Sunday, December 29, 2013

Simple is the most difficult

There are entire magazines dedicated to simplicity, and as far as I can tell, simplicity is incredibly complicated.  The magazine "Real Simple" usually shows laundry rooms worthy of entertaining in, with color coded baskets and a bouquet of flowers jauntily peering down from a shelf, and I don't know about you, but that makes me tired just thinking of it.  Who has time to make their laundry room look magazine worthy?  And if you had the time, why would you spend it doing that, when there are so many other great things to do?

On the flip side of the glossy magazines, there is an entire simplicity movement - one that I've read a great deal about, and the ideas still flit through my brain and I try to manage my life according to some of the ideals contained therein - where it's anti-consumerist, back to basics, prioritizing life over money (the most famous simplicity movement book is entitled "Your Money or Your Life"), and though it really is about getting back to the good stuff and the ideas are thoughtful and often quite beautiful, I believe they're anything but simple.  They're hard work, actually, and if you want to buck the consumerist tide then you'd better be pretty strong because it's a lot of work to be simple, to change your habits, to resist what your neighbors are doing, to manage your money in a whole new way, to manage your life in a whole new way.

Simplicity, as far as I can tell, is not a simple subject.  We might all desire beautiful spaces with clean lines and gorgeous organization; we might all desire to spend our money only on those things that speak to our core being; we might all desire to listen to the simple messages like "be kind" and "do unto others" but the truth is, it's really hard to do.

And I'm thinking about what I want romantically, and I think I want the simplest things, and they're the hardest. in my opinion, to find.

I think that sex is pretty easy to find if you drop your standards.

I think that grand romance is pretty easy to find, too, because there are guys on the internet who are ready to pledge undying devotion before the first meeting, and there are men at the first meeting who are anxious to introduce the children and practically move in together.

I think that it's easier to find a partner to sip wine with while on vacation in Tuscany - which, mind you, sounds very nice - than it is to find what I'm looking for in my partner.

I want the simplest things.

I want to sit on my porch swing sipping coffee during the sunrise, not speaking, but having a companionable silence.

In the middle of a busy week with kids and work and laundry and science projects, when I say, "oh, shoot, I forgot to go to the cleaners!" I want to hear "don't worry about it - I stopped there on the way home from the office because I knew you were busy."

Not only do I want to go to the theater, the movies, concerts, and museums (all fun activities, I agree), I want to fall asleep on his shoulder watching a movie on a Saturday night in my (ugly) basement, cozy and comfortable.

I want the conversation about "did you hear on NPR that..." and the "Did you read that review?  Want to go to that movie together?"

I want to catch eyes in the kitchen and smile.

The little stuff is the big stuff.  The big stuff - vacations, grand gestures, jewelry, parties, fancy restaurants - is great, and I'd like that, too.  Who wouldn't?  But lately I've been fantasizing about the simplest, smallest of moments.  Waking up next to someone and smelling their warm skin before you even open your eyes, that delicious male scent that must be made up of pure pheromones.  Driving somewhere, and he puts and hand on my knee and strokes it half absentmindedly, because he wanted the connection.  Someone who doesn't mind running for a broom while I shoo the pets away from a broken glass.  Someone to join me on my long runs who will point out a seal or an interesting cloud.

Someone who, at the end of the day, on a day like today, might slide into bed and hand me a glass of water, because he knows I like a glass of water at night.

I think that the kind of grand romance I want is nothing more than a long series of tiny events, of water glasses and errands and exchanged smiles and patience with the child's science project and discussion about the front page of the NYT, of the scent of skin and the touch of a knee.

Simple stuff.

So hard to find.


Today I took down the Christmas decorations: the ornaments are in their big plastic tub with the angel tucked in on top of them, the nutcrackers and snow globe and fat green candle are in their bin, and all of the Christmas dishes are out of the cupboards and in their bin.  The furniture is rearranged, no longer needing to fit around a tree, and the leaves are out of the dining room table because I won't be serving dinner for ten or twelve again any time soon.  The accumulated dust and pine needles of the month (it's awfully difficult to dust garlands) have been cleaned away, and the crystal wine glasses no longer reside on a silver tray on the piano, but are back in their cupboard.  Only the fragrant wreath (which has stayed fresh due to foggy mornings and cold nights) with it's big red bow remains, mounted next to the front door, because it is still winter and dark, and I love it's symbolic cheeriness, reminding us of green and growth and life, pagan symbols as old as time.

I love to put away Christmas before the new year begins.  I will take any chance at a fresh start that I can find, and when I wake up on New Year's Day, I like my house to be fresh and clean, the refrigerator stocked with healthy greens (after all of the cookies and beef of the holiday, I crave kale and chard!).  The chaos of friends and relatives is a memory contained within the walls, but the new year is a chance to make new memories, and first the house needs a little rest.  I will vacuum and dust, make sure that sheets are fresh, that things are stowed away, in preparation for my fresh start.  I will start again, the old behind me, looking out at the path ahead, staring down the road of possibility.

I am ready to embrace this new year.  I'm filled with quiet excitement, because I know I'm on the cusp of so much. I am prepared to love the changes that come, even with bumps and hiccups and scares and detours.  I plan to love this year fiercely, to appreciate it, to nurture it, to build it.

I am prepared to begin anew in 2014, as I prepare every year, but even moreso.  The old Christmas carol says, "Let every heart prepare Him room" and perhaps that is what I'm doing.  I'm preparing to live my best life (I'm not a Christian, but isn't that what Christ was all about, living in integrity and joy?), and maybe even to make room for a him with a lower case H.

Over the next week, I will file paperwork, draw up budget spreadsheets, give away things that no longer fit or serve.  I'll send thank you cards to end on a note of gratitude.  I will craft a list of ideas to implement over the next year.

I love fresh starts.  'Tis only a day on the calendar, but it's a day with a reminder to think about who I am and what I want, and I will celebrate it.

On New Year's Eve, I will be at a party with Katherine, and I will be the only single amongst families.  We'll play board games and talk and laugh and they will make sure that I don't feel like the odd girl out, and I will forget that I have no romance in my life whatsoever.  There will be a moment when the clock strikes 12 when I will feel my chest tighten, wishing that I was feeling hands on my hips, tipping my face up to receive a kiss...but then we will sing Auld Lang Syne and the moment will pass.  The next day there is another party, a brunch, and the festivities will continue.  I will not make time for sadness, because I will not welcome sadness during this fresh start.  I only welcome the beauty of my life, and the possibilities of the future.

How do you prepare for the new year?  What does New Year's mean to you?

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Exhaling before another deep breath

A moment of quiet in the bustle of a crazier-than-usual holiday season.  It is Katherine's weekend with Bryan, and I woke up to a quiet house.  It is 11:22am and I am still in my PJs.

I am enjoying the quiet more than I can tell you.  I had planned to do a ten mile run this morning, but I am so weary that the very idea is ludicrous.  I'm so tired that I haven't turned on music in the house, because though I usually enjoy singing along or simply letting it warm the space around me, today I'm so tired that all I crave is quiet.

And, lucky me, I get the quiet.  This moment, here while I write to you, is my exhale.  I've been holding my breath for so long, swimming in the waves, trying to not only get to shore but also to keep afloat, that sometimes I forget to breathe.

Life is like this; life is always like this.  There are moments of calm, but there are moments of storms.  The storm never lasts forever, but the calm never lasts forever, either.  I don't know why such a simple principle is so difficult for me to grasp, but I feel like perhaps I'm understanding it now for the first time.  I have been desperate to find calm, to seize it, to hold it close so that it will never get away again - but I might as well wish to swallow the moon, so foolish is that wish.

Instead of filling me with anxiety - what do you mean life is ALWAYS crazy?! wait! no! stop! I want calm! ohdearGod how can I survive another 60 years with this kind of crazy?! -I feel deeply peaceful about it.

Maybe I'm not wrong, messed up, and missing the point of everything after all.  Maybe life is just, well, life.  Maybe crazy is part of the system, and maybe the storms are part of the loveliness, because it is only in the storms that we get the anticipation of the sunshine.  The moment when the sun breaks through the clouds, the day when you wake up (after weeks of gray) to a glorious blue sky, the surprise of the rainbow - none of those are possible without the storm.

Several of my friends have marriages in deep trouble, and they're asking themselves the hard questions about what they can and cannot tolerate.  Several of my friends have elderly parents with major health issues, and they are facing their parents' declines.  One of my friends lost an elderly family member this holiday.  My sister-in-law is in the hospital with pregnancy and delivery complications, and my niece was born six weeks early and spends the beginning of her life in the NICU, so my rambunctious nephews are living at my parents' house (chaos for my parents, and a hard time for my nephews, who just want their lives to go back to normal).  I know people struggling with depression, people struggling with unemployment (oh, hello, that's me), people struggling with money (uh, yes, that's me too - unemployment and money appear to go hand in hand).

In the face of a list like that - which, let's face it, could be much longer - it would be easy to go all Eeyore and decide that life is miserable and glum and that there was no point in any of it.

But I won't.  Because I don't believe it.  I think that life is glorious and beautiful and I absolutely refuse to let the sad facts get in the way of the rest of it.

Watching my life, and the lives of those around me, during the holidays in particular is fascinating.  There are those who believe that the holidays are a giant hassle, and there are those who believe that the holidays are pure magic.  Life does not stop for the holidays, so the usual mix of great events - babies born, families coming together, happy songs - and sad ones - losing a parent, illness, loneliness - continues in the grand cycle that is utterly unstoppable, no matter how much we try to control it.  It is how people respond to all of it that interests me - and how *I* respond to it that interests me most of all.

