Ch-Ch-Changes

Time may change me. But I can’t trace time.

– David Bowie


I’ve been spending a lot of time writing off my blog and participating in Write Yourself Alive. In retrospect, I should have just used the blog as a forum for some of these exercises, but I was hesitant because I was writing about many themes that had nothing to do with me as a mother or my adventures as a single mom raising the twin tornadoes. This particular prompt really threw me for a loop, however, and in the end I decided this was the perfect place to explore it.

Question/Dig Deeper: Dissect change. What scares you or makes you uncomfortable about it? What helps you deal with it best?

Prompt: Write a short autobiographical story (1st or 3rd person) in which you reflect change. There must be an obvious before and after in the character/s.

At first, I thought this was easy. I’d always had an uncomfortable relationship with change so I thought I would write about my first awareness of it and how I’d grown and matured. I began writing about how my mother and her friend and I had sat on the beach when I was about fifteen and read my Tarot cards. They were studying Tarot at the time and I was a bit of a guinea pig. My future card was The Moon. Change.

I was resistant. I read something else in the cards. But they insisted that the card represented a massive change in my life up ahead. I should have embraced it. There was nothing in my life which warranted a comfort in staying where I was or whom I was. And yet…

As I explored this and started telling the story of me, I became extremely frustrated. Every time I thought I was writing something about how I embraced change and learned from it, it seemed the story started betraying me.

I haven’t changed at all! Not even since I was fifteen fucking years old! How can that be???

I was tempted to cheat and just write a story about becoming a mom. That sure as hell changed me. But there was this nagging at the back of my mind, something I needed to hash out and make sense of, something that would make the following a little less hard to swallow:

You are the same scared, insecure, gratification seeking, angry, loving, selfish, kind, passionate, opinionated, defiant, compliant, dichotomous person you have always been. Any grand transformation you feel has taken place is a total sham. If anything, you have been going forward in a dizzying spiral which only faintly resembles progress, but is, in reality, a series of pirouettes.

Then a friend who knows me inside and out suggested that I had indeed changed during these post-children, mommy years he had known me.

More confident. Less dependent. More trusting. Hopeful. Peaceful.

Still, I abandoned any further dissection of this tricky subject. And then I had the chance to examine both of my boys independently while we were at the ocean this past weekend. I was amazed at the simple, subtle ways they had changed (and not changed) and were becoming evermore themselves. Individuals. Growing. Almost tweens.

Gone were my babies. Gone was the need to hover over them every second. I still waded out into the ocean with them, as they grabbed their boogie boards with varying degrees of daring. I spent time with each of them alone; testing the ocean and our limits. I watched as their approaches were both the same as they were when they were younger, and yet, different; progressed.

C, cautious as ever, but wanting to embrace the surf. G, almost careless, getting reprimanded by the sea. And mama, letting them go, keeping a watchful eye as they discovered their limits and their limitlessness in the rough waves.

My boys are growing up in the time between when I close my eyes at night and wake to them making their breakfasts in the morning. I’m quickly losing sight of the babies, toddlers, little boys they used to be. They are the big kids now, not quite tweens and thank God, not teenagers, but they are well on their way. And they have changed with time and not changed at all, simultaneously. It is hard for me sometimes to see the difference between the changes time is bringing and the difference which they are having on themselves.

It’s all change though, right?

I realized while watching the boys and contemplating my changes as a mother that time does indeed change us, even though we may not think we are changing at all. Maybe there are certain core characteristics that will never change and that is alright. But maybe, with experience, we can enhance or abandon those patterns or traits which set us back. We may approach life with all of our baggage, with all that we have been or done before, but the outcomes may be wildly different according to our wisdom, and self-awareness, and discipline.

Maybe it is OK that I am pirouetting through life, as long as those circles are projecting me forward.

Maybe if a circle is destructive enough and I stumble, I will embrace a new choreography. I want to believe I have already done that. Certainly, as a mother, I have.

We cannot stay static for long. We cannot trace time’s immeasurable effect. We can only breathe in and out each day and attempt to learn from what has come before.

all that lies ahead

all that lies ahead–seven years ago…

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All that you can’t leave behind

A wise friend recently told me I need to cut ties with people who no longer serve me. “Clean your closets or make room for them on the shelf,” she said.

It occurred to me during my 4 1/2 hours of reading, sunbathing, sipping cocktails and quiet contemplation while the boys were at a party yesterday, that this bit of wisdom doesn’t only pertain to certain relationships in my life, but also to many habits, thought patterns, and behaviors of mine. My closets are chock full of useless crap and it is time to do a serious purge.

And I need to be ruthless about it.

I started taking inventory on everything I was holding on to: shame, guilt, anxiety, unhealthy eating, smoking, fears, insecurities, negative relationships, anger, childhood stuff, young adult stuff, stuff from last week…all competing for space in my closet. And I wonder why I can’t find the good shit when I need it.

I’ve always been a bit of a hoarder. I have a hard time letting go of things and people, memories and feelings. I wrote once about why I thought it was I kept so much crap in boxes and bins: photos and old letters and toys and things of sentimental value. And my conclusion was that I’d had a fantasy of my future child going through the boxes and learning about me; that my child and perhaps the world would come to know me through what I had chosen to keep, as if they could be pieced together like a puzzle to reveal me at last.

