realized they were not going to have a problem being away from me for a week. It was all me. I was the one freaking out. I was the one who was going to need to cope with their absence. I was the one being left home alone.

So far, the experience has been…interesting. I’ve definitely stressed over whether they were OK and whether they were homesick or if they were having a good time. I worry that they are safe and if they can handle any uncomfortable situation which might arise. But the one side-effect I wasn’t ready for was how this independence would make ME feel. Suddenly, they are one step closer to taking the car keys and leaving me for the night. They are one step closer to making their own decisions about how to spend their time whether or not I approve. They are one step closer to leaving me behind to go to college, and forge their own way, and have their own life.

And all this is scary enough without it also shining a light on the fact that over these eleven years, I don’t necessarily know myself anymore when it doesn’t relate to them. I’m mom. Who will I be when they are gone? I’m always mom, and will always be a mom, but it’s been a long time since I had the freedom to think and act independently from them. Soon, they will really be gone and I will be left on my own. What will I do then? Who will I be? What will I spend my time doing?

These past few days have reminded me a little of who I was before the boys came along and who I might be when they leave me behind for good. I took a day off of work to go to the beach and recharge. What will it be like to have all my vacation days and personal days to spend as I choose, not on caring for them when they aren’t in school or taking them to he doctor or dentist or being there when they are sick?

Tonight I thought I might get my nails done or watch a movie, but instead I dropped off their pillows and some cards with a Scout dad who is going up to camp tomorrow and ended up having a glass of wine with some other moms and realizing I’m not alone in my longing to have my boys where I can see them, in arms reach, where I know they are well and safe and enjoying their childhood. It was good to share the letting-go experience with others who are feeling it too.

But I know now my time is coming. Time that I have so desperately wanted and time that I so desperately wish I could keep at bay for a few more years of holding my little boys in my arms and snuggling them and knowing that all was right with the world. Before I know it, I will be alone and I will need to prepared to live MY life again and not just the life of me, mom, but me, ME. How will I do? What will I do?

Some things that have already occurred to me include:

  • Walking around the house naked is so liberating. I will definitely be doing more of that when they are gone.
  • Not needing to make sure that anyone but me has what they need for the day saves SO much time. I can definitely sleep later in the future.
  • I can choose to take off work, wake up at the crack of dawn, spend the day at the beach, and still make it home to get a good night’s sleep without worrying about snacks, riptide, under-tow, snacks, not enough sunscreen, three chairs, snacks, a cooler, an umbrella, snacks, a sheet, sand toys, boogie boards, snacks, bathroom breaks or stopping three times on the parkway for any number of reasons. So efficient!
  • If someone asks if I want to stay and have a drink, I can say: Sure!
  • The gym is open early! I can go before work and never think twice. I might actually be in shape again.
  • I can watch whatever I want on TV and it doesn’t matter how loud. Even if they are cursing. Or having sex. Or blowing shit up. I don’t even have to sneak a peek to see if my boys have overheard what I’ve been watching.

I’m sure there will be more by the end of the week.

What I do need to relearn is how to prioritize those things that are important to me. And how to identify those same things… I’m not even sure anymore what my priorities are beyond them. I guess what I have learned is that in letting my boys become who they are, I need to remember how to become who I am.

Because sooner than I am ready, it’s going to be all me.

Is it OK to not be OK?

How are you?

Fine. You?

Great.

We have these mini-conversations every day. And it is a standard. For the most part, no one is really inviting you in that moment to discuss your general well-being. It’s the new hello. How are ya? Good! Great. Have a good day.

But what about people you know? People you REALLY know. At what point can you say, you know what- I’m NOT OK. Not even a little bit. Seems to me noone really wants to hear it. And that’s OK, too, because lord knows we all have enough going on.

One of my favorite replies came from one of my grandparents who used to say, “Can’t complain. Who would listen anyway?” I don’t remember which grandparent would say this, maybe they all did. Maybe you just get to that point in your life where you think no one wants to hear your laundry list of Things That Have Gone Wrong Today. And that’s true. No one does. Again, lord knows we have our own sets of crosses to bear. But at what point does not burdening another with our bullshit become holding in things which are actually kind of significant to us? Things that will eat at us from the inside if we don’t let them out.

