Sunday, September 21, 2014

Who am I?

Today I stretched my legs on an alpine trail, and thought about my life.  I wondered what I wanted, what I've already got, whether I am living the life I'm meant to live.

I am not.

And I'm sure of that.

Don't get me wrong, I see very clearly the many blessings that are mine, and I think I mention them here all the time.  I am incredibly grateful for my middle class privileges, and I don't take them for granted.  I am downright gleeful over my strength and resiliency, which got me through cancer and then divorce, when both times the odds were stacked against me.  I'm grateful for supportive friends, a loyal dog, a funny cat, and big big dreams.

But I'm not living my full life yet.

I look around me at the people who feel so absolutely certain of their paths, and I'm envious.  There are those lucky lovebirds who coo at one another, content in their relationship, sure that the arms of the beloved is where they belong.  I look at certain stay at home mothers who run PTA meetings and labor over gardens and go to book club and seem really happy, and I know that I don't belong with them.  I look at corporate friends who have skyrocketed through their Fortune 500 companies, collecting larger and larger paychecks, and I envy them the cash but I have no desire to do what they do.  I look at some in nonprofit, who dedicate their whole lives to their various causes, and though I feel an affinity, I know it's not entirely my path, either. 

Hiking today, it occurred to me that I am not a marathoner.  I might actually run a marathon to prove that I can and to get my body that fit again, but despite the high of running, I don't want to spend my time on pavement. (I want to spend it in the woods, where I so clearly belong.)

I dove into the lake today, on the last day of summer.  Fed by glacial melt, it was not in the least bit warm, but the day was unseasonably warm, and my hot, sticky skin - doubly warm from trekking up hill with a pack on - was glad to be in that cold water, even though it made me gasp.  I am meant to dive into alpine lakes, and I know it.

But I do not wish to swim in alpine lakes all day every day, even assuming that somehow I could find a way to do that without starving.  It's something I do more than most people, but not a life.

I love my job, because it feeds Katherine and I and allows me to keep my house and stretches my skills and does something good in the world and gives me a future, and perhaps I will do this kind of job for the rest of my life, but it is not enough, either.

And I adore, absolutely relish, being Katherine's mother.  I am proud to help her study for geography quizzes, to drive her to gymnastics, to eat my meals with her.  She makes me a better person, and I can't imagine my life without her, and she is the closest thing to heaven I've ever seen.  But she is not all of my life, either, and I need more than she can give.

Who am I?  What is the shape of the life I want?  If I could wave a magic wand and have my days go exactly as I wished....what would I wish for?

It is horrifying to consider the answer.  It makes my stomach hurt.

The answer is, "I don't know."


Today as I hiked I considered the question, tried not to panic that I am 45 years old and still learning who I am and what I want from life.

I've thought for ages that I am an extrovert, and yet I find myself seeking solitude.  I've thought for ages that I'm a city girl and only a weekend nature girl, but lately all I want is to be away from wires that hum and crowded streets, and I want to be surrounded by wildlife and trees and open seas.  I've thought for ages that a small-ish life was enough, that I was grateful to have enough and that is all I wanted.

But I want more.


There is a level of exhilaration to considering all that might come next, if I decide what I want and then go after it.

Terror, too, but also exhilaration.

I am clearly a slow learner.  Around me, all around me, there are people who seem more or less content.  They attend their Seahawks' games, go to the play or the movie or the concert.  They sit down to mac'n'cheese from a box or farm-to-table feasts, as they prefer.  They have their favorite shows.  They get their hair done, their cars detailed.  They grouse about their kids' homework, and they help make flash cards too.  They fight 25 pounds or they go out for a run, and they don't change.

I am all over the map, because I WANT TO FIGURE IT OUT.

I am not content with merely being.  I sit and try to meditate, and try not to scold my monkey mind.  I live in the small moments, taking pleasure in them.  And yet, despite all this work at being in the moment

But I want more.

I want my life to be - big.  Meaningful.  I want to leave my mark on the world, not only on the people who see me in the street or share my table or my work meetings, but the big wide world.

Is this ridiculous?  So few people live lives like that.  Through the centuries, people are born, and people die, and while they're here they live lives of either quiet desperation or suburban nonchalance or beautiful clothes or something else, and then they're gone, and within a generation they're forgotten.

I don't care who remembers me when my grandchildren are dead of old age.  But I want to make something of my life, do extraordinary things, and use up every single last minute of the life I'm given, finding my talents and doing something with them.


I still want to fall in love, but I am not focused on it at all.  I am trying to focus on growing myself, my talents, my being, into something bigger than what it is.  It's work, it's motherhood, it's being a productive citizen.....but it's something more, and I'm trying to figure that out, too.

