Welcome new year

I wasn’t going to write a New Year’s post, but here I am. As I discussed with a friend of mine not too long ago, I feel these last few years have ended with most people not sad to see the year end. There has been a general feeling of “glad that’s over”, but underlying those words is the feeling that maybe all that is behind us. We’ve survived. And with God’s grace we’ll keep surviving. Thriving, even. In this spirit, I’m choosing to focus on the hope that the upcoming year is bound to be better than the last.

If we don’t have hope, we’ve got nothing. There were times these past few months where I felt like I had lost touch with my old friend hope. Dark times. But tonight, by the light of my tree, with my boys sleeping peacefully I am reacquainting myself with her.

I’ve got a lot of intentions for the upcoming year. Shit, I’ve got a lot of intentions for the next few days. Mostly to get through them with a bit of humor and patience and be ready to go back to work with a renewed sense of purpose.

Today, one of my boys presented me with a family portrait he made in school. He portrayed himself and his brother very realistically. He got the cats in there, although he was pretty generous in his rendering of our enormous cat, Golden…perhaps he’s going to lose weight in the new year. Then there was Mom. And Dad.

I wasn’t sure what to say. I was, somewhat embarrassedly, like “who’s that?”

At least we were all smiling in the picture. I’m not sure what is more unrealistic at this point.

It hurt that the one thing my boy so desperately wants is the one thing I really can’t give him.

I did finally ask him what he thought the best part about living with a dad would be. He said having someone there when he got home from school. I pointed out that for the most part, even in families where there are two parents living together, it is not typical to have a parent there when a child comes home from school. At least not in this day and age. Maybe that’s just what I tell myself to make me feel better.

But it did reaffirm for me what I truly want. Especially as the boys get older and need guidance. I want to be there more. I want to be there when they get home from school. I want to help them navigate homework and sports and friends and questions and arguments and everything else. My intention is to figure out how to get there sooner rather than later.

I read something not too long ago about how it may actually be more important for there to be a parent accessible to their teenage children after school hours than for say a young elementary schooler. That there is an added benefit to having that extra supervision, extra accountability for those hours of freedom, extra help choosing how to spend that time.

If I can’t provide the smiling dad in the picture, maybe I can figure out how to be enough. How to be there more. How to be more present than I even am now.

As the boys have grown older, I’ve struggled with balance. I desperately wanted pieces of my life back. Adult pieces that have nothing to do with them. My writing, exercise, my friendships, love, my solitude…and not crammed into the hour between when they go to bed and I do. I wanted those things simultaneously. And I kept thinking– they are 9, 10 years old…they are old enough to take some responsibility for their own activities, time, entertainment. Chores, hygiene, even lunch/snack/sometimes dinner making. I want to raise independent children. They are capable. They don’t need a parent doing everything for them. I can take time for myself and they can deal.

These things are still true. They don’t need a helicopter parent. But they do need a parent who is present, and yes, sometimes present enough for two people. When I became a single parent, I gave up the luxury of being able to just “check out” and let someone else handle it for a while. Fair? Maybe no. But life ain’t fair. I fear I may have swung too far in one direction. Do I have the right to sleep in and let the boys watch TV on the weekend? Yes. But maybe not as often as I do. Maybe they still need mom to sleepily trudge out to the sofa and watch something with them. Or get them involved in something else. Maybe they need a mom who isn’t checking work emails when she gets home or who isn’t so focused on making dinner and getting them to bed so my time can begin that I miss the important stuff.

Every day I strive to be a little better than the day before. That’s all we can do really. But if I were to make a resolution (which I don’t make, but let’s just say) my intention is to let the pendulum swing a little bit back the other way. In their favor. Where my focus is more firmly on them and what they need during this critical time in their lives. God willing, I will have the energy to make the most of the time after they go to bed. If I need to sleep then, well, everything else can wait.

I need to give myself permission to be a mom first. It doesn’t mean I’m not me. I’m there. I’m going to find myself (rather quickly I’m afraid) in a position where these boys are truly going to be independent and out of my grasp. I’m going to have lots of late nights waiting up for them that I can spend as I choose. For now, I need to refocus on them–my babies. I suspect that they may need me just as much now as they did when they were babies and toddlers.

My hope for this new year is that we all feel like we are getting exactly what we need. And that our health and happiness will blossom because of it. I wish that for all of you, too.

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Winter Blahs

I’d love to say that the boys and I have been on top of our game since the new year. That we are killing it with all our organization and motivation and helpfulness and being nice to one another and blah, blah, blah.

Blah. Blah. Blah.

But that’s OK because we all know I am not one for the new year’s resolutions anyway. I’m an every-damn-day resolution type girl. I guess my boys are too. Or, more accurately, they could give two flying rat tails about keeping their rooms clean, remembering their homework, and not practicing full-body takedowns in the kitchen.