So I had to ask myself, “Is everything you are holding on to part of who you are and part of who you want to be known as?”

The answer is no. Not even close.

Today is day 2 of my 60 days of gratitude countdown to the boys’ tenth birthday. It’s the perfect time to take the trash out.

Full-disclosure February

February has never been my favorite month.

I do love Groundhog Day. To me, it is the first sign of thinking about spring. Whether it is six weeks or eight weeks or whenever Mother Nature sees fit, no matter to me. A cute rodent is looking for its shadow and the world is wondering if it will be an early spring. Someday I will make the journey to Punxatawney and be a part of the spectacle.

Valentine’s Day? Hmmph. Whatever. I make an effort for the boys. We like to make cute Valentine projects. Love is wonderful. But the holiday is not really my scene.

Superbowl Sunday? Such fun. I love any big sporting event. Competition. Food. Clever advertising. What’s not to enjoy? Although I enjoyed it so much more when I lived on the West Coast and it didn’t start so late in the day.

I’ve got some friends and family with birthdays in February. That’s always something to celebrate. And Fat Tuesday usually happens in February and I can get behind a day of wanton excess.

I discovered I was pregnant in February. That was an interesting year.

It’s the shortest month, so its got that going for it. And once it is gone, Spring is so close you can practically taste it. But alas, if I had to choose one month out of the year to ditch…sorry, February, you’re it.

This year, I decided to combine lots of different elements to make February more engaging, more challenging, and ultimately more transformative (I hope) as we cruise into the Springtime of my 40th year. First, I decided I would undertake the Sober February Challenge.

It is exactly what it sounds like but you can follow the link and read it for yourselves. People do it for all sorts of reasons, but I figure it will be a good way to detox my body and save some money, too. I’ll need that extra money because I am also going to detoxify by changing my diet. I did a similar program last year (no sugar, lots of protein and veggies, moderate fat) and it worked great. I felt so much better and had more energy and I figure THAT is exactly what I need to feel great this February. The only catch is there’s a lot of cooking and meal planning and organic food shopping that needs to happen. But that’s OK, I won’t be spending any money on wine or on alcohol if I go out with my friends, so I can put it toward my meals.

No drinking should also help with quitting my worst vice: smoking. I’ve come so close, so many times. I get to the point where I am only having one cigarette a night or only when I am out having drinks with friends and I think, why the hell can’t I quit? What tethers me to these disgusting, smelly, nasty, cancer-causing sticks? These are rhetorical questions. I’ve tried everything. It’s just going to take sheer will power at this point, but this seems like the right time to do it.

February, since you already suck, I am just going to make this the most brutal 28 days of my life. It will be like boot camp. Only better. And I will come out of it a healthier and happier person.

So, with my no drinking, no smoking, new diet, I figured I would need another challenge to keep me focused on why I am doing all of this–because I want to live another 40 years (at least) to share many more adventures with my children and experience as much of this world as I can and to write about it as I go.

I looked for some good blog challenges to keep me on track like NaBloPoMo did, but I didn’t find any that struck a chord. So, I decided to make up my own: Full-disclosure February.

In looking back at my most popular posts, I noticed that the ones people responded to the most were those in which I was revealing the most about myself. Since September, I have been wanting to write a post inspired by a speaker that I listened to at a conference I attended through my work.

Kevin Bracy was a truly amazing speaker whose thoughts and words have stuck with me all these many months. The conference was for parents who are a part of a very special community Share Your Story, whom I have the privilege of working for and with. It is a support community for parents of premature children or children with birth defects or children who had to spend time in the NICU and for those parents who experienced the loss of their child. Kevin had his work cut out for him as he took on the role of keynote speaker and addressed what these parents were going through in “Finding a New Normal”.

One of the exercises he had us do was to go around our tables and tell a bit of our story using these words, “If you knew me, you’d know…” and THEN go around and say “If you REALLY knew me, you’d know…”. It was a tough, emotional exercise, but revealing. Not only revealing to the people at the table, but to ourselves, to reach into the place that sometimes not even our closest friends see, a place sometimes we don’t even go, and see what we pull out.

I kept toying with the idea of making it a blog post or series of posts. Something along the lines of, “If you knew me, you’d know I was a single mom of twins. If you REALLY knew me, you’d know that even though I’ll often say I thought I was too selfish to have babies and be a mother, my whole life I dreamed of having a big family. A loving husband. Lots of kids that loved one another and looked out for one another. A fairy tale. Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt and their whole crew. But me. And someone who loved me more than life itself. And a big brood of happy, healthy kids. However, I am stuck with the reality that while I am so ridiculously lucky to have healthy, mostly happy twin boys, I will probably never have that fairy tale. I would love to be married to a loving man and have another baby, but the reality is that doesn’t seem to be in the cards for me. And sometimes I resent the hell out of that.”

Full-disclosure. All February long. I will detoxify my body and my mind and put all my energy into writing (and parenting) (and waiting for Spring).