I feel like I was put on this planet to do something, and it's about time I tried to figure out what that was.

Who am I?  What stops me from being that person?  If I could make any life, what would it be?

I'm working on those answers now.  I'll let you know when I figure it out.  I don't have the answers, but I think I'm getting closer.

Stay tuned.


Do you know who you are?  What were you put on this earth to do?  Are you working towards that goal?  How do you bring it to reality?

How many goals can we focus on at once?  Can we be marvelous romantic partners, community activists, parents, friends, employees, fitness buffs, world travelers....all at once?  Can we do all of this without losing sight of any of it?  How can we work towards those goals without losing sight of the beauty of the present moment?

I have more questions than answers, and I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Birthday Musings

Today I am 45 years old, and this is going to be my best year yet.  That's what I'm hoping, wishing and praying for, anyway, and I have every reason to be optimistic that it might come true.

First of all, I got the results of my annual cancer testing back yesterday evening: Cancer FREE!  The best of possible news.

Secondly, I've learned how to make my birthday fabulous.

Last night I threw myself a birthday party.  I invited a dozen of my closest friends and their families, and ten of them (with families, maybe 25 people?) were able to attend.  I kept it simple - it is the beginning of the school year, and a weekday, and I have no desire to torture myself with elaborate anything.  On Sunday, Katherine and I baked: she made a brownie torte with chocolate ganache, and I made an old fashioned layer cake with oodles of frosting.  Another friend contributed another layer cake, and her daughter made mini-cupcakes. The house was clean-ish (this is my new standard: far from perfection, but good enough!), and the cakes on stands on the dining room table, with stacks of plates and such, were the only "decorations" required.  I opened a bottle of red and a bottle of white, made a giant pitcher of lemonade, and a pot of decaf coffee, and set up a beverage area in the kitchen.

And my home filled with beautiful friends and their funny, smart, energetic children.  It was hot out, and so some of the party moved outside, with a group chatting on the deck, another in chairs in the back yard, and others who didn't mind the warm house sitting in the living room.  The children roamed in a pack, shrieking with the sugar high of all that dessert.

Conversation was light, as befitting the occasion.

My heart was light.

Birthdays in my marriage were, for me, a sad affair.  My ex not only didn't make me feel special, but he treated my desire to celebrate as a burden.  Mostly, I threw my own parties then, too, but I had to manage his moods and his lack of support or understanding.  It gives me a bit of  shiver to think of it: it was just so LONELY.  It was on my birthday each year that I felt the most unloved, the least understood.  Not only did he not want to treat me as a gift in his life, he didn't support my desire to celebrate, complaining about the effort it took me to throw a party and saying it was stupid to put that on myself.

But now?  Now, I surround myself with those who love me.  And indeed, I am surrounded.  Remembering that room full of people last night brings tears of gratitude to my eyes: they love me, as I love them.  They found time between sports practice and homework and family dinner and demanding jobs to come to my house to celebrate me, and that is such a gift.  One brought gorgeous roses from her garden; another brought a momento from her trip to Italy that reminded her of me.  The wrote funny, sweet cards that showed just how well they know me.  They baked.  They filled up my wine rack.  Two of them snuck into the kitchen at the end of the party and loaded the dishwasher and tidied up for me.

The children helped me to blow out my candles, all 45 of them.  They went out in a singular whoosh, guaranteeing that my wish would come true.

Maybe it already has - I only want more of the same.  This life of mine is good, even when it's complicated and messy.  I'm learning to accept that life is always complicated and messy: there's waiting for medical test results, imperfect parents, financial strain, creaky old houses, homework, overscheduling, chores, co-parenting and the rest.  But I think it's okay.  It'll never be perfect, and accepting that has made me feel like it's much closer to perfection than I dreamed possible, despite the imperfections.

This morning the alarm went off at 4:30am.  I dragged myself out of bed, bleary eyed, to make coffee and unload the dishwasher before putting on workout gear.  My dear friend showed up at 5:15, and we took a long walk together down to the beach, filled with conversation and friendship and a bit of exercise and a dose of nature.

This morning Katherine made me a smoothie and brought me her home made card and home made gifts, friendship bracelets in my favorite colors.  I wear them with pride, their bright blues and greens a contrast to my business attire.  They are a far cry from what I normally wear, but they are instant favorites: my daughter labored over them, and tied them on my wrists....and they are, indeed, about friendship.  Katherine and I like each other, and I am blessed by that.  Deeply, deeply blessed.