I was a Facebook “vague book” offender the other day when I posted that my heart was heavy and I urged people to be nice to one another because as the saying goes, we are all fighting battles no one knows about. I received so many lovely and comforting comments and texts. It felt good to know I was supported. But I didn’t necessarily want to get down into the deep and nitty-gritty. And I don’t, on a public blog, want to go there now.

However, I realized today when I let loose my angst on my child that I had been keeping too much bottled inside. It’s not that I don’t talk to people–I do. My mom. Sometimes my sister. I have friends I tell things to piecemeal. But I’ve been known to hold back and sugar coat. Because who really wants to hear that I’m hanging by a slender thread of sanity? That even though I could rattle off a gratitude list as long as your arm and I start and end each day with a prayer and I realize I am among the very blessed of this world, I am still sinking deep into a place where I desperately don’t want to go.

Admitting weakness is not one of my strong suits. I can self-deprecate with the best of them, but when it comes right down to it I feel like I am a strong mofo, above weakness of any sort, and there is absolutely zero room for me to complain or accept sadness or accept anything that is not within my immediate control.

But that’s all a load of horseshit.

There are a zillion things out of my control. From as big as the constant barrage of violence in our world to the way my children react to the only parenting I am qualified to give to health issues that arise which I am not qualified to fix, whether they be mental or physical.

This is certainly not something that the odd passerby who asks me how I’m doing needs to hear. But it is something we all need to address in our lives; whether we need to find that trusted confidante or we need to admit to ourselves that there is a problem that can’t be solved on our own, we need to stop pretending that things are OK when they are not.

Maybe if more people said, “I’m not OK right now” and weren’t looked at as freaks or inappropriate or whatever, this world would be a different place.

I know that today is just a moment in time. I know that this, too, shall pass.  But let’s all remember people need a safe place to say, “I’m not OK”. If we all strive to be a safe place for someone, anyone, maybe the world wouldn’t seem so overwhelming.

Just a thought and I haven’t written anything in so long, I’m just hitting publish on this baby…

 

 

 

One-liner Wednesday– Writing

This is how you do it: you sit down at the keyboard and you put one word down after another until it’s done. It’s that easy, and that hard.  – Neil Gaiman


This post is brought to you as an attempt to keep up with this blog despite the many squirrels and sickness and life things which keep popping up and distracting me from doing the very thing this quote suggests. AND as a part of Linda G. Hill’s One-Liner Wednesdays. Check it out!

Not quite a one-liner Wednesday–Squirrel!

A friend of mine told me a story about how he went to the park to run and ended up just sitting in the car watching squirrels. The story was a lot funnier the way he told it, and it reminded me of the dogs in the movie UP. Squirrels became our code word for anything distracting, any threat to our train of thought, any obstacle that might get between us and completing a goal, a task, a sentence, or even a thought. The other day at a department store, the boys and I became very engrossed in picking out Halloween decor even though I had gone into the store to buy new dress pants for work. Suddenly, G is wearing a Santa hat with Yoda ears and they are talking about picking out their annual Christmas ornaments and I’m all, “whoa, whoa…we are getting off track here.” G said very seriously, “there are a LOT of squirrels in this store.”

My big problem is there seem to be a growing number of squirrels in my life. Are squirrels like rabbits in that they multiply rapidly? I should look that up. SEE?! This is how my brain works lately. I’ll sit down to do one thing and then before I know it my train of thought has thoroughly derailed and there are many, many casualties.

Amongst the casualties has been my writing. I cannot focus long enough to take a thought, flesh it out, and complete a series of meaningful sentences to convey whatever it is that I want to communicate. It’s common for me to have many different ideas for blog posts or character development or stories, but it is unusual for me not to at least write something about any one of those things. But these days, I am just left with a swirling mass of noise in my head and nothing to show for it.

My dreams have been super vivid and complex, no doubt as a result of all of these unresolved thoughts trying to make sense of themselves in my subconscious. But do I wake up and write them down? Nooooooo. I immediately allow myself to become bombarded with squirrel after squirrel. The other day I found myself fully dressed for work, cleaning the bathroom after the boys had left for school, about 20 minutes after I should have left for my own commute.