Life is always chaotic, and life is always blissful, and fighting that idea is what makes us miserable, I think.  If we're always grasping at the calm, afraid that it will get away from us forever, then we miss the whole point.  Life just IS, but it's how we respond to it that matters.

So here I am, the first moment of calm after a crazy holiday, and as I reflect on the holiday, I'm deciding that it's all bliss, because I made it to the exhale, because I have faith in my future, because life is going on as life ought to go on.

My family did not behave well - and they never (rarely, anyway) do.  The nephews ran about unsupervised and creating havoc, there were the usual bristling comments and sharp jabs, the usual obliviousness to others' needs.  My family was content to come in, sit down, and have me wait on them hand and foot (no potluck, as they asked me to do it ALL, and no help with cooking, serving, or cleaning).  My ex showed up late and left early, spending only a minimal amount of time with his daughter.  I spent the last day in the hospital and taking care of my nephews, who were not (shall we say) entirely appreciative.

But it's still bliss, because none of that is about me.

Here is how I choose to view my holiday:

My house looked lovely.  The branch that I found on one of my runs, fresh fallen from a large tree, created gorgeous garlands to drape around my living room.  My tree, decorated by Katherine and I, was lovely and fragrant, covered in memory ornaments.  I feel blessed that friends and family chose to celebrate with me, trusted me to provide a space for beautiful holiday memories.  I love that my home can absorb my big, messy family - that there is a big enough table, that there is a room for the kids to go crazy and watch holiday movies together while the adults gather elsewhere, that there is a yard for my nephews to run around in as they shot their new Nerf guns at each other.  I am glad that I am an accomplished hostess and know how to set up a party, how to organize the food, how to prepare it lovingly, how to make my guests comfortable.  I'm glad that Katherine takes it all in stride, that she is old enough to help, that she felt the magic of Christmas, that I was able to provide what she needed to have a great holiday.  My holiday table was set with the wedding china and the silver and the crystal (none of which interested Bryan in the slightest), and it felt festive even before the guests arrived.  The food was delicious, and there was a lot of laughter.  Two days later, when my niece was born, I was able to be there to comfort my brother through his fears, to run errands, to care for my nephews, to be of assistance, and I am grateful for that time.

It's all in the perspective.

And today, I am grateful that there is quiet in my home, that I have a chance to catch my breath before I dive back in.  I will practice self care, and stay away from my crazy family, stay away from the hospital, stay away from the noise, enough to recharge my batteries.  Next week I will spend a great deal of time on job search activities, on home projects, on helping family....but today, I get to exhale.

Maybe all of it, the chaos and the beauty, is just as it should be.  Maybe, when I've been fighting to only have calm, I missed the whole point, that life is a mixture, and that it is my perspective which creates the chaos, and not life itself.

There are easy times, and there are hard times, but all times are easy (or easier, anyway) with perspective shifts.  I'm learning that I can't control my wacky family, but I can control my response to them.  I can't control my ex, but I can be at peace with it.  I can't force someone to hire me into my dream job, but I can do my best to find employment and then let it go (trusting in the process).

It's all a chance to learn my lessons, it's all a chance to look for joy and beauty, it's all a chance to grow as a person.  I can't control anything outside of my own reactions and responses, and I can't make the future unfold the way I wish it.  But I can choose happiness, I can choose to operate from a place of calm, I can choose to acknowledge that while it's nice to exhale (oh thank you!) there is something powerful and good in holding my breath, in kicking through the waves, as well.

When I loo back at this holiday, I will choose to remember the look on Katherine's face as she opened her gifts.  The look of my holiday table as my guests first sat down and we raised our glasses in a toast to the holidays.  The smile of my two year old nephew.  The fun of setting up the Christmas tree with my daughter.

If someone else wants to remember the bickering of relatives, the pine needles on the floor, the ridiculous amount of dirty dishes we created, the fatigue of it all....well, let them.  I can't stop them, and maybe it serves them in some way.  But me?  I'm going to remember the candle light, the carols, and my daughter's smiling hug as she said, "thank you" because that is what I choose to take with me.

I think I'll also remember this moment, in my pajamas, sitting beside a tinder-dry tree, hearing birds outside, getting a moment to think.  A moment of calm after the storm is inevitable, and this is mine.  It may last a minute, an hour, or a week, and I always hope it'll last a year, but however long it may be, I am grateful for it.  And as I dive back down into the waves, working on my life, trying to get things in order in so many ways, I will take this moment with me, and try to use it to help me to get to the next place of calm, however long that takes.

I wish you moments of calm as well, and I wish that when you're in the waves, you still feel peace because the calm will come, and because you have the joy of knowing that you're doing all that you can.  That is all any of us can ask for, I think, and that is what I wish for you and I.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas

The clock has turned past midnight, and another Christmas has arrived.  Welcome!
In all of the chaos going through my mind, I almost forgot to feel the joy of Christmas...but here I am, in my flannel PJs, sitting in the glow of the Christmas tree in my living room.  

We went to church and sang carols.  My daughter wore a sparkly dress, and participated in the pageant.  I waved at friends and hugged them and exchanged Merry Christmases.  Now, my child is nestled all snug in her bed, satisfied and happy; the many friends have gone home now, and the leftovers have been packaged up and put away, and the dishwasher is on its second run of the night.  With the child safely asleep, the stocking was stuffed, and the last present tucked under the tree.  Bryan is asleep in the guest room, one floor below me.

It's a funny life, this life of mine, but it is also beloved.  A swirl of children, the joyful chaos in the kitchen of friends bringing this and that, the giggles of the women exchanging secrets girlishly, the men clinking glasses and talking.

The morning will bring another happy chaos - the tearing of paper, Katherine watching a few small wishes come true, a special breakfast and a gallon of coffee.  The afternoon will bring four generations of relatives - noisy boys and a forgetful great grandmother; men who talk politics (not my politics, though....!), and there will be the pouring of drinks and so much food.

It's a Christmas like every other Christmas, and there is a Norman Rockwell quality to these Christmases of mine that I do not forget.  Despite the many imperfections of my life, the worries and the fears, there is the fact that mine is a Christmas many might envy.  A home with fir garlands and holly draped around the candlesticks on the piano; a dish of peppermints on the coffee table; gold rimmed plates and mugs covered in holly.  The tree almost touches the ceiling, and despite our efforts, we can't get the angel on top to sit quite straight, but an angel with a mind of her own is my kind of angel anyway.  I don't have time to be sad or lonely, because there's too much to do - a roast to get into the oven, a cake to be iced.

But the presents are wrapped and under the tree, the food prepped or planned, the refrigerator filled to bursting, the spare chairs huddled around the fully extended table.  In this moment, I will remember that all is calm, all is bright, and I will appreciate my bounty.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Taking the high road versus Martyrdom

I have absolutely zero interest in becoming a martyr.  I wish to be a bold, brave, empowered woman who models strength, integrity and joy to my daughter.  I want to take the high road every single time, but I also want to offer compassion to myself.  I am worthy of the things that I offer to others, and I'm not willing to take hits repeatedly in return for compassion.

So, how does one do that?  How does one balance?

Right now, my stomach churns when I think about what impact Bryan's irresponsibility is going to have on my life.  I hope I'm wrong, but I believe that he's down to his last pennies, and that I am going to be financially on my own, with no child support.  Given my own (hopefully very temporary) unemployment, this is slightly dire: I don't have the resources to make it on my own just now.

I have parents with money.  I will have to tuck my tail and beg if it comes to that, and they will help me.  They have made it clear that they understand where I'm coming from, and they see me working my tail off, and they see how many employers I'm talking to, and what the response has been, and they are confident in my ability to create my life, and they're clear that they'll help me if I need to bridge the gap.

But I am prideful, and I don't want help to bridge the gap.  I want to do it on my own.  I want to be wildly successful in every part of life.

I might as well wish for wings, because I will likely need some financial help before this is all over.  If Bryan can't make ends meet, well, it is what it is and there is nothing I can do about it.  I can "insist" or I could lawyer up, but the truth is that he's a train wreck, and what I would gain from that particular song and dance is unknown to me.  Not money, I'm pretty sure of that.

So here I am, angry and frustrated that the capable, college educated man who fathered my daughter, the one who had a successful life filled with career, friends, family, interests, fitness....that man has imploded, and I am often left to pick up the pieces.  Me, the ex-wife!  The one who has declared "you've got to be kidding!" and walked falls to me to decide pieces of his fate.

I'd like off this particular crazy-train, but I think I'm going to be on it for a while.

Katherine wants a father who is active in her life.  She needs to know that all of her needs are met, that she is loved, that she was born into love.  She needs to feel stability in her home - and she has two homes.  She has seen anger and frustration, and she doesn't deserve to live with that kind of unkind noise in her life, especially not between her two parents.  Every single day, I struggle to be the kind of mother who is worthy of her.

So I try to honor her father.

I made sure he had groceries when she came over.  I signed his name to the gifts that I picked out for her, to put under the tree.  I helped her to pick out a gift for him (and paid for it).  I secretly gave him money to buy gifts for me from her, so that she didn't have to worry about not having anything for mom (she takes joy in giving, too).  I made sure my parents made him feel welcome at the school pageant, reminding my father to skip the sarcastic remarks about weight, unemployment, etc.  He is spending the night in my guest room on Christmas Eve, and he'll be at my Christmas party, with my friends, eating my food and enjoying my hospitality.