Today life will be busy: I'm recovering from the blue screen of death at work last week (I got a new computer yesterday), and there's a new AmeriCorps volunteer on board to help with some upcoming projects, and tonight is a board meeting and who knows how late I'll get home for a belated birthday dinner (quite possibly, leftovers).  But this morning, I'm taking this little moment to myself, with my coffee in a favorite mug and a piece of chocolate cake (hey! it's my birthday!  I can do that!) for breakfast in the still house.

I'm tired, but I'm happy.  This is my life, and I celebrate it.  I earned every single one of those candles, and I'm so grateful for all that they represent.  I am alive, and well, and filled with hope.

Happy birthday to me!


How do you celebrate your birthday?  How do you nurture yourself?  How do you find joy in an imperfect life, seeing past the imperfections to the beauty?

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Making My Life

I spend a lot of time thinking about how to create the best possible life for myself: how to take my gifts and my challenges, and to form them into something meaningful and beautiful so that many, many, many years from now I will smile from my deathbed, content with my choices and proud of my legacy.

It better be many, many, many years from now because I feel like I'm just barely getting started!  Whatever my accomplishments, they are small in the face of what I am trying to do with my life.  I feel like I'm on the right path, but that I have a long, long way to go before I accomplish what I hope to do.

I used to think that such achievements were gifts of the universe: that a gift of brilliance caused career success, that the gift of thoughtfulness created good parenting, that the gift of fate found the right partner.  Thankfully, I no longer see it in such a way.  I still believe that the universe hands out gifts, but more and more I see the role that I play in my own life, and how brilliance, thoughtfulness, and luck have less to do with success than I first believed.

I think it's all in the small moments: those Zen masters were on to something.  I think that my future success is less about my inherent talents, and more about what I do with my talents.  I believe that we've all got amazing potential....and that it's really, really easy to let that potential slip away.

The gifts of the universe matter, and I do not dismiss that idea.  I was born into a middle class family in a safe country.  I have never experienced war or famine.  I have never lived in a dictatorship.  I have never been in danger of being sold into slavery (now known as human trafficking, but as far as I can tell it's the same thing).  I've always had access to safe, comfortable housing, and I've always had access to medical care.  I have never spent a day without food.  My early education was an expectation (free K-12).

I had other gifts, too.  My parents believed in education and promoted that idea with me.  I was given a library card, and we used it and used it and used it.  As a child, we did family hikes and bike rides, and we had a boat and we spent lots of time out in the islands enjoying nature.  I was told that I was capable of doing anything (this was mixed with other far less positive messages, but still, this message was there).  I was taught good manners, so that I might feel comfortable in any society.

These are gifts I don't take for granted.  Without these foundations, I have no idea who I might be, but I'm pretty sure that if my soul was placed in a child living in a garbage dump slum in Mumbai, my potential would be greatly reduced.  I am grateful for my fortune, and I know that it was given to me, not earned in any way.

What I do with it, though, that's up to me.

I've met plenty of brilliant people who are deeply unhappy because their colleagues loathe them and so their careers don't go in the right direction, and so that brilliance gets lost.  I've met parents who are thoughtful and kind and want only the best for their children, but who get so stuck in trying to be thoughtful that they are frozen in indecision and become overly permissive and their kids run amuck.  I've met those who have had great luck: my parents are a good example, because they met as teenagers, fell in love, and have been together and in love ever since....but they also have a deeply dysfunctional relationship that is often difficult to be around because despite that love, their interactions are frequently cringeworthy (and reminiscent of Edith and Archie Bunker), and they complain about each other constantly, and bickering is part of the background noise when they're together, despite all of that love, granted at such a young age.

The gifts we receive matter.  I believe that.  I have probably received more than my fair share of gifts, and I am grateful for them.

But the older I get, the more I believe that what makes people truly special is how they USE their gifts, applying them in their everyday life, to create a life that is satisfying, rich (not in the monetary sense), joyful, and peaceful.

That's the life I'm aiming for.

Right now, there are things in my life that are going well, and there are things in my life that aren't going so well.  Going well: my relationship with my daughter (hurrah!), my career (hurrah!), my friendships (hurrah!).  My house is pretty clean.  I eat pretty healthy food, frugally and home prepared.  My bills are paid on time.  That's pretty good.

There are also some things that aren't so perfect.  I went to the doctor this week for my annual labs, and was informed that I've gained 11 pounds since my last visit.  I am pretty darned sure that means that I've gained 11 pounds since APRIL because I got my running injury and started my new job at the same time, and exercise went down and donut consumption went up.  I knew that my pants didn't fit properly, that I felt squishy, that I needed to get back to good habits, but that 11 pounds is pretty tangible as a number on a chart, and tells me I'm headed the wrong direction.  Oops.  My running injury happened on an 18 mile run; now I am sure I could not run 5.

