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.

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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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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.

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…

One-Liner Wednesday– On appropriate footwear for the journey ahead

I think I may need more than flip-flops!


This blessing is brought to you by Linda G Hill’s One-Liner Wednesday and my 365 things to love about being Irish calendar. Join in!