The goal, of course, is twofold: 1) to give Katherine the childhood she deserves, to the best of my ability; and 2) to be a kind and compassionate.  I care about kindness, deeply.  I care about behaving with integrity, and putting the best of myself into the world, even on the hard days.  Especially on the hard days.

But I'm at the edge where the couple of people I've opened up to have told me that I'm about to cross the line into martyrdom.  What to think of that?

I want Katherine to be free to love her dad.  She only has, and will only ever have, one father.  His DNA swims in her blood, alongside mine, and I picked him for her.  I want her to believe in fairy tales for as long as possible.  That is my gift to her - she is only ten, and she deserves that!

I can't remember when I last felt romantic love for Bryan, but I have tried to love him as a family member - a distant cousin, or perhaps an uncle in Katherine's life.  I have tried to reduce my expectations - the ones that were so thoroughly destroyed in our marriage - and to let them just be together.  I have stopped expecting him to parent the way I think parents should (bedtime, discipline, homework, healthy food, activities, learning, playing) and allow him to parent the way he can (TV and junk food).  I have tried to appreciate him for who he is - funny and smart - and not worry about how he was as a partner, now that he is no longer my partner.

But his implosion leaves me flabbergasted and uncertain.  Where do I draw the lines?

I will not let him live in my house.  It IS my house, not his, and it's not my fault that he spent the money from it already, because I did pay him for it.

But aside from that boundary, I just don't know.  I want to be strong, to move forward, to be compassionate, to take care of myself and Katherine, regardless of what he does.  I want to honor him as a person who is going through difficulty, without taking on his mistakes as my own.  I want to encourage his relationship with his daughter, without owning that relationship.

It's Christmas.  I need to reply to several requests for interviews.  My daughter has a playdate over.  The oven is filled with baking, with more on the counter, and I'm going to have to go back out to buy more flour.  My sister in law is in the hospital and about to have a life-threatening (to her) delivery of a premature baby girl, and my brother and parents are freaking out (which is reasonable, actually).  My bank account is low.  I'm hosting Christmas Eve for friends - maybe 20 of us - which is a joy, but so much work.  I'm hosting Christmas for family - 11 of us - which is a joy but so much work.  I didn't get to go for a run today because my day was taken up from top to bottom by all of this, including a hospital visit.

Bryan was supposed to have Katherine all day but forgot, and said "no."  I was too frustrated to argue, especially after the college tuition talk (previous post) left me feeling drained.

My spiritual reserves are low.  My house needs a deep cleaning.  I don't have a pretty dress to wear to Christmas because I couldn't afford a new one and all of my old ones were too big and were given away.  My ex is imploding.  I'm feeling like all of this is too much.

What to do?  Curl up in a fetal position and cry a while?

Or put on the Wonder Woman costume again and go to Christmas Eve service at church in that?!

I'm not going to be a martyr.  I'm going to be kind and compassionate, to self as well as others.  I'm going to do my best.

I'm just not sure HOW yet.


How do you take the high road without giving yourself up, during divorce, family craziness, parenting, or the other big stuff?  Any advice for me?

Merry Christmas, everyone.

My ex's relationship to money

Bryan has money issues.

And I'm blogging about them because they're stressing me out and I don't know what else to do besides think it through here with you, my gentle readers.  Thanks for listening, and for sharing your stories with me, and lending your advice and emotional support.

First: a glance at my finances.  During my marriage, I thought I was the overspender, because I did all the trips to Target and Costco and the grocery store, I bought the school supplies and the items for the science project and the birthday presents and I filled the car with gas and took Katherine for haircuts.  Bryan told me, repeatedly, that I needed to cut back.  I tried.  I grew increasingly frugal, spending less and less on myself, trying to make our budget work.

Even though Bryan made a good salary with great benefits.

I always thought it was my fault that we were short, that we had to put the item on the credit card, that we were struggling.

Enter: divorce, and separate finances.

I had no idea what an incredible financial relief divorce could be.  I thought, because my combined income (salary and child support) was less than our joint married income, and we struggled during marriage, that I would struggle IMMENSELY after divorce, especially because I'd bought into the line that I was the over-spender.

Au contraire.

I was so afraid of running out of money that I managed it well.  I acquired a small savings.  I paid all my bills, on time.  I didn't use credit (though, at the advice of friends, I did get my own credit card).  I saved enough to do our Disneyland trip in cash.  When I got laid off, I had a small savings and an empty credit card, a house full of groceries, etc.

Bryan was laid off (fired?) recently.  I knew already that he'd acquired a great deal of debt since our divorce, that he was living close to the edge....even though he makes more than I do (did).

Three things are going on right now that make me think about this, and they all put a knot into my stomach.

1)  Bryan told me not to send Katherine over until after dinner because he didn't have groceries or money to buy them.
2)  I am uncertain as to whether I'm ever going to receive another child support payment again.
3)  Bryan had a bit of a fit today because he wants Katherine's college fund information, and said, "I need to have access to that!  It's a lot of money!"

It's that last one that has me spinning.  I think that desperate times call for desperate measures, and I think that Bryan is planning on making some withdrawals from Katherine's meager college savings.  Let it be known: most of that savings comes from grandparents' gifts, only a small portion comes from Bryan and I.  It is Katherine's money, not ours, and she is on track to go to college, and there is probably enough money in that account to put her through one freakin' semester (I hope I'm kidding but I'm not sure that I am) and under NO circumstances do I want to see that money shrink.

Seen from a distance, I feel so sorry for Bryan.  I have no idea what he's doing with his life, if he has any goals, if he ever even dreams of being happy or stable any more.  He's a disaster, physically, emotionally, spiritually, and fiscally.  It's hard to watch: he used to have so much potential, he used to live such a different life, he used to have so much success.  Now I wonder how he'll ever get it together enough to survive, and it's so scary.  He is Katherine's father, and no matter how imperfect (ha!) he is, she needs him.

I bought him a grocery gift card.  I've invited him for a couple of meals with Katherine.  He should get unemployment soon, and that will help him.

I am working HARD at getting a job that will support Katherine and I without his assistance.  Right now, I'm talking to five organizations that are interested in me, and I feel really good about my prospects.  One of those organizations makes my heart flutter because it sounds like such a good fit...and one of those organizations is going to hire me.  Soon, I will be working for a world class organization with great benefits and a good salary, and I will take care of Katherine and I, regardless of what a train wreck Bryan is.  I'm going to be okay.  I will build my savings back up, I will do what it takes to create a beautiful, glorious life.

Bryan, the man who doesn't have enough money to buy groceries, hangs out at his favorite coffee shop daily.  He buys $5-$10 worth of coffee and treats there every single day - it's his favorite place.  At breakfast when he came by to pick up Katherine (and I offered to feed him...sigh) he told her all about how he goes to the local steak house a lot and how much he loves their potato pancakes.  I haven't been to a steak house in....I don't know how long.  I can't afford it, you see.  (I did go to the steak house near my old office for happy hour, actually.  For $6, I could get tenderloin sliders to die for, and enjoy the atmosphere, and a $6 glass of house red, with a friend as my "big night out".  But I stopped ordering the filet mignon with all the sides many years ago.  Bryan believes he "deserves" the filet mignon, so he keeps ordering it, and believes that it's a compromise when he orders the smaller size, which only costs $30, and you can bet that he has several glasses of wine to go along with it.  Frequently.)

I don't know what the point of telling my blog all of this is, except that I couldn't carry it inside me, because inside me it hurts, and I want it out of me.

I need to practice deep compassion for the human being who is my ex-husband and the father of my child.  I hand out protein bars to homeless people on street corners, I have helped out with a homeless shelter, I donate to food banks.  I can help out my ex to make sure that he's not hungry, and that Katherine doesn't feel how hard things are for him right now (because that would hurt her).  I will try to do the right thing, to be compassionate, to be kind.

But I also need to practice boundaries.  If he doesn't pay child support, I'm going to have to take loans from my parents, and that makes me mad.  (I don't see a paycheck coming until Feb. 1 at absolute earliest, and things are getting closer and more pinched.  Still okay, but I count on that child support to make ends meet.)  I am not just going to roll over and let him kick me; I am not going to let him walk away with a free pass from his responsibilities.

I am not letting him take Katherine's college money.  That is HER future.  It's also mine - I don't think he'll ever give any more money to her college fund, and I am not going to let that stop her from going to college.  I will do what it takes for her to go to college, to help her in any ways I can, and that is important to me....and also means that whatever he takes now, I have to pay for later.  I am NOT okay with that.

Something else I'm not going to do - I'm not going to let him move back in my house.

There is a guest room here.  I think he will ask to move into it, and he can not.  I would lose my mind, and the compassion I strive so hard for would absolutely go out the window.  He is inconsiderate and rude to me, forgetful about his responsibilities, and a total slob.  He's short tempered and impatient and judgmental (and vocal about it) to me.  I can not afford to invite that in my life ever again.  I can put up with a certain amount when he is my dinner guest....but no way could I put up with it if I came home to it every day. 

Boundaries.  I have to figure out where my boundaries are, and where the line between compassion and common sense lies.

Please wish me luck.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Get 'er done. Or Just Do It. Or something like that.

My third mile analogy is really sticking with me, and I keep reflecting back on the idea, because it's new to me and I feel like I don't fully understand it yet.