My finances aren't so perfect.  My bills are paid on time, but I live far too close to the edge, with little savings to buffer me: my finances depend upon everything going very well with few surprises, and we all know that isn't reality.  I probably can't afford my house, despite what the bank says, but I can't afford to sell it either, as not only does it represent security and community, but it also represents my biggest investment and the one financial holding that I have that is doing well.  My retirement fund is miniscule, Tessa's college fund won't get her through a full year, and I can't go skiing or get on an airplane or attend plays and concerts with regularity.  I've held off on going to the dentist because I don't want to deal with co-pays.  This is not okay with me.  I've got some credit card debt, acquired during unemployment, that is going to take me more than a year to pay off before I can get ahead (putting that money into savings instead of paying off debt).

And there are all these big goals I have: to be the best development director, and to advance my career by moving to a larger organization; to spend my weekends hiking and camping and skiing and traveling; to write the essays that refuse to leave me alone and the book that I've drafted a couple chapters for; to find true love and partnership and to not only live in that relationship for myself but also model it for my daughter.  Oh, and I'd like to cure cancer.  I can do that in my volunteer time and in my career, working with cancer agencies.  (I say it tongue in cheek, but not really.  I want to see cancer end before it gets to Tessa, and I spend a fair amount of time with a volunteer organization that helps cancer patients already, and I dream of working for a big cancer research facility in their fundraising (development) department.)

Lots of things get between me and my big goals.  The number one thing is fatigue.  I don't know about you, dear reader, but I am freakin' exhausted.  The usual nine to five routine (which is really eight to six many days, or more), making breakfast and packing lunches in the morning, and then coming home to make dinner and get to gymnastics on time and check homework and feed the pets and run the laundry, well, just those basics are tiring.  I wake up tired, and I come home tired, and I'm tired in between.  By the time 8pm rolls around and I am still doing these bits of life's work, all I want to do is curl up in bed with Netflix on my laptop and zone out.  I am so tired that I can't read, don't want to call a friend, don't want to play a board game with Tessa or kitchen dance or bake or walk the dog or pop down to the ocean to see the moonlight reflecting on the waves or to write in my journal or to send a letter to a friend or anything else....I want to tune out.

And that is not okay with me, because "tuned out" is not what I'm going to be excited about on my death bed, sometime after 2069.  (I think I'd like to live to 2075, actually.)

I'm walking the line between being gentle with myself - being a single working mom isn't easy, and all those years of cancer treatment created a fatigue that is well documented and far from imaginary - and pushing myself to my personal limit, because if I don't, I won't get the life I dream of.

I've started meeting a friend at 5:15am a couple days of week to exercise.  I've sworn off the donuts offered to volunteers at a station outside my office.  I've put a moratorium on TV/Netflix on the weekdays.  I'm trying to squeeze extra dollars into retirement, college, and debt so that I can get ahead - which means turning down the glass of wine, the new shoes, and more.

It's the little moments that all add up.  Choosing to get out of debt means making four hundred small choices at the grocery store, carpooling instead of driving alone, borrowing the equipment instead of buying it, going to the library instead of the bookstore, inviting the friend over here instead of going out, making my winter coat last one more season.  It means that my two year old cell phone is good enough.  It's not a decision "I don't want to have any debt, because debt gets in the way of me living my dreams," it's "I will not buy coffee on the way to work," and "I'll eat this because it's on sale, even though I kind of wanted that" and a thousand other small choices.

I'm trying to create the pattern of my days to set myself for all of these good habits that will get me where I want to go.  I feel most peaceful in an organized space, and I learned that about myself years ago, so I know that before I go to work the breakfast dishes need to be in the dishwasher, the counters wiped down, or when I get home from work I'll face the kitchen with dread and be tempted to order take out.  I know that when it's the end of the day and I face my bed it looks like a beautiful invitation with it's smooth covers and plumped up pillows, and so it's worth the small task of making it each morning.  I know that I'm much more likely to get the birthday card out or the note of encouragement for a friend if I have a stack of cards, a jar of pens, and stamps sitting in the secretary waiting for me to use them.  I grew up in a household where we routinely ran out of toilet paper, dish soap, light bulbs, and batteries because of disorganization, and so I have created a household where those things are waiting for me when I need them (and where I don't need to run an errand on a Wednesday night at 9pm to get some necessity).  I have my grocery shopping pretty figured out - every Sunday afternoon or evening - and my meal planning routine, so we eat pretty well and it's not inconvenient, but this takes major planning: I sit down with the calendar of events (gymnastics this day, board meeting this day, this day Katherine will be with her dad, we'll need to eat leftovers here, but I have some time to cook here....and I piece it all together, find recipes to make food that's in season so tastier and cheaper, and write it all on a little whiteboard in my kitchen every week).