Today I spent an hour at work just following up on emails and tasks I should have completed weeks ago. There is a joke at work about certain people who become distracted by shiny objects. Except I’m not laughing about it any more. I have become that person.

I have at least ten browser windows open on my computer at any given time for any given browser. Working in the digital space means I often have several browsers open at any given time and different applications too. It’s a wonder I can find anything. Ever.

I’m sure it’s the society we live in. The information age. So many distractions arising from being über connected all the time. I always prided myself on not falling victim to it and yet, here I am. I called bullshit on multi-tasking a while back. And I meant it. We aren’t meant to do more than one thing at a time. Without mindfulness, everything is half-assed. I want to do everything with my full ass. My problem is I can’t get my whole ass to just sit and complete the task at hand. I can’t even decide on which task to complete!

I’ve got two main things I think about a LOT of the time.

  1. My son’s health. He had a CAT scan on his belly today and did amazing. Still waiting for the results. This in and of itself, his health and this mystery condition he has which rears its ugly head only when I’ve finally let my guard down and believe maybe he has “grown out of it” trigger at least a dozen thoughts, if not more, a day.
  2. The boys’ schooling. Here’s a typical train of thought: Did they do their homework? Oh shit, I didn’t do the fundraiser. Well, I paid my PTA dues. Should I go to the PTA meeting? When is that? When is the next fundraiser? Oh my goodness, I have to do the fundraiser for church too. And cub scouts. And baseball. Baseball tryouts are coming up. I need to sign C up for karate. Wish I had been able to find a place for him to go to tennis. Geez, no wonder they can’t concentrate on their homework there is too much other stuff going on. G really needs to practice his violin. When do their after school activities start? How are they going to do it all? How am I going to do it all?

The rest of the time my brain is like: Did you do that work thing? Maybe you should bring up that great idea you had in the shower (I have all my best ideas in the shower. By the time my hair is dry, I’ve forgotten most of them). Don’t forget to get the car to the airport for your business trip. Yikes, I hope my mom can handle the boys when I’m gone. When am I ever going to find time to see my friends.  When will I finally join a gym? How will I get there? How can I pay for it? I should be spending that money fixing up the house. I need to find a waterproof cover for the couch so the cat won’t ruin another piece of furniture with his pee. I should write a story about that damn cat. Should I do NaNoWriMo this year? Can I actually finish my novel? When am I going to work on my new business plan? Changes are happening at work, this would be a good time. But I’m so tired. I don’t even write on my blog. Oh geez, I really need to go write on my blog. I’m going to lose readers. No one reads this anyway. I should just go relax and catch up on my reading. Although I did that free trial of HBONow. I should really be watching more TV to get the most out of it. Dammit I never called Verizon to get a new remote after I washed mine in the laundry. Now I can’t watch any shows with parental controls on them….

And on and on and on.

I need to turn it off.

My vacation at the end of the summer was great. I stayed away from the computer and TV and phone and everything else. I spent every day in nature with the boys and then sat by the fire reading and listening to music every night. It was heaven. There were a lot of geese. But no squirrels.

It’s time to set up some squirrel baffles and figure out how to get back to a one-track mind. At least for a few hours at a time. I’d love to hear what other people do to keep those squirrels at bay.

Unfortunately, they can be so damn engaging.

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Stumbling

This school year I was (am) determined to stay on top of things. Last year, we got off to a rocky start compounded by an ill-timed vacation from which I feel like we never fully recovered. We also switched up the routine last year by not having a babysitter for after school care and instead the boys attended the YMCA sponsored program. While the Y has been great to us, the after care situation didn’t work for a number of reasons and I felt like I just didn’t have enough control over things.

One of the hardest things about being a working parent is dealing with child care. Finding the right person or daycare or program to take care of your child while you are working is ridiculously stressful. I had been super lucky in the past with having sitters I could trust, but after a few missteps in that direction, using the Y after care seemed like the best alternative. However, it just didn’t work out the way I needed it to. As the boys get older, I need someone who can be there to supervise homework and get them to all of their activities and feed them the food I want them fed, and basically do all the things that I want to be able to do.