Today I went for my long weekend run: ten miles.  Today it is cold and gray, and running in 41 degrees and foggy mist with occasional sprinkles didn't feel inspiring, it merely felt damp and cold.  I put on an extra layer and headed out anyway, but even though I *KNOW* the magic doesn't start until after the third mile, I nearly quit in the first mile, at a mile and a half, at the second mile.  By the end of the second mile I was committed to getting to four miles (I do an out-and-back course), but since that's not any longer than my weekday runs I negotiated with myself to do at least three miles out before turning around, because six miles is so much more respectable than four. 

But by the time I had run three miles - after a particularly brutal third mile, with freezing hands and feeling really and truly uninspired with the "you can't do it you're going to fail you suck you'll never get a job" voice in my head - the magic kicked in.

This happens pretty much every time.  It NEVER happens in mile two, only after mile three.  And I know it.  I wrote about it, for heaven's sake, trying to nail down the words in order to keep their truth.

But knowing it and feeling it are very different, and in miles one, two and three I simply have to fight through it, force myself through the motions, suck it up, push on through, just do it, get 'er done, and there is nothing inspired at all about those miles.

Today's rewards?  A seagull caught a flat fish and I got a really great view of it - stripes on top, a white belly, and the seagull got to eat what seagulls are supposed to eat instead of the literal garbage that city birds so often dine on.  And then a cormorant caught another fish - slender and long, and gulped it in one bite, but I was there just at that moment and saw the whole thing, the fish flipped into the air for just a moment before going down the throat.  And then - the best part - through my headphones I heard something different over the music, so I took the earpieces out, and lo and behold there were several sea lions barking at me from the bay, singing to me to "go, go, go!"  I love running with sea lions.

Little magic moments that grounded me again, made me catch my breath even as the running made me lose it.  Magic moments that I wouldn't have had if I'd turned around early.

We don't push through because it's hard, because it's cold out, because we don't think we can actually do it, because it's raining, because we feel old and uninspired and achy.  We give up because the world is full of people doing good enough work and we're not that special so why should we be any different?  We don't push through because it might be impossibly painful, because we might put it all on the line and then still fail.  We might slip and fall.  We might look foolish (hello, 44 year old woman in spandex running tights and VERY bright neon shoes, yes, that's me).

There are millions of reasons why it makes sense to stop after a short distance.  Running is really hard, and for the 24 hours after my long runs I've learned that the steps I take down to my basement (and I'm usually holding a laundry basket on those stairs) number about 1000, and I have to take a deep breath before the first one because my knees ache and creak like I'm 100 when I go down them.  I couldn't feel my fingers for the first three miles of my run.  The sun was NOT sparkling on the water, calling to me: instead, the damp got inside my bones and gave me a chill.

But then I'd miss all the magic, of knowing that I can still do it, that I can run ten miles on a Saturday morning "just because" and that my "easy" pace is getting faster even when I don't try it.  I'd miss the satisfaction of seeing all those miles pile up in MapMyRun.  I wouldn't be able to zip my size four jeans.  I wouldn't feel so powerful.  I wouldn't be closer to my marathon goal.

And none of this is about running.  This is my life, that I am so desperate to love, to live, to experience.

I have been asked back for fourth interviews - this time with the executive director and the regional director - for a job that might be perfect for me.  Better than any job I've looked at so far.  Well within my ability to be successful, but also with a ton of room for me to grow professionally.  They have my salary requirements and they are in line with the position.  I met the team and I loved them.  I saw the office, and I loved it.

Still plugging away, and sometimes I feel like my third mile goes on forever - that the magic will never happen, and I will be stuck in my slowest mode, frozen hands and damp feet and just not loving any of it, feeling every ache and pain and wondering why anyone would keep this up.  I've made it to the final interviews before and been turned down - ever so gently, with so many compliments - but a "no" is still a "good luck paying your mortgage next month!" even if it's gentle.

But I will not give up, and I'm so proud of that.  I am convinced that magic lies around the corner if I just refuse to quit.  Right now I see a hint of the magic again - maybe I really will get this job! - but here is what I know: if I do not get this job, I will keep going.  I have other irons in the fire.  I will take rejection again, and again, and again, if that is what it takes, but I will not stop. 

I have to believe that if I keep at it, I can do it.  I'm healthy and strong, and I can run ten or more miles.  I'm smart, educated, and experienced, so I can get a job....the right job.

And another thing...

Sometimes I procrastinate.  I put things off even though I know I shouldn't.  I struggle to do the right thing, and the voice inside my head says "what are you doing? you lazy, stupid girl!" as I struggle.  In October, I felt so stuck that I procrastinated looking for work.  I see clearly now that I procrastinated because I was terrified, very uncertain of myself, and very confused, and it took a while to shake that off and get moving.  I am not going to beat myself up for that (even if I do wonder "but maybe I'd be employed now if I'd done a better job in October!"), because maybe I did the best I could with what I had, and I really was freaked out.

Next to my desk, I have the quote "And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom" by Anais Nin. 

The third mile is when the transformation begins, from tight bud to blossom.  I was so scared that I would fail that I couldn't even try, preferring to remain in the fetal position, curled tight into a bud.

Well, I'm running now.  I do feel stuck in the third mile, and I don't know when the little voice in my headphones will tell me, "Distance, three miles.  Time..." and right now it seems like my time might be "One million minutes" because time is passing really slowly as I slog through the pavement.  I'm not procrastinating.  I'm facing what must be faced, I'm putting myself out there and facing rejection.  I am doing all I can.

And you know what?  That feels pretty good, because I'm proud of myself for the work I'm doing to make my life.  Even when it hurts.  Even before the magic happens.

Thursday, December 19, 2013


This might come across a little crazy.

So maybe that's nothing new, but this feels particularly crazy.

I'm happy.  Deep down to my toes happy.

This morning I had my third interview with the really great organization.  I have no idea how it went, but I feel completely warm and fuzzy when I think "I made it to the third round!"  I'm a contender.

I'm healthy.  Really, really healthy.  Running towards a marathon healthy.  No surgery on the horizon right now, no drugs in my system.  Really, beautifully, gloriously healthy.

I live not far from the water, and this morning I went down there and saw the pink in the sky, the waves crashing on the beach, the mountains with a dusting of new snow, and it just struck me how glorious it was.

And I have a really great house.  With great woodwork, cool old solid wood doors, a covered porch with a beautiful porch swing, and furnished with funky antiques (I call it my Jane Austen living room).  Katherine's room is filled to overflowing with things she loves, ranging from great toys to scraps of paper and notes from friends; my room is filled with candles and paintings of flowers and a bed with a zillion pillows on it and it's a girly haven and I love it.

Loyal dog.  Sweet cat.  Best footwarmers ever.

A message machine filled with calls, an email filled with notes, all from people who love me.

A mom who calls me every day.

And my girl - how on earth did I get so lucky?  Kind, smart, beautiful, silly.

I spend a lot of my life worrying, freaked out about the possibilities.  It's true, there is a lot of uncertainty, and I can't see how things are going to turn out.  There is good reason to worry, and I've spent my share of sleepless nights.

But today, I'm focused on how beautiful things are, even with the uncertainties....and I can't even believe it, because I'm not just thinking about it, I'm feeling it.


Thank you.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Too __________

This morning on my run I was thinking about how many times someone has told me that I'm too ________.  What's the blank?  I could fill it with lots of things.  I've been told that I'm too talkative, too quiet, too open, too optimistic, too busy, too driven, too controlling, too hard on myself, too focused, too social, too helpful, too giving, too intellectual, too perfectionist.

The list is much longer than that, actually.  I have a big personality, or so I'm told.  I have strong opinions (please add "too opinionated") and I get excited about things easily (please add "too excited").  I have high expectations of myself and life (add "too high of expectations"), and I expect the best out of people (add "too unrealistic").  I ask a lot of questions of myself and others (add "too questioning").

So this morning, as I was out running on a gray day, thinking through my overly busy schedule, trying not to panic about tomorrow's job interview (round three, and a really big deal to me), I was thinking of how many times people have told me that I'm too ______ and how I feel about that.

I feel really good about that, actually.

According to what I read, the average American is overweight, eats a ton of processed food, doesn't get enough exercise, watches a ton of TV and doesn't read that much, struggles with self esteem, feels disconnected from community, is drowning in debt, has a house filled with clutter, is in a job they don't enjoy.

I don't really feel good about fitting in with that picture of an average life.

Recently my brother let on that he thinks that it's pretty fuddy-duddy to sit down at the table to have dinner, and he said that nobody does that any more and that it's old fashioned and impractical.  His kids don't like to sit at the table, so they eat on the go or in front of the TV and that works fine for him.  I think he felt a bit sorry for Katherine that I require so much of her, and this might fall into the "too controlling, too fuddy-duddy, too unrealistic" category.  However - my ten year old has fantastic table manners (mostly).  She uses her knife and fork, puts her napkin on her lap, says please and thank you, and chews with her mouth closed.  This is not because she was born with those skills, but because we sit at the table every night and I've set those expectations for years and years - it's just what we do.  And you know what?  I'm okay with it.  It may not be the norm, but it works for me, and I think it works for my girl, too.  (She doesn't mind the praise she receives from friends' parents or restaurant staff about what a delight she is.  And while it's taken some work to get there, it's second nature to her these days.)  My brother thinks that this is some kind of child torture, that I'm too lots-of-things, but I can live with those labels.