But I have a long way to go.

I don't make time to write, and I want to.
I have fallen out of the exercise habit, which includes laying out running clothes the night before, including headlamp and reflective bands, dog leash and pepper spray, and setting the alarm for 4:45am.
I want to fall in love, but I don't put myself in a position to meet the love of my life.
I have a (relatively new) bad TV/Netflix in the evening habit.
I am so so so very tempted by clothing, shoes, and purses, as well as accessories galore.  I spent so many years feeling frumpy and awful that I've discovered my inner fashionista, and now I want to explore that....but must do so on a budget.  (Yes, I know to do consignment and to shop wisely etc, but it still has a cost.)

It's the day to day routines.  Setting the alarm, putting it on the calendar, following the routines and the rituals.  Finding a balance between work/career, volunteering for the causes dearest to me, being an engaged mother, caring for the house, taking care of my body, feeding Katherine and I, managing my finances, being part of community (family and friends), writing, spending time in nature, sleeping, down time, travel, adventure, reading, planning for the future, living in the moment.

If you could please send me a schedule of all of this, it'd be helpful, because I never did figure out how to get all the sides of a Rubik's Cube, and this is at least that complicated.

We all do this stuff, every single day, either by the choices we make consciously or by ignoring it, which is a choice of it's own. (I have the choice not to pay my bills.  This will lead, I believe, to debt collectors and sleepless nights for even though it's a "do nothing" event, it's a form of management with a series of consequences, and not a path I plan to take.  Same is true of exercise, parenting, career, etc.)

I deeply believe that the true brilliance comes from those who prioritize what is important to them and lives those values.  That is the kind of brilliance I want in my life, and that is what I'm working on.  I'll let you know, around 2075, if I was successful!


How do you manage your day to day life to make sure that you live your values and create the life you dream of?  How do you choose what is most important?  How do you create routines and rituals around that life, so that you accomplish your goals without running yourself into the ground with exhaustion?  How do you find a way to be gentle with yourself on this path, while still striving?

Dear readers, I'd love to hear from you about this.  I don't think we spend nearly enough time talking about it, and I think the answers hold The Key to It All.  Little steps that add up to a big journey...and I'd love to hear how you walk your journey. 


And now, this Saturday morning, I'm going to put on my running shoes, squeeze into my too-tight-at-the-moment running shorts, and try to put a few miles in.  It won't be fast and it won't be far, but it's something.  I might not be able to figure out how to make my whole life work out, but surely I can get rid of those new 11 pounds.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Breakthrough! (And it should have been obvious.)

I'm kind of excited.

Actually, I'm really excited.

I've been trying to figure out my issues, my epiphany, my family of origin, my inability to locate what I want in a romantic partner....

....and I actually, really, truly believe that I may have figured it out.

Happy dance!

But before you read, be prepared to scratch your head and say, "What, that's it?  THAT is the sum total of your breakthrough?  It took you this long to figure out THAT?"

Well, I warned you.

My epiphany is something along the lines of the following:

I don't trust my relationships because the big players in my life (parents and husband) had words and actions that did not align, and I'd grown to accept that as how people would treat me, and I was never going to agree with that again.  Okay, realizing that I had a trust issue was the epiphany.  But the solution?  The solution is so vivid all of a sudden, and it's this:

"I can trust anyone whose words and actions align."

That's it.  Isn't it beautiful?  Isn't it gorgeous?  It's so simple, and it's got a method for testing it built right in.  I can say, "Do his words and actions align?"  If they do, I can proceed with trust.  If they don't, I can end it immediately, or say "Your words and actions don't align right now."  If he apologizes and then immediately aligns his words or actions, we're golden.  If he continues to have words and actions that don't align, it's my sign to walk away.

Brilliant!  And it seems so perfect, because I FINALLY FREAKING GET IT!

I told you.  It's not exactly a new idea.  I've heard it before, and so have you.  It's basic pop psychology of the kind found in rows and rows of books at Barnes & Noble.  I think, honestly, that I'm a little slow that I didn't figure it out earlier (like 44 years earlier), but allow me to explain (redeem?) myself.

My whole life, the key players in my life looked me in the eye and spoke nonsense, and told me that what they were speaking was reasonable.  I believe that this is called "gaslighting" - look it up.  To me, this was normal.  It was normal to have someone say "I love and cherish you and I'd do anything for you!" and to immediately follow that up with "Why are you so stupid?" or "Do it yourself!" or "Gosh I'd love to help you but I just can't.  I'm sure you understand!"