I’d love for others to join in. If you decide to join, please send me a link! I also think this will only work if my lovely and amazing readers will comment and ask me questions or give me topics on which they’d like my raw and unadulterated answers. Give me something to write about!

No masks this February

No masks this February

Reboot

Dilbert, by Scott Adams

There is a reason this is a well-recognized joke. Sometimes, starting over is the only solution. Do over. Reboot.

I was dismayed to learn that my boys had two full weeks off from school for winter break. It meant that I, too, needed to take that time off from work and that I wouldn’t be able to even take one day for myself. Plus, after two weeks, I knew they would be completely off-track and it would be like starting all over again when it came to getting organized and getting ready for school. But we’ve been off-track since the start. What difference will it make?

So now after some thought, I am singing a different tune. And that tune is, Hallelujah!

We desperately need a reboot in our house.

A few days ago after a particularly horrible morning when we missed the bus and couldn’t find our homework and there were tears and fighting and general awfulness, after I dropped the boys off at school something made me turn around and go home. OK. So, it wasn’t something in the abstract sense. It was the thought that I could go home and have a cigarette and calm down before I went to work. Despite the fact that I keep telling myself that is how the old me does things. That’s the old fall back. I don’t need to smoke or engage in any old habits to make things right. I am a strong, focused woman with exceptional willpower. I don’t need old crutches. I don’t need to do things the way I always do and expect different results. Except at that moment, I did.

So I drove home and pulled into the driveway and noticed that several of the bows that I had hung on our railing had slipped down because of the bad weather we had experienced. A box that had broken in our garage and I had thrown up on the wall next to the driveway was sitting there half sagging with water from the rain and snow…and I started crying again. What a perfectly white trash looking house. Why was my life like this? Why couldn’t I get my shit together? Where had I gone wrong?

I walked into my house and my fat cat sat looking up at me confused. Why was I home again? I looked back at him and realized I hadn’t seen the other cat all morning. I started calling her name.

It didn’t take me very long to realize she wasn’t there. I started to panic. I thought about the night before when I had opened the door to the patio and stood by the door smoking because it was too cold to go outside and I was answering work emails on my phone and thinking about a dozen other things and I just knew that my little itty-bitty kitty had snuck right past me and out the door and I didn’t even notice. I thought back to the middle of the night when I thought I heard meowing and I just sort of grunted in my sleep and hoped the cat would be quiet, not knowing that her plaintive meows were coming from outside in the cold.

We all know the dangers of distracted driving, but what about the dangers of distracted living?

I’ve come to see that I am hardly ever in the moment doing one thing. My mind is always racing while I am doing several things at once. I’m on my phone answering email while trying to watch TV or play a game with my kids or wash the dishes and my mind is a thousand miles away doing something else. It has to stop.

So, I put my boots on and went trudging up to the trees and bushes in my backyard looking for my cat. It was freezing cold and had snowed the night before and I was sobbing and fully expecting to find a frozen catsicle around every corner.

It would serve me right, I thought, I’m all over the place. The boys are all over the place. I’m trying to do too many things and I’m all over the boys for not being able to concentrate in school and for losing things and for not being organized and yet, I am setting a horrible example. I didn’t even notice my CAT was missing. I’m a horrible person and I am ruining our family and now, I’ve killed our cat.

Eventually, I calmed down and told myself that she was a cat and smart and would have found a dry place to curl up and wait it out. I called and called and finally I heard a sad, little meow in return. I started frantically looking for her trying to follow the sound of the meows until my eyes fell on the broken, lopsided box. Thank you, God. I peered inside and there she was wide-eyed and staring at me. Smart stupid little kitty.

I hugged her and cried and then got my ass in gear to get to work, all the while thanking God for the wake up call.

We all need to stop living this distracted life. Video games and social media and work and school and family time and down time and up time all have their place; but we need to work at being present in the moment. My kids can hardly remember from one minute to the next what they are supposed to be doing. Multi-part instructions are a joke; even if they can make it through the first task with our distraction, the following directions are certainly a distant memory. Why can’t we just do one thing at a time?

I am trying to institute this mindfulness as a new rule in our household, for the boys and for myself. If we are watching a movie as a family that is all we should be doing; my phone and my computer have no place there. If we are eating dinner, there is no homework or books or electronic devices at the table. When I am driving, I am turning up the radio as loud as I can to drown out my thoughts; music and the road, there is no room for any other thoughts that cause me to arrive at my destination wondering how I got there. At work, I’m there; not thinking about dinner or the boys’ activities or what I am going to write on the blog or why my friend hasn’t texted me back. Perhaps if I start modeling this, the boys will be able to focus in their lives as well.

Nothing functions well if we aren’t focused on what’s in front of us. Eventually, we have a dozen open browser windows in our minds and ten different mental and physical applications running and the operating systems of our life are bound to come to a screeching halt. I firmly believe that we aren’t made to do so much multi-tasking. But unfortunately I forget and get wrapped up in life and seem to need a potentially disastrous situation to remind me; like a lost manuscript or a frozen cat.

Time to reboot.

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.