As I've gotten more and more into running, I have plenty of people who have told me - usually from the vantage point of a sofa - that I'm getting into it too fast, that I'm pushing myself too hard, that my expectations for running are unrealistic.  They sit there and tell me that I can't do it.....and yet, time and time, I do, and I'm finding great success.  I'm told that I get up too early, that my schedule is too unreasonable, that I'm too crazy.  Well, I may be crazy (who am I to judge?), but if this is crazy, I'm okay with it.  I was told not to create time goals for my first half marathon, and I did anyway, and I hit them.  I was told that I wouldn't be able to keep up my running in the winter, and I am.  I was told that my goals were too big when I set a goal of 100 miles for November, but I hit 105 miles, and it felt great.  I hit my half marathon goal, and I've gotten faster in the six weeks since then....and I HAVE listened to my body and avoided injury so far.

This holiday, I am hosting a Christmas Eve party at my house for friends, and I can't wait.  Every candle will be lit (and at my house, that's a LOT of candles - too many?), the house will be swirling in girls with fancy dresses (and their parents, my friends), the wine and champagne will be flowing (with a bit of whiskey for the gents).  There will be caroling - lead by one friend with an incredible voice, and another with an amazing talent for guitar - and it will be glorious chaos.  When everyone leaves, I will spend a couple of hours cleaning and prepping, because the next morning I will provide my daughter and ex husband with a Christmas breakfast for opening presents, and then I'll prepare for my side of the family to come over for the multi-generational meal around my table (prime rib, Yorkshire pudding, and all the trimmings....and don't forget appetizers, dessert, etc.) eating off the silver (okay, it's silverplate!), china, and crystal....all while three wild boy cousins run around (and truthfully, it did freak me out a bit the year they knocked a light fixture off the DID they do that?!).

And I can't wait.  For ALL of it.  I'm an accomplished hostess, and I've pulled off this kind of thing before, so I know I can do it.  The house is already decorated for the holidays, I'm a good cook (and I've made these particular meals at least ten times....over the last ten Christmases), and I've got a system down for transitioning from one party to the next.  When I think of the holidays, I know it's a lot of work....but who says that magic comes easily?  It's all worth it to me.  Blessed by friends and family, pleased that I can bring light to Katherine's eyes to have both her parents in front of the tree, gathering my all makes me happy.  A chance to create a fairy tale table, all gold and white?  So much fun.  Special holiday food? Fantastic.  All of it.

And I can't tell you how many people have asked me about my holidays, and when I've told them, they've almost unanimously said, "You're crazy!"

So here's what this crazy lady is leading up to:

I am done accepting other people's definitions of crazy, or of trying to be less than instead of too much.

There are things that are too much - too much cruelty, too much inconsideration, too much sadness, too much insincerity, for example - but I don't think that my too much is in those categories.

I'm joyfully, proudly resilient.  I'm intense and playful and hard working.  I push myself to the edges, and I love seeing what those edges look like.  I am determined, and I don't give up on my dreams.  I am passionate about many things.  I am deeply appreciative of the fact that I'm still breathing, and I am positively determined to create the life I desire, and to enjoy the journey of that creation, no matter what other people call that journey.

Call me too much.  I can live with it.

Because while you say I'm too much, and I may be too much for you, I'm busy focused on other things.  At 44, I'm in the best shape of my life.  My home is filled with friends and family.  I'm getting close to landing my dream job.  I have deep, enduring friendships.  My daughter is a dream come true.

"People who say it can't be done should not interrupt those who are doing it." (George Bernard Shaw)

Maybe I am too ___________.  Maybe you are.  But let the rest of the world live small, hold back, and say it can't be done.  I may succeed, or I may fail, but I won't give up.....and you know what?  I'm having a pretty good time in this life of mine.

Monday, December 16, 2013

An open letter to Luke

On this morning's run, my mind wandered all over the place, as always happens.  I have plenty to think about: my sister in law is in the hospital, I'm unemployed, my daughter can't seem to get her school work done in a timely manner, money is crazy tight, it's the holidays, and I'm unemployed (worth saying twice).  Did I mention that Bryan is now also unemployed?  I can't even process that right now.  I am trying very hard to remain positive, to stay focused on all that must be done, and keep moving forward.

I AM moving forward.  Waiting for notice of my third round of interviews, coffees and networking meetings all over the place.  Things are going well, even though they're not resolved.  I *do* feel good.  Stressed, but good.

But my mind wandered and wandered, and somehow today it landed on Luke.  I don't really think about him too much because in the big picture of my life, he is not a key player....but he was the last man who held me in his arms, the last man who made my heart flutter, the last man who held my hand as we walked in moonlight, the last man who gasped my name.  (Ahem.)  When people talk about romance, or sex, or flirtation....he's the last person I experienced all that with, so no wonder I occasionally think of him.

I still believe that when you have sex with someone, you give that person a piece of your soul, and that you can never get that piece back.  If you choose your partners wisely, this is not an issue, but if you choose them poorly, then bits of your soul are out there, being tossed about casually, picking up bruises, gathering dust, suffocating in the dark.  I have worried for the bit of my soul that I gave Luke, but I also know that it was a small piece, one that I can manage without, and I hope that he isn't being too unkind to it, that he doesn't look back at our time together with regret.

I had spent so much time thinking about the piece that I gave him, that I forgot for a while about the piece that he gave me, and how I had not been tending it.  Today, while running, it occurred to me that I had taken the bit of himself that he gave me and not been kind to it, and that perhaps he deserved more, too.  What follows is what came to mind during my run, that I realize I can not send to him because it would likely not be received in the manner in which it was intended and might burden him or send the wrong message....but it needed saying, so I'm putting it here, sending it through the cosmos.  Here goes.

Dear Luke,

You must be startled that I put "dear" in front of your name, because the last time we spoke, I was incredibly angry with you and let you know it.  "Hell hath no fury..." and I, being scorned, was furious.  Time does what it does, however, and I wanted to let you know that I'm not furious any more, and with a bit of space, I have a totally different perspective.

You and I were not a good match, and you saw that before I did, and ended things.  I might wish that it had been handled differently (I do, and deeply), but I've come to a place of peace about it, and forgiveness, too.  When you broke up with me, I decided that you were a player and a jerk, and I labeled you as such...but I think I was too hasty.  I think that there is goodness in you, and that you were doing the best you could with what you had, and I forgive you.

You've got your own demons, and I saw a few of them, and how they tore at you.  You tried to show me that you were strong and capable, and of course you are, but you are also vulnerable, and in trying to hide that vulnerability I think perhaps you revealed it even more.  In our ending, I forgot how you were struggling, too, behind all of your strength and success, and I dismissed you as less than you are, and I'm sorry for that.

I don't believe that you were playing with me.  I believe that you saw something in me that you liked, and that you tried to offer me what was in you, but your demons, as well as our incompatibilities, held you back.  This did us a favor, because our souls weren't really in alignment and we would have ended eventually, though I do confess that I wish we could have had some more fun first.  ;-) In any case, I think that you were struggling through it just as much as I was, and that you were not malicious.  I see that better now.

You gave me a little piece of your soul to tend, and I want you to know that I'm caring for it, now.  I've wrapped it in tissue, set it in a pretty box, and put it up on a high shelf where the sun hits it sometimes.  It won't get damaged on the shelf, and I dust the box off every now and then.  I tried not to take too big of a piece from you, and I hope that I did not.  I hope that you still feel whole, even though you gave it to me, and that you are well.

As for me, I tried to give you a large piece of myself, but in the end, I think I only gave you a tiny one, for I can not seem to locate the part of myself that is missing.  I do not know if you will tend what I gave you by thinking of it fondly, but to my great surprise, I am okay anyway.

I feel peace when I think back about you and I.  You were a highlight of my year more than you were a lowlight, and I'm glad for all of it.  I hope that you go out there and find what you're looking for - love, peace, happiness, joy - and that you enjoy all of life's successes.

I wish you well, Luke.  I send you my forgiveness, my well wishes, my thanks.  May you have the happiest of lives.


Saturday, December 14, 2013

The third mile

Another running epiphany.  And it's not about running at all, really, so see if you can hang on here with me as I get to my point - it's there, I promise.

Today I headed out for a long run.  I'm a bit behind on my mileage for the month because it's been cold enough to be icy, and running on icy sidewalks and paths terrifies me - and doubly so because I live at the top of a hill, and hills, ice, and concrete are a lethal combo.  So, today, with no ice and temps in the upper 40s (how balmy), I laced up my shoes and headed outside.

The first three miles area always, always, always a slog.  I've run several hundred miles this year (I didn't track them all, but I'd say at least 550, maybe more like 650; it's only since September that I've been logging 20-25 miles per week), and this never changes.  I lie in bed, dreading getting up, especially when it's cold.  I lie there for a few minutes, debating: maybe I should roll over.  I'm definitely too tired to get up.  Maybe I'll run tomorrow.  But most of the time, I haul myself out of bed, feeling sleepy and anything but athletic.

Even when my running clothes are on, I'm still debating - maybe I won't go.  I feel achy.  It's not the day today.

But mostly I go.  I remember that I love the running endorphins, that I love being able to eat whatever I like without suffering from a thick middle, that I love feeling strong, I love pushing past what I thought were my limits.

And yet...