Get enough years of this under one's belt, and you get used to it.  I responded by becoming super independent (good), and by learning coping skills (not as good as it sounds).  I treated this like NORMAL behavior.  Annoying, but normal, behavior.  I learned to always have a fallback plan.  I learned to allow my needs to be placed second (or last).  I learned to ignore the more minor versions of this behavior because I was tired of fighting it out.  I am a fantastic enabler, as it turns out.  Among the best!

But, ever the optimist, I kept trying.  When it got really bad I'd say, "Can't you see how this is?  Please change?" and hope for the best.  I'd work on myself so that they didn't have to go it alone.

But in the end, I expected them to do what they were going to do and keep saying one thing and doing another, and somehow I felt like maybe this was because nobody would ever really love me if I didn't put up with this behavior.  I felt like a few crumbs were better than no cake.

Arghhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!  This is ridiculous, and not the way I hope to raise my daughter.  ARGHHHHHHHHHHHHH!

But I think I've got it figured out from a new angle, and I swear I hear angels singing.

Let's look at another example: Luke.

Luke: gorgeous, successful, committed dad.  Absolute flatterer, knew how to butter me up with language until I was quivering.  Gentlemanly behaviors like door opening.  Said things like "I can't believe that I wasn't looking, and then I found you," and "I've never wanted to introduce someone to my kids before, but I think you're different," and "I dreamed of you last night and woke up wishing you were here" and "You're amazing, sweetheart, and I'm so glad I found you."

Sounds just about perfect, right?  Who wouldn't want that?  Who wouldn't be shocked when he suddenly went all icy and said, "I'm so sorry but I don't have time to date so this is over," without preamble?  Poor me, right?  I couldn't have possibly seen that coming, I mean, it was so PERFECT, right?  Proof of the goodness of love and romance in the world, right?


Here's what I wouldn't allow myself to see:

He said those things to me in text more than in person.  I'm not sure he said them in person, actually.
He said, "I miss you so much" and didn't make much time to see me.  We once had a whole day planned together, much organized around kid and work schedules, and on day of he changed it to 10:30am-1:30pm.  That's not my definition of a whole day.  He said, "I really wish it could be longer" but then he left.
When - before we had sex - I revealed how nervous I was about exposing my scarred body with the unfeeling fake breasts and no nipples, he said that he was fine with it.  I took that at face value, and clearly we moved on.  But I'd be lying if I said that "fine" was all I needed.  I needed some deeper reassurances, and I didn't get them.  All those flattering words, and he couldn't comment on something that is such a deep part of me, of my fears, of my body?  He couldn't say, "I can only imagine how hard that must have been for you" or something to communicate that he got it, at some level, or that he understood me?  He said, "I want to know every part of you and to be there for you" but when I gave him that chance, he left me hanging.
We went from first date to him slathering it on thick.  At first, I was resistant.  It seemed a bit too fast for me.  It seemed like he couldn't possibly know me enough to say those wonderful things, that he was level jumping, if he was a serious person who took relationships seriously.  But I wanted to believe, so I believed.  It WAS too much, it didn't align with who he said he was, but I chose to believe.

Does any of that make Luke a bad person?  No.  He may or not have been a player, but that's not the point.  The point is that there were all kinds of small and large ways that his words and actions didn't align.  He said, "I want you, all of you!" but his actions said, "Not that often and only on my terms, because I'm not really in this."  I saw it all along and wouldn't admit it to myself.  I was willing to do cartwheels - I moved childcare around to accommodate him, but he never did the same for me - because I thought that was my job.

So sad when I think about it that way!

But now, I feel differently.

Now, I would notice that he wasn't making time for me, and I'd see that action for what it is.  I'd probably refuse to move to second base with someone who couldn't connect with me, even a little bit, about the fact that being a breast cancer survivor makes that a super big deal for me.  (Is that fair to the guy?  Maybe not.  But it certainly wasn't fair to me, either, to have my breasts chopped off and replaced with unfeeling blobs.  A guy who won't face that also isn't going to come to my side as I sit in the oncologist's office hearing results, and that is a normal part of my life that a true partner would have to share.  It's my reality.  Someone who cares about me would say, "I want to be there for you," and not "Fine.")

So, I think I know how to remove the briar forest around me, the fortress that I have erected to keep myself safe.

I can let the briar forest fall away, knock down the stone walls myself, stone by stone.  I can do that, because now I understand that I always have the ability to spot the distance between words and actions, and that I know I can keep that boundary in place.

If there is chemistry, I can allow myself to enjoy it.  I can let someone in, to let them see me as I really am, including the soft places in my heart that I protect.  I can be vulnerable.  I can expose my true self - not just my Wonder Woman self, the parts of me that I am proud of, but all of myself - and I can open myself up to falling in love, the ultimate act of faith.