I have noticed that I have done a great job of keeping my temper in check. I told the boys that I’m done yelling and screaming to try and get them to listen. Instead, there will be instant consequences like getting their video game privileges taken away. The only problem with this strategy is that as soon as they sense they aren’t going to be getting those privileges back any time soon, they do seem to adopt an attitude of “hell, I’ve got nothing to lose at this point…might as well body slam my brother into the wall for fun-sies.”

At the rate we are going, they should be able to play video games sometime this spring.

But despite my ability to not lose my shit over the daily talk-back, fighting, and volume-11 shenanigans of my sons, I am still feeling BLAH. While mopping the other day and singing along to Simon and Garfunkel’s “America”, I found myself getting teared up at the verse “Kathy, I’m lost, I said though I knew she was sleeping. I’m empty and aching and I don’t know why…”

The thing is, I do know why. First, I am desperate for some fun adventure, but I am fairly certain the only adventure in my near future is going to be to figure out how to get the remainder of my car repairs done without going broke. That, and the Cub Scout Klondike/Iditarod on February 7th which is going to be as cold and long as it sounds and is not the sort of adventure I had in mind. Second, despite feeling like this year I was ready for it, winter just isn’t my jam. This winter hasn’t even been bad, but it has only been a month. Not even a month. I’ve got two long months of winter ahead. I am trying to take it one day at a time, but the struggle is real. Third, I feel like I am stuck in the same old hamster wheel and not making any forward progress toward my ultimate goals. On the other hand, when I sit down to write after the boys go to bed, I am more likely to get stuck on a word or a thought and just say “eff it” and go to bed. So how can I complain that I am making no progress when I’d rather settle in for a long winter’s nap than actually do the work?

Oh, the contradictions!

My only hope is to set myself another challenge and hope my competitive spirit will keep me moving through the winter without wanting to do nothing but eat and sleep. What should this challenge be? If you have any suggestions for me, feel free to leave them in the comments.

I can do this

she_turned_her_cants_into_cans-387235We took down the Christmas tree this evening. Usually I dread this activity, but I was more than ready for it this year. Usually, I like to prolong the coziness and the beauty and the feeling of the season as long as possible. Maybe it was our incredibly dry tree with its drooping branches, maybe it was the extra long break we had from school and work, but whatever the cause I am not feeling the usual way about packing it all up and getting on with the new year.

I would like to think that this means I am incredibly hopeful for the new year and am ready to take whatever comes.

2014 was a year of ups and downs, as most of them are. When I began to reflect back, I was struck by how I glossed over the early part of the year which had been rather rocky in parts. In fact, I had been in a nasty depressive funk the likes of which I hadn’t known in many years. I suffered through it mostly alone, not feeling the need to burden anyone with my feelings, assuming it would eventually go away on its own. After all, I blamed myself for even feeling so low because there was no real reason for it beyond a bruised and battered heart and ego. But that’s the funny thing about depression. It doesn’t necessarily hit you when things are so bad. When you might actually be expecting it. No, it knocks on the door like an uninvited guest and tries the door if you don’t answer it, waltzing right in and pouring itself a cup of coffee intending to stay, expected or not.

It was only when faced with the sudden ill health of a friend and the death of a young family member that I was able to dump depression’s coffee down the drain and unceremoniously kick it to the curb because I simply didn’t have the time or energy to deal with all that when there were real issues at hand.

Not that it is always so easy. Not that it was easy at all. But I’ve had a bit of practice dealing with that particular unwanted guest.

The second part of the year was both harder and easier. I opened myself up to second chances and accepted that some things weren’t meant to be. I faced my 40th birthday and took a once-in-a-lifetime trip with the boys. I made memories. And mistakes. I made new friends and said goodbye to others. I made new habits and began to break old patterns.

Maybe that is why I am OK with putting this past year in the books and moving on without sadness or regret or sentimentality. I spent the better part of last year positioning myself for this one. And I don’t plan to waste the golden opportunity.

2015 is now. And now is all that matters. We’ve rebooted. What happens now is up to me.   And surprisingly I find that I can’t wait to see what will happen this year. I’m certain it will be one of the best ones yet.

Looking back and moving forward

IMG_1809As 2013 comes to a close, I might be tempted to look upon it as a “tough” year. As a family, we had a lot of health challenges, money challenges and discipline challenges. I took a detour from the path I had come so far upon only to find that I had gone in a frustrating circle. I gained some much-needed self-awareness during this detour and ultimately fortified my resolve to continue the journey and build the life I desire, but I lost pace with some dear traveling companions along the way. It was the year of the dog. It was the year of some of my greatest successes and biggest failures personally, professionally, and as a mother. But even though it was a difficult year in many respects, when I look back at 2013 I will remember it as a year of lessons and a year of growth; a year of facing fears, dead-ends and consequences of poor choices; a year when I determined what is truly important to me on this life’s odyssey and reaffirmed the person that I want to be while I travel it. Ultimately I will remember 2013 as the year of the great cosmic kick in the ass that I so sorely needed.