In the first three miles, I don't feel even a tiny little bit of that.  I head out the door, feeling proud of myself that I didn't go back to sleep, and then it hits me.  Running is hard.  I go a couple of blocks, waiting to find my stride.  No, it's still hard.  I keep going, and I feel weird little twinges and I think "wait I just barely started and I already feel tired!" and I wonder if I should turn around after three blocks.  I keep going out of sheer stubbornness because, well, I just started and I am out of bed and already feeling sweaty, so I might as well go a bit more, but I start negotiating with myself.  Maybe I'll just run to the water - it's only 1.1 miles, and then maybe I could just sit on a log and admire the view and listen to the changing tide, smell the seaweed, and walk home.  Feeling half certain that is what I will do, I keep going.  I start to think, "Wait, MayMyRun must have stopped, because haven't I gone a mile yet?" as I wait for the little voice on my headphones to tell me my one mile pace.  The voice comes didn't stop, I was just impatient to hear it.

(These days, I often run without music, but I wear the headphones anyway to hear MapMyRun tell me my milage, split pace, and overall time.)

I get to the beach, sigh, and think "One mile isn't far enough.  I should keep going," although I'm not really feeling it.

I push through the roughness of all of it, and the voice in my ear tells me I've gone two miles.  I think, "I should be warmed up by now!"

The next mile is the worst.  I do NOT feel warmed up, my head is NOT in a good space, and it is getting harder, not easier.  I realize that I am a crappy runner, that I may never enjoy it again, and that I'm heading the wrong direction to get home, and that I'll probably be late getting home because I'll have to walk the last couple of miles because it's going so poorly.

Still with me?  Well, good, because this is where the magic starts.

I don't understand it, but after the third mile is where something mysterious happens.  I can't describe it, except that it's the thing that keeps me going through all these miles, it's the thing that means I don't really want to quit.  It's the reason I can get out of bed to go, even when the voices in my head tell me that I'd rather stay wrapped in flannel and down.

At mile three, I stop thinking, and at the exact same time my head fills with all kinds of ideas that come out of nowhere.  I think of nothing, and yet I start to solve all of life's problems.

I forget that I'm running.

I look for seals, orcas, porpoises, eagles, river otters, osprey, blue herons, and sea lions.  I see all kinds of shorebirds that I can not yet name.

My legs keep moving, and I nearly forget them until the voice in my ear keeps counting off the miles.  At the third mile, I'm losing speed and slowing down, but in the fourth, fifth, sixth I find myself getting faster without trying.

I remember what's important to me.  I think about people I know and their struggles, and I wish them healing.  I problem solve things going on in my life.  My legs keep going, and I'm certainly sweaty, but I'm feeling good.

It goes like that for a  few more miles, until I start to move towards my current physical limitations - around mile ten I start feeling it for real, and I reenter the physical world with some more genuine aches and pains, but by then I feel strong and proud and sometimes I push a bit farther past that feeling, too, simply because I can, or sometimes I decide that it's enough, and I'm proud of whatever distance I really did.

What happens after mile three surprises me every time, even though I've grown to anticipate it - I always wonder if that magical feeling will go away, if this time I won't get the epiphanies, if it will be ordinary this time.  But no, at the end of mile three, every time, magic happen.

Today I was really thinking about mile three (when I was in mile four), and the epiphany was this: so often, we try to do something amazing and challenging that brings us closer to our dreams, and when we start, it's really hard and scary and it seems like it's impossible.  We definitely consider going back to bed.  Sometimes we do.  But sometimes, we keep going.  Three miles is considered a respectable distance for a daily run, so often, we use it as our little yardstick - "I did my three miles, so I can stop."

I ran three miles at a time for years and years, and it never really got better.  If only I had known that the magic starts AFTER three miles!  That the endorphins, the thinking, the mind silencing, and the mind productivity, never ever seem to kick in before three miles.  So, for all those years, I ground out the three mile runs, but I always quit just before it got good.

And the epiphany in my epiphany: I think that all my life, I thought that because the beginning was hard, the end would be even harder, and so I never kept going 'til the epiphany, and I gave up after what I thought was a respectable try, taking the good-enough job, the good-enough life, and the good-enough (for a while) partner and marriage.  Ouch.  Because "good enough" isn't good enough, AT ALL.

Right now, I'm in the hard part of my job search: 10 weeks on unemployment, tiny savings dwindling, and more questions than answers.  I've gotten close to what I hoped for, and then been turned down, and I don't know how many times that will happen .

In some sense, it would make sense to quit.  Go back to the familiar - or stay in bed.  I could go back to the world I already know (private sector).  I could lower my salary, benefit, or commuting expectations.  I could run to my parents' house (horrors).

Or I could keep going, and wait for the epiphany.  It always comes, sometimes big, sometimes small, but it comes.  The longer the run, the more it hurts, and the better I feel afterwards.

This evening, I'm lying on the sofa in my PJs while the rest of the world seems to be out and about, playing and having fun, because I'm tired from my run and my legs ache with a slow throbbing.  To someone who doesn't run, maybe that sounds like a form of hell, but to me, it's amazing.  I feel - amazing.  Strong, capable, confident.  Today I ran eleven miles, and it wasn't my best run, because I did a "nutrition experiment" and thought "surely those crazy GU things aren't that great and maybe I can go without them."  Well, I can go for ten miles, but eleven miles pushed me to my edge with no calorie boosts, and I really regretted not having at least one little energy hit and a whole lot more water to keep going.  Did you hear that?  I could "only" run eleven miles.  Crazy. 

I'm going to get the job I'm dreaming of, because I am not quitting at the three mile slump.  Sure, I'll make mistakes like skipping the GU or not drinking enough water (or screwing up an interview or missing an opportunity), but I will keep going.  I'll do another long run next weekend, and next week I'll keep making connections, finding interesting jobs to apply for.  I will run ten miles, or eleven, or fifteen; I will reach out to every connection I can.

But I am NOT stopping when it just starts to get hard, because I want to hold out for the magic.


Friday, December 13, 2013

Letting Go

I find it really easy to scoop up new things - possessions for sure, but also friends, ideas, activities, volunteer projects.  It's so easy to add to my life when the world is full of interesting things to do and I refuse to sit and just let them pass me by.

Letting things go is much harder.  Actually, it's easiest to let possessions go: I like nice things, for certain, but I've never been a shopper the way some people are.  I actually wish that my house could magically fill with the perfect items but that I never had to step foot in a mall again.  In the past few years I realized that I had everything I needed - a fully functional kitchen, plenty of chairs to sit on, extra blankets, etc. - and I've really focused only on replacing what breaks or wears out (it happens) or on adding hand made pieces.  (One day, there will not be a single print hanging on my walls, to be replaced by all original artwork.  Not sure when that day is coming. ;-) )   I love going on a de-cluttering streak, and I've constantly got a pile of stuff in the attic in the "Goes to Goodwill" area.  (Where does all that stuff COME from?!)

But letting go of ideas is harder, and letting go of people is the hardest of all.

This year, in addition to adding to my life - work, running, volunteering, hiking, backpacking - I have had to let things go.

I've never really had a hard time keeping my house clean and tidy: I grew up in a home that was a disaster zone, so perhaps my rebellion is keeping the towels in tidy stacks in the cupboard, the newspapers in a special basket next to the chair (but not all over the sofa), the kitchen sink clean and ready for the next batch of dishes.  Rebellion can come in mysterious ways. ;-) This year, I had to let go of some of that.  I don't know how many times Katherine asked me for an item of clothing and I said, "I dunno.  Have you looked in the laundry baskets?" because getting things folded and put away simply hadn't happened yet.  I used to vacuum practically daily - I have a large, hairy dog - and I've all but given up on ever having clean floors again, vacuuming once a week now.  I cringe a bit to write that - maybe I could vacuum before bedtime daily? or right before dinner? - because it IS nice to have clean floors....but forget it.  I am letting go, and the result is that I have more time to do things I *do* care about, like talk to my daughter.  My house is less clean than it's ever been, my garden (which used to be lovely and filled with abundance) is all but abandoned, and I have accepted that.  It is what it is right now, and at some level, I'm okay with it.  We're not slobs by any means, but I've let my cleaning standards fall in my single mom life, and I think it's the right thing to do.

I've had to let go of the idea that I could do everything that interests me, everything that I value.  I loved having a vegetable garden - interspersed with flowers - and delighted in telling Katherine to go pick "a tomato, some lettuce, and some radishes for salad" and having her say "I'm going to pull a carrot for a snack, too!" at dinnertime.  My home made strawberry jam (made with strawberries from my garden) is to die for - the best you've ever tasted - but I don't know when I'll make that again.  I no longer serve on committees at church.  Actually, I often skip church, because there are so many things to do and time is so short.  (It's hard to leave town for the weekend AND be at church, for example.)

I've had to let go of people, too, and that is some of the most difficult letting go.  I can not rescue every person who comes into my path, for one, and sometimes in the past year I've had women who are going through divorce approach me and ask for my help.  I'm very willing to give that a degree.  I am not willing to give up my life to become an (unqualified) therapist...and I'm not willing to help people who do not want to be helped, at the cost of my own sanity.  Plenty of women going through divorce say to me, "You're so successful at your divorce, and you're so happy, and I want what you have!" and so I tell them how I do it, and then they say, "That is too hard" and "But my ex is unreasonable!" and "But I want to do it my way!"  I'm having to let all of that go, and to learn how to smile and wish them well, but refuse to be a part of it, wishing them well from the sidelines but not an active part of it. I'm also learning not to second-guess myself about my decision not to be involved - I really would like to help save the world, but something I know now is that you can not save someone who doesn't want to be saved. 