Because now I have faith in myself that I can acknowledge when words and actions do and don't align.  If they align and there's chemistry and matched values - hurrah!  And when they don't align (and looking back, there are usually early signs) I can walk away calmly, because....

I'm worth it.

I'd rather be alone than with someone whose words and actions don't align.
I believe in love, and it's worth waiting for.
Men want women whose words and actions align, too.
There are good people in the world, and one of them will find me, and I will find him.

My words and actions align.  I don't parent the way my parents did, not at all.  I'm not my parents, and I'm not my marriage or my ex.  I will be a different partner than before if I ever meet the right person, one who makes me want to be a partner.

I'm me.  And I think that some man is going to fall in love with my integrity, my joy, my energy.  And now, I'm going to be vulnerable enough to really, truly let him in.

And that makes me so happy!

No expectations, no timeline, no "Bring it on" and DEFINITELY NO ONLINE DATING.  (It's not for me.  I've given it a good run, the ol' college try, and it's over.  I don't like it, and I'm not good at it, because it makes me impatient and shallow and I'm tired of first dates I don't wish to repeat.).  I'm just so happy to have this new self knowledge, this new discovery, this tangible way of viewing my own problems.

Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!  Happy.  :-)


This lesson has been a long time coming, by the way.  Ending my marriage was the beginning.  I told him, "Your words and actions don't align!" and I was so angry at him for that, and knew that I deserved better, and that being alone would be better than living that way.  But I am to blame for some of that.  His words and actions didn't align for a long, long, long time before I finally confronted him, and by then we were too entrenched in our way of being to change our relationship; in reality, our relationship relied upon me agreeing to these disagreeable ways of being.  I could see that his words and actions didn't align (finally!), but I couldn't see what my part in it was until now.

There was a moment after we got engaged, a specific incidence, that set off warning bells in me.  I called him out on it, and he got very, very angry with me.  From a relationship perspective, I probably, in hindsight, should have ended it right that minute.  Things got worse, not better, and I agreed to it, over and over.  The agreeing is my fault, not his - I could have walked, and chose to stay.  I could have expressed strong boundaries, but instead, I swallowed anger and pride and agreed to his words even when his actions told a different story.

But thank goodness we married.  I love my daughter so deeply, and nobody else could have brought her to me.  And maybe, just maybe, I would have had the same problems with anybody I married, because my inability to have boundaries around words and actions was MY fault, not his, and so I drew someone to me who fit that pattern.  (Would a healthy person agree to such a partner?  I doubt it.)

Today is a happy day - I think I finally "get it."  September 7 - Breakthrough day!

And in a strange twist, today is also a beloved cousin's birthday.  Katherine, after whom my daughter is named, would have been 44 today if she had not died at the age of 17 in a car accident.  Oh, dear Kathy, how I miss you, and your friendship, and your humor, and your stubborn persistence.  I've always thought you were looking after me - did you send me this, on your birthday?  I love you.  I hope you're dancing to Duran Duran records with Princess Diana, wherever you are.  I'm ready to believe that this has your hand in it - thank you.  It's a funny, quirky gift, and only someone who knows me as well as you do could have come up with it.  Does that mean that when I talk out loud at you, you're really listening? 

Today also would have been my 15th wedding anniversary if we had stayed married.  I believe that the Universe just rewarded me with a gorgeous anniversary gift.  It's perfect, just what I needed.  Thank you, Universe.

Come to think of it, I was so excited to get married on Kathy's birthday, but I can just imagine her going "WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!" because she was a straight shooter and she probably would have said something to me, the one in a million with the courage to say something (because nobody else did).  But maybe she wanted to see that little girl who is named after her come into the world, and so she stayed silent.  Our Katherine was worth it, Kathy.  But I'm not going to have any more kids, so help me choose better next time, okay?  Thanks.

Truth is stranger than fiction.  And today, I'm talking to angels and the universe and I probably sound like a nut case, but I can live with that.  I've been accused of worse.  :-)

Dear reader, today I am wishing you epiphanies and joy, gifts from the Universe and angels. xoxo

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Baby Steps

Readers, welcome to my self-therapy session.  I'm hard at work, in a quiet way, at figuring out how I got where I ended up, where I wish to be, and how to change paths if the path I'm on is not the right one.  My life is so amazing right now - many, many things are going right - and yet romantic love is an absolute mystery to me, and I'm trying to figure out how I'm contributing to that lack.