So, I’ve found a great sitter and have been trying to establish and maintain a routine in hopes that we can all have a relatively peaceful and productive school year.

It’s been about four weeks and I’m already reaching for the Xanax.

Things aren’t going badly, per se, but I’m reminded almost daily that what I really want to be able to do is just be there for my children when they get home from school. I want to be in control. I want to set the routine. I want to be present. But, alas, I have to bring home the bacon.

Surely, there is a way I can do both. I just need to figure it out.

My anxiety comes from my fear that by the time I will figure it out they will be grown and I won’t have been able to do everything I wanted to do for them. I suppose part of it is having a fantasy that were I fully present during my time with them, my time wouldn’t only be spent as a nagging, stressed out mom who is preoccupied with feeding them, making sure homework is done, making sure her own work is done, making sure their teeth are brushed and their bodies are clean and they aren’t spending too much time in front of a screen and that my role in the house would be more than a glorified housekeeper/landlord.

I want my kids to look forward to their time with me instead of dreading it. I want to enjoy our time together instead of it being a checklist of everything that must get done before bedtime is strictly enforced. In theory, I have a pretty good work-life balance. But in reality, the “life” part isn’t balanced at all. And “me” time–the me-mom balance–is pretty much non-existent.

It’s not that I don’t enjoy working. I have friends who are stay-at-home moms who remind me how good I have it to engage in critical thinking and adult conversations pretty much daily. I’m lucky in that way. I am also lucky I have a job I like for an organization I believe in. Who am I to complain?

But if I could redesign my life, I’d do it a little differently.

And I hear myself telling my boys that they can do or be anything or anyone they want to be. And I feel the urgency as I tell them to work hard now so their opportunities aren’t limited. And I push them and push them because I feel like they need to START NOW and make it happen because I was once so full of potential which I squandered and I find now I am trying to gather the seeds I so recklessly scattered and plant a fertile garden, but it is so hard and it would have been so much easier if I had begun sooner, if I hadn’t gone off course, if I had just realized the future can be affected by the actions we take even when we are at the tender age of ten.

Then I laugh at myself.

If I had done everything that I was expected to do, if I had never wandered down that less traveled path, if I had worked up to the potential my teachers saw in me and never deviated, never daydreamed, never chosen socializing over work, never explored, I would never have even discovered who I am and what I am here to do.

I would probably be no better off than I am now. In fact, I might be living a soul-crushing life of drudgery and living up to other’s expectations.  I might have been a vet, though. Or making a living at being a writer. Or married and a stay-at-home mom. Or a psychologist. There were a lot of other paths I could have chosen. But I didn’t.

I’ll never know.

As parents, we want our kids to be happy. We want our kids to find their lane and what they are good at and what makes them feel alive. We want them to live up to their potential. The trick is letting them discover for themselves. My instinct is to be the Tiger mom. To push and push and know what is best and have them thank me for it later. But that is the EXACT opposite of the path I chose as a child. I had a lot of freedom. My parents pushed me, but not hard. They let me fail. They let me figure it out. They let me.

It’s hard not to be in control.

So, as the new school year unfolds, I struggle to push myself beyond the limitations I have wrought upon myself and to ensure my children don’t follow the same shaky path. Do as I say, not as I’ve done.

And of course, among my many thoughts on how I could be a better parent, I am reminded that if there were another parent to shoulder the load, if I had a partner that was helping to fill in the gaps, if only I could share all of the responsibility of making sure these boys both enjoyed being kids AND reached their potential of being successful and happy beyond their wildest dreams…maybe, just maybe, I wouldn’t be such a giant ball of stress and nerves all the time.

It’s single parent’s curse, I guess. Maybe I feel the need to push because I want them to prove the statistics wrong. I want them to be the über successful kids of a single mom. I want to make sure that no one will ever say, “Well, it’s no wonder…they were raised by a single mom”.

Part of me knows this is ridiculous.

The other part yelled at them because homework wasn’t done to the best of their ability.

It’s going to be a long year while I figure it all out.