I’ve discussed my thoughts on New Year’s Resolutions before. I make resolutions every freaking day, so making special ones for the year tend to feel like I am setting myself up for failure. So instead I will make a list of lessons learned in 2013 that I intend to carry forward.

  1. Making mistakes isn’t the end of the world. This one may seem obvious, but for some reason I have had the hardest time learning this lesson. My fear of making mistakes has actually caused me to make even BIGGER mistakes than I would have if I had just followed my heart. Somewhere toward the end of 2012 I started playing the old song of “You have to do everything just right or you will be a failure as a mother.” Well, I made some doozies this year and I actually think I am better for them. At least a little wiser.
  2. A dog is not the answer. Unless it is to the question “What are the boys not ready for?”
  3. Forgiving oneself is one of the hardest things to do, but one of the most necessary. This one sort of goes along with number 1. We all do stupid stuff. Sometimes it is even more than stupid. Sometimes it is hurtful to ourselves or to others. Sometimes it is dangerous. Sometimes it is the only thing that we could come up with in the moment of being human and you have to forgive yourself and move on.
  4. Laughter is actually the best medicine. Especially when it seems that humor can’t be found. I’m a better person when I take some moments out to have some laughs with friends.  And I’m a better mom when I can laugh with the boys or turn a tense situation into a funny one.
  5. I will never be a dad and that’s OK. I can’t play both roles. I’ve tried. I suck at it. I’m a mom and a damn good one (most of the time) and that will have to be enough. Trying to overcompensate for the fact that I am just one person or lamenting the fact that I am not a man and therefore can’t relate to my sons in the way that I perceive they need is not helpful. It wears me out. When I’m worn out, I am a grouchy, yelling, stressed-out mom and that’s no good for anyone. I’m better off just being me.
  6. Comparison is the thief of happiness. I didn’t write that. I think it was Teddy Roosevelt. In any case, it is true. When I compare myself or my family or my parenting or my ideas to others, I find myself second-guessing and doubting myself. Where there is doubt, there is no faith and where there is no faith, there is no joy. I stole happiness from myself by comparing my life to how I thought it “should” be, by trying to reach others expectations or perceived expectations of how I should be living my life and raising my family. Once I stopped doing that, I noticed how much more content I was. No one has it all figured out. There is no one right way. There is only our individual paths and we can travel them anyway we choose as long as we are doing so authentically and kindly. If I want to dance my way, while others are marching or hopping or running, so be it.
  7. Boys are loud, physical, potty-talk loving, joy grabbing, stormy little creatures. At least mine are. And that is OK. And it will pass. And I will be OK until it does. And it is OK to look forward to bedtime for the quiet it brings. Really.
  8. Love really does conquer all. Along with humor, I’ve realized that approaching everything with love makes it better. If any of these lessons are to be turned into resolutions, I guess this would be the one. This year I resolve to react with love, rather than fear. Love, rather than anger. Love is the most powerful emotion there is and I know that I have a lot to give. This is the gift that God gave me–to love and feel and give with sometimes overwhelming passion and sensitivity. I’ve often felt this sensitivity was both a blessing and a curse. And that is where I have gone wrong…believing in the “curse”. Believing that love is not always a blessing. I lost sight of this somewhere along the way and began to doubt love and its efficacy. Believing that I was suffering because of love. I think it is because I had forgotten that love is only about the giving. It is only about the other person. I must remember to take myself out of it. I’ve been praying the Prayer of St. Francis almost daily and I think it encapsulates how I want to move forward into 2014.from mommylife.net

I hope that everyone can look back on the lessons that they have learned this year and feel as hopeful as I do about this next year. Imagine all the dreams that could be realized if we all faced this year with love and compassion and kindness and gratitude and some good humor. I’m in. Are you?

Performance review time

It is time to do performance reviews at work. My new supervisor and I got into a fairly philosophical conversation about goal setting and why it is important. He likened it to New Year’s resolutions. He mentioned that each year he writes a list and keeps it handy to remind him of the things he is trying to accomplish throughout the year. He good-naturedly admitted that some things have been on the list year after year, but that he still keeps striving toward that goal. I was about to say that I didn’t really buy into setting resolutions when I realized that I do. Of course I do. I do it all the time. I did it last year on this blog and vowed not to obsess over it by checking my progress. And I certainly kept that vow nearly forgetting all about them until now.

So I thought that I would give myself an evaluation on how I did and I’ll use a scale of 1-10, 10 being the highest. Here goes:

First was: Improve my health and the boys’ health.