And the person I can not save, that I tried the hardest to save, is my ex.

You might think that I let that go when I asked for a divorce, but the process has actually been much longer than that.

I watch my ex struggle.  He struggles with his whole life: friendships, family relationships, work, health (depression, high blood pressure, cholesterol) and weight.  He has trouble managing his money, and accrues debt easily, always living paycheck to paycheck.  He also struggles with parenting, and relies heavily on television and junk food to reach our daughter's heart.  I have wanted, even in divorce, to make him the parent that I want him to be.

How foolish of me.  If I couldn't influence him in marriage, what made me think I could influence him by divorcing him?!

When Bryan told me that he wanted to have our daughter on an every other weekend schedule (with two hours on Wednesdays), I was dumbfounded.  So little?!  But he told me how much he loved her, how the idea of living apart from her was a nightmare to him!  I have had to let go of the idea that she will have a dad who seeks her out, and offers his whole self to parenting.  I have had to let go of the idea that there is another member of my team willing to drive around purchasing school supplies, or getting poster materials for the science fair.  Nobody else is going to check to see if her homework is done, or sit at the table to help her work through her essay.  Nobody else is going to say "When was the last time you ate a vegetable?!" and nobody else is going to say "Hurry up and eat your breakfast, honey, or you'll be late for school."  Nobody else is going to talk to her about dating, or drugs, or college.

I've had to let go of a lot of expectations with my ex.  Letting go has been painful, because I deeply believe that if he behaved differently, he'd be a better parent, a better person, and actually a lot happier.

But it's out of my control, so I'm letting go.

Letting go does NOT mean sitting here seething as I write this.  That's not letting go, that's holding on to anger and feeling powerless.

I have chosen to feel powerful in every aspect of my life, but my power is not over others, it's over myself.  I refuse to be ashamed of my less-than-clean floors, and I refuse to live in anger because my ex is not who I wish he was.

I feel powerful because I recognize that I have a great deal to offer our daughter, and that when he left all of the heavy lifting of parenting to me, he gave me not only the responsibility but also the gift.  I feel powerful because I know I'm capable, and that I can do a good job.

I can let go of my ex's behavior because holding on to the desire to change him doesn't serve anyone.  I have decided that four days of junk food and television per month won't kill Katherine, and I've learned that it's a good idea to serve a vegetable AND a fruit with dinner when she gets home from her dad's place, because she arrives with an upset stomach (and pockets full of empty candy bar wrappers).  I've learned that it's pointless to waste time hoping that they'll go to the pool, the park, hop on a bike, go for a hike, or spend any time moving their bodies when they're together, because that is just not what he does.  I've learned that the advantage of being the only one to have the tough homework conversations, the "big stuff" conversations, is that I know I am thoughtful in my approach and I have the tools to be successful, so I can control those conversations better, I can teach the homework skills (discipline, topic sentences, whatever it may be), and I have the opportunity to be the primary influence over her values, because I'm the only one talking about them.

I am getting better at letting go.  It doesn't come easily to me, as I've spent the majority of my life trying to control every possible outcome, desperate to make things okay.  Realizing that I'm okay even without controlling everything is, well, a huge relief, but the unexpected consequence of that is that when I recognized that my ability to control people is limited at best, instead of feeling like the world was spiraling in a scary way, I feel more grounded than ever.

It turns out that letting go is one of those leaps of faith that has to be felt to be believed.  I have held on tenaciously, desperately, to my old ideas of how things "should" be, only to feel the world unravel, crumbling in my grip.  For years and years, I tried to make my marriage something it was not, and the desperation in that holding on was painful beyond description.  When I "let go" of that was when my life started to come together, when I actually started to feel the peace that I'd been so anxiously seeking.  It turns out that there is a lot of letting go that needs to happen in my life, even post divorce, and that perhaps I will have to spend the rest of my life letting go of Bryan, and of what I wished he could be for Katherine.  I do this letting go imperfectly, but I am seeing the value in it, and that the only way I'll ever feel true peace is if I embrace it.

I believe that only by letting go of what is outside my control can I truly create the life I want.  Maybe that is one of the gifts of my divorce: by giving up the thing I fought so hard for, I found that other gifts came to me, perhaps even more valuable than what I had tried so hard to hold onto.


What have you had to let go of?  What is it that you try to control, that actually controls you?  What gifts have you received by letting go of what no longer serves you?

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Best of 2013

I've been winding down the year, thinking about how momentous it has been.  My head is still spinning from all of it, because this year has been anything but boring.  I haven't loved all of it, but there has been a great deal to love, and here it is.

1.  The highlight of the year was taking my girl on vacation.  Boogie boarding on a warm sandy beach, with palm trees in the background, sun on our skin....oh, that was a slice of heaven.  Seeing her eyes light up at Disneyland was incredible.  Dancing with her under the stars to a live band performing "Girl You're Amazing" was an unforgettable moment that I will cherish for the rest of my life.  I made it happen, and it was proof in some ways that my divorce changed my life for the better, because it was a fantasy come true that could not and did not occur within marriage.  It was proof that my life was now on my terms, and that there was deep joy within those terms.

2.  This was the year of the bikini.  I can not believe the transformation in my own body over the last year, and I love all of it.  I've gone from being a frumpy cancer patient to being a strong, lean woman who wears a bikini with confidence.  I'm fully aware that if I was a celebrity my butt would be plastered on some awful magazine with a note that said "Look at her cellulite!" or something, but I don't care.  I'm not a celebrity, I'm a real woman, and my imperfect body is strong and healthy and this summer I grew to adore my bright blue bikini. 

3.  I may be unemployed right now, but I rocked it at work.  I utterly transformed that small business, and I did so as a single mom who was balancing so many things.  I hold my head high over all of that.

4.  My daughter has blossomed all year - each month I see her changing before my eyes, and she is becoming such a bright light.  She has adapted to our new lives alongside me, and I see the confidence growing in her, and I see her capabilities coming to the surface, and it seems like anything is possible.  She has grown physically - so tall, and the beginnings of curves! - but also academically, intellectually, and emotionally.  The world is blessed that she is in it, and watching how she operates in the world makes my heart swell each and every day.

5.  Running transformed me this year.  Not only my body (see number 2), but every part of me.  Stretching myself physically has reminded me of what I'm capable of, has reminded me that my limits are not where I thought they were (they are much, much farther away).  I feel confidence and faith in my life that I've never ever felt before, and it is awe-inspiring.  I feel reborn through all of it.  Just about a week ago I did a 14.5 mile run at my best long distance pace ever (I aim for nine minute miles, trying to stay under 9:09, which is the "sub 4:00:00" time for a marathon, but my 14.5 miler was at 8:26 pace)....and I am still on that high.  When I run, I experience so much emotionally and intellectually, and I am hooked.  (I will post this, then go running today.)

6.  I took care of more home projects this year than my ex and I were able to take care of in our entire marriage (because he did not want to prioritize it), and living in a house that is fully functional is a blessing and a gift.  The hum of the dishwasher never ceases to thrill me, because I lived without one for so long, and I don't think I'll ever lose that appreciation.

7.  My rebound was imperfect and ultimately ended abruptly and imperfectly, but still, I'm glad for all of it.  It was a reminder of what is possible, about what I'm capable of, about what I want ultimately, and I'm glad for all of it, including the ending.  (He wasn't my guy, and that is clear, and if he hadn't ended it, I would have ultimately done so.)

8.  While I can't say that I'm grateful I don't have a job (frightening), I AM grateful and really quite excited that I'm putting my career back on a path that I believe in, that I am excited about.  I don't want a "good enough" job, I want a job that changes the world and touches my core.  I've identified that path, and knowing what I want is a great part of the battle, because now I know how to go after it.  Ultimately, this is a great transition for me, and I know that.  When I talked to Katherine about how I wanted to pursue my dreams, she said, "You have to do it, Mama.  When I grow up, I'm going to pursue my dreams, too."  That sentence is proof that I'm onto something.

9.  I spent more time in nature over the past year than over the prior five years.  Camping trips and hiking, snowshoeing, running, picnicking, long walks - I took any opportunity to be outdoors as close to nature as I could.  I feel altered as a result, and so reconnected to who I am.  I'm a nature girl, and every part of me feels that deeply.

10.  I did a fair amount of volunteering this past year, despite the crazy schedule, and every second was a highlight.  Just this week I wrapped up a giving tree project to collect money and gifts for foster children, and I delivered the items to a local charity.  Many of those who saw me run the project thanked me for my efforts, but it was embarrassing to accept their thanks, because I think I do it for purely selfish motives: it feels so good, and I want that feeling.  I helped with Katherine's school, I helped with a breast cancer charity, I helped with church, and I helped foster kids, and it was time that filled my soul and made me feel like I was living a higher purpose.  Bliss.

11.  I kept all the balls in the air.  My divorce was finalized in January, and I was so afraid that I wouldn't be able to handle all of it, that I would fall apart somewhere along the way.  I did not.  The house, the pets, the child (oh, the child!), the job, the friendships, the family....I kept it going.  I took care of health, I wore clean clothes, I made dinner and served it and cleaned it up, and I didn't collapse.  In January last year I wasn't sure I could, but now I take it for granted that I can.  Imperfectly, but good enough, and I'm proud of my efforts.