  • some form of exercise daily, even if it is just a walk
  • learn more about nutrition
  • train for and participate in the jersey girl triathlon
  • eating out/taking out less than once a week
  • go to the dentist–all of us!
  • go to the doctor for necessary checkup/physical/tests for someone of my age :)
  • finally quit smoking. for real. not even “every once and a while”

I made some progress but I have a long way to go. I’ve been good about the nutrition part and was good with the exercise too until the second half of the year. I did train for the triathlon, but felt I wasn’t ready when the time came (scaredy-cat). I managed to get one of us to the dentist after an infection scare and another one of us has an appointment this weekend which is good. Guess which of the three of us has yet to have an appointment scheduled? Curbing the eating out has been fairly successful, but I would like to cut it down even further. Going to the doctor for a checkup didn’t happen until I ended up in the hospital with a new heart problem, so I’d say that one was a pretty big fail. Same goes for quitting smoking altogether. All in all, I’d say there is room for big improvement.

Overall Grade: 4 Needs Improvement

2. Save Money

  • attempt to put enough money away out of my paycheck to fund “Operation Disney Christmas” (to be discussed in a later post)
  • additionally save some money for an emergency

Well, this didn’t happen at all. I did get us to Disney through a small miracle provided by my employer, but I didn’t save any money this year and I think all in all I am in more debt.

Overall Grade: 1 (I’d give myself a zero, but that’s a little harsh don’t you think?) I did manage to spend all of my money and do some pretty cool things so I would like to think I saved some money somewhere and just applied it elsewhere. However, the net result is I’ve got negative cash flow.

3. Be a Better Mom

  • cut out the yelling
  • let go of all the stuff i feel has to “get done” and spend more time just hanging out with the boys
  • write down all important dates, invitations, times, events, etc. so that I don’t MISS anything like I did last year
  • refuse to argue with 6-year-olds even if my decision/statement/action is unpopular
  • never skip bedtime reading because i’m too tired or they’re too naughty
  • put the “martyr” to rest
  • go after the child support that they deserve

So, this one isn’t so cut and dried. I do think I made some good progress. I still need to work on the yelling. I have been very cognizant of spending quality time with the boys and not being so crazed about everything else. This has resulted in a messy house that I bitch about a little too often, but there has been improvement. I have done well with writing everything down and we haven’t missed a single important event. We read more often than not and I have managed to get the child support ball rolling again. I still need to work on arguing with the boys and not being such a martyr.

Overall Grade: 6 Meh.

4. Write. A little every day. Even if it is just in a journal. And dedicate finishing NaNoWriMo to my dear angel friend Joel. (RIP)

Well, I didn’t do NaNoWriMo and do have an excuse reason, but it isn’t good enough. As for writing every day, I do write a lot for work and I come up with an excellent FB post from time to time, but that isn’t really in the spirit of this.

Overall Grade: 3 Needs Improvement

5. Be a better friend

  • make more phone calls to long distance friends
  • send more cards/letters/emails to keep in touch
  • make time for coffee, lunch, dinner, wine, movies, whatever…a couple of hours, every couple of weeks to keep friendships alive

So, this is an area where I feel I have really shined. I have been slacking off in the last couple of months but I am ready to renew the efforts. All in all, a solid effort!

Overall Grade: 8 Nice Work!

6. Be happy

  • avoid referring to the above list for the whole year and judging my progress
  • make mistakes and move on
  • laugh more
  • say “oh well!” and “who cares?!”  more
  • go to church
  • read the Desiderata & the prayer of St. Francis regularly

Ouch. well, I certainly avoided judging myself against this list but unfortunately it didn’t contribute to my overall happiness. I’ve been pretty good about the “making mistakes” part but need work on the “moving on”. I do not feel that my laughter has increased which is a real shame. It may have something to do with not saying “oh well” or “who cares?!” enough. I have been good about going to church and reading inspiring things and I have felt moments of pure happiness, but I would not say that 2012 was one of my happier years.

Overall grade: 5 I know I can do better than this.

I did accomplish one of my “bonuses” which was to furnish my living room. It made me feel very happy and accomplished until the cats chose the new couch for a litter box when I accidentally put the top on their box backward so they couldn’t get in. This created a whole other complexity to my life which I can’t even begin to get into in this post.

SO- the end result is not so great. About a 45%. I’ve NEVER had a grade like that. Except when I didn’t try. Ouch again. At work, my “grades” were all exceptional. How can the same person try so hard to excel at work and not be able to excel at herself. Guess I just need to work harder. And maybe I will need to “manage” myself like I would an employee who was churning out 45%. I would not give up on that person. I would help them, train them, and give them the tools to succeed. I would believe in that person. And I believe in me.