12. I focused on thriving all year, not just surviving.  There were low moments in the year, problems I didn't expect, some that I'm still dealing with....but I did not let them define me, and I've pushed past the survival feelings to focus on thriving.  Whether it's taking five minutes on the beach to search for a beautiful shell, or organizing a weekend hike and picnic with my daughter, or wandering through the lights of downtown to see the Christmas sights, I have carved out time to live thoroughly and deeply, to appreciate my bounty even when I wished I had more.  I've built up my happiness reserves all year, refusing to settle or to sink into malaise, and this is my greatest accomplishment and highlight.

It was a great year.  And 2014 is going to be even better!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Numbers Game

Everyone tells me that getting a job is a numbers game, and that eventually it'll all work out.

I'm starting to believe them.

Today I met with two potential employers.  I wasn't sure the first one was a great fit for me, but they begged me to arrange a meeting with one more person before I made my final decision.  The second meeting was a round-two interview for an organization that I'm VERY interested in joining, and (yes!) at the end he told me that I was definitely a contender, and that I'd be invited to interview with more people in his office next week.

(I'm told that there are employers who make a decision in one interview.  I no longer believe that.  It seems that everyone I talk to has a process that involves many rounds of interviews.  I accept that and I guess I'm building up good practice for my interview skills....!)

And I'm having coffee with the VP of a major organization that I'm interested in, and I've got some other irons in the fire as well.

If it's a numbers game, I'm certainly adding up the numbers, and opportunities are abounding.

Lots of work left to do, but I'm doing it.  Feeling great!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Shift in the wind

Mary Poppins said, "I shall stay until there's a change in the wind."  I think that sometimes life's like that, and it takes a shift in the wind to change everything.

I sense a change in the wind.

They say things come in threes, and I feel like I've got my three figured out: cancer, divorce, unemployment.  It is time for things to shift...

...and I feel it.

Running really straightens out my mind in ways I can't fully articulate, and the longer the run, the better the epiphanies that arise from the run.  The epiphany that I receive the most often - and it does bear repeating, because it's a hard lesson to learn, to really absorb deeply rather than superficially - is that if I can teach my body to run ten or more miles without stopping, with better and better times (8:26 pace on my 14.5 miler!), then I can do anything I set my mind to.

A year ago, running 14.5 miles was "impossible" for me - I would have had a heart attack or fallen down or thrown up or something dramatic, because it just wasn't something I could do.  But I set out several times a week to run, first only in bits, a maximum of three miles at a time, usually a ten minute pace, usually walking back up the long hill home.....and things started to change.  I got faster.  I could keep running (albeit slowly) up the hill.  I could add distance.  It didn't happen overnight by any means, but a year after I started running, I really am a runner, I'm still at it, and I'm having huge successes.  Six months ago a half marathon seemed like a huge stretch, and now a marathon seems like a realistic dream.  (May 4, 2014!)

And this really is how life works.  The impossible often really is possible.  It requires a combination of skill, perseverance, and good fortune to succeed, but the dose of perseverance applied seems to make up for lots of skill.  Good fortune is hard to figure out, but we know it when we see it.

My perseverance is running: often at 5am in the cold and dark, often in the rain, almost always alone (or with my dog).  I absolutely love sleeping in, and I'm not a morning person by nature, but I keep at it, and I see results.  I have minimal skill, but I read a lot (Runner's World and other resources), talk to other runners, and try to learn the skills I don't have.  Good fortune in running I have aplenty: I live in an area that inspires me (running by the ocean is better than just about anything), I have long legs and smallish bone structure, and my body seems to like running.  I don't appear injury prone, and I don't have plantar fasciitis or shin splints or Achilles' issues yet, and I've been doing this consistently for a year.  I'm lucky.

These lessons appear to be bearing fruit.  I'm really hitting the ground running in my job search, and I'm putting in the time.  I have a rock solid resume, a good approach for cover letters (unique to each an every job, but with a formula for addressing each position's needs).  I'm looking on the web, contacting my network, following up with every lead, learning what I can.

Perseverance is big, and I'm doing that.  But it's only part of it.  Like in running, some of it is getting out of bed and going, but some of it is skill like learning how to do intervals, and I'm getting that too.  I'm learning my new industry and what it needs, honing my interview skills, improving my marketability by reading and attending workshops.

But it's the last piece - good luck - that really brings the shift in the wind, and that's what I'm sensing right now.  Not predicting (we've ascertained that I have no idea how to predict the future) but really feeling, from somewhere inside me.

My network is really stepping it up.  I'm getting better and better leads.  I can hardly believe some of the interviews I've landed, because they are with such fantastic organizations.  I'm getting called back for additional interviews.  I'm hearing, "You are a fabulous candidate" and "I want to help you - the industry needs people like you," from all kinds of places, including people who are really in the know.

I think that the wind is shifting, and I feel it.  At some point, I will have learned my lessons, I will have accomplished what I must accomplish, and sheer good fortune will kick in, landing me in the right place at the right time with the right job offer for the right salary for the right organization, and there will be a mutual "YES!" so that I can move to the next phase of my life.

I am ready to go back to work.  I'm ready to lend my talents to the workplace, to the world, to be part of something bigger than myself and my family.  I want to show Katherine what it's really like to take charge of one's life, to stay close to one's dreams, to work hard, to rely on faith that the universe in on our side, and to let it all come together.  I appreciate the colleagues that work offers, the stability, the intellectual challenges, the teamwork, the problem solving.  I love meeting with clients (donors), and I love that the work I am about to do really does make the world a better place.

I am ready.

I realized a while ago, actually while I was dating Luke, that my readiness for work and my readiness for love are interconnected.  He asked me about my job, and I found myself not wanting to tell him, because it didn't interest me, and I didn't think it was a reflection of my self.  That was the beginning of the end of my old job, I think, as I knew I could not stay in that place if that is how I felt.  I believe, deeply and from some core place that is simple knowing and not logic or rationalization, that I need to straighten out my career, move into this new job (whatever it may be), in order to be ready for love.

So much of my life is good.  I have an amazing daughter who is currently sitting across the table from me doing her homework, dallying as all children sometimes do, but so capable.  I live in a comfortable house filled with quirky antiques, lots of books, with music playing frequently.  I have a kind and loyal dog and a spunky little firecracker of a cat (whose antics falling off the back of a chair just moments ago had Katherine and I in hysterics).  I have health - glorious, beautiful health.  I am alive, and each breath....oh, beautiful breathing!  I have good friends who invite me to parties but also invite me to sit quietly with a cup of tea, who check in on me, who share their lives with me.  I have a strange but loving family who cares for me.  For the first time in my life (?) "Lose weight and exercise more" is NOT on my list of New Year's goals, because I really am fit and slim and perfectly content within my imperfect body.

So, life is good.

And I feel like it's going to get even better soon.  That this job I'm seeking will be here soon - this month or next, perhaps - and that it will be the opening of the floodgates for even more.  I think I'm nearly ready for love, too.  I'm not there yet, and I'm not dating, and I know I thought I was ready in the past....but this feels different.  This feels stronger.

I feel stronger than I ever have before, even though it's Christmastime and I'm unemployed.  I don't even know how that's possible, but it is.

The wind is changing.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Concert Babe

Last night I took Katherine to her first big concert, Jingle Ball 2013, which has a line up of a number of performers including Paramore, Icona Pop, Austin Mahone, Selena Gomez, Flo Rida, Travie Boy, Fall Out Boy, New Politics, and Fifth Harmony.  It is a tween girl's dream concert, and I had a surprisingly good time, and was sort of surprised that I knew most of the songs.  (Having a tween gives me this information by osmosis - there is ALWAYS music on in this house.)

It was a magical night.  Katherine knew this was A Big Deal: she received it as a wrapped gift, presented as her "big" gift for Christmas, but given early, and before I even pulled the gift out I think she knew.  She had been begging for tickets for months, and why else would I give her a Christmas gift the first week of December?

Her eyes were wide the whole time.  There was screaming.

There were back stage passes.

Throughout the concert, they'd announce "Text _____" to such and such number to win passes, and I did so.  Shockingly....shockingly!...I won!  Two back stage passes to meet and greet with Fall Out Boy.  I let Katherine take her young friend with her, because a) I knew it would mean the world to the two of them to do it together and b) it meant nothing to me.  :-)

So, I stood alone in a hallway while my daughter and her friend were star struck and feeling like a million dollars off "on their own" backstage, essentially shaking hands and quaking out a "hi" before getting their picture taken with the band and heading back to me.

And I got a bit of flattery.

Five - FIVE! - different men, all under the age of 30, came by at different times to pick up on me.  What?  WHAT?  They came, two in twos and one alone, over to where I was standing to chat me up and look me up and down in what seemed like comic-book fashion; a silly, over-the-top version of a pick up artist.  I couldn't help it, I burst out laughing, and just shook my head "no."  With the last pair, the girls had arrived back to me, and the men kept trying to chat with me, and I looked at them, gestured to myself and the girls and said, "I'm a MOM.  Not here to meet people, sorry!" and took Katherine and her friend, who were taking it all in with wide, confused eyes (why are those men talking to you?!) back to their seats to finish the concert.  The guys called out "c'mon..." and I just kept walking.

But forgive me for being hugely flattered.  They were all cute, if slightly inebriated.  None of them was dating material, not even close, but that's not the point.  It is just incredibly flattering to be 44 years old and "not trying" and get some male attention.

It was a great night.