As an aside, I read all kinds of things about love, divorce, relationship, and when I read a blog or a book or whatever that says, "S/he was a horrible person and that is the reason that things ended so badly," I'm more and more inclined to think that it is very unlikely that the "victim" of that relationship is telling themselves the absolute truth.  Yes, it's true that people do horrible things - my ex wasn't exactly a model husband, and I could give you a very long list of his failures in that department - but I think that healthy people don't buy into those horrible behaviors, and stop them or walk away from them.  You know, that whole boundaries thing.  In my case, I'm less interested in why my ex had horrible behaviors (like yelling or lying), and more interested in why I didn't stop those behaviors in their tracks or walk away years ago.  Even more than looking at the past, I'd like to figure out how to stop myself from ever signing up for that type of relationship ever, ever, ever again.

I want to figure out how to put healthy boundaries in place, and keep those boundaries, while allowing myself to be vulnerable.  Right now, I've reached a place with GREAT boundaries, but they resemble the thorns around Sleeping Beauty's castle where nobody could possibly get in, and there's no room for vulnerability.  I want to get away from that dichotomy - neither allowing myself to be stomped on as I was in marriage, nor keeping everyone at a distance as I am now - and live in the healthy in-between place.

I'm working on it.  Baby steps.  Right now, I feel like I'm a toddler with a bit of a drunkenness to my walk: I am mobile, but I stagger, and sometimes in the middle of it I fall with a "plop!" onto my bottom, surprised to feel the ground in contact with me.  I definitely don't feel like an expert walker, but nor do I feel like a helpless infant any more.  I'm starting to figure this out.  Baby steps.


Yesterday I was on the phone with my mother.  We talk regularly, she and I, and if we go a few days without talking she leaves me a series of messages to remind me of the fact (leaving less than subtle guilt messages, mixed with faux worry "I hope nothing has happened to you - you haven't called and I'm worried!" even if it's been two days).  I tend to call her on my commute to work, talking on my headset, because I know she wants my attention, and because it's the only time in my day that I can do so and because I'm a good little girl who wants to please people.  (I know.  I know.)

(I could rant about how she sometimes calls me at 7am when I'm trying to get Katherine ready for school, and I'm making lunches etc., but I'll let you imagine how annoying I find that.  I have repeatedly told her that I can't talk on the phone while I'm getting my daughter ready to school....and she repeatedly calls.  I finally told her to never ever call at that hour unless there was an emergency.  She called the next day, and I answered with concern.  It was not an emergency, it was to tell me about something irrelevant.  Now, when she calls at that hour, I do not answer.  Look at that - a boundary with my mother!  We'll work on more boundaries later...!)

Mom's an at-home wife who never worked full time: she had me when she was a just a girl, pregnant at 18 and had me at 19, and moved straight from high school and her parents' home to becoming a wife and mother (in that order, but with a difference of only six months between them).  She worked odd jobs to supplement family income when I was a girl, and when I say "odd jobs" the word odd certainly stands out.  She was a cable television telephone solicitor, a greeter at K-mart, and she plucked chickens at a chicken processing plant.  (I shudder to think about working any one of those jobs.  My snobbishness shines through, I suppose, but I am incredibly grateful that my education and training and experience mean that I'm unlikely to have to work in that way ever in my life.)  My father was white collar all the way - an engineer who moved into management - but mom took jobs that were convenient to her schedule and didn't require an education or training of any sort.  Mostly, she was an at-home mom.  She's a lousy housekeeper by any standards, but there were home made meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and she was a regular at every school event and volunteer opportunity.

My life and my mother's are very, very different, and we view the world through different lenses as a result of our experiences, needless to say.  But in these near daily conversations, we strive for common ground, almost finding it, but not quite.

Yesterday's conversation was initiated by her as a result of watching her other grandchildren's screen habits: my brother's children spend a lot of time with television, video games, and the like.  Katherine's not allowed screen time during the week, and she's allowed as much as she wants on the weekends.....except that on the weekends, we're often out and about doing things like hiking or meeting friends, so the "trick" of it is that though she's unlimited on weekends there are plenty of weekends where there's no TV at all, or only a bit of TV on Sunday night as we fold laundry together.

As my mom ranted about TV viewing, and I agreed with her, and we both wished that my brother would place more boundaries for his children (who struggle with school and behavior issues) mom kept saying, "Oh, I wanted to tell you about this thing I just heard..." and injecting non-related things into our conversation.  My mom is a bit like that, and mostly I just ignore it, but this time, in exasperation, I said, "Mom, I'm not following this at all.  Why are you bringing up these things now, and what on earth made you think of them?"  Mom breezily replied, "Oh, I'm watching TV as I talk to you and an ad just came on that reminded me...."

Yes, that's right.  My mother was launching on the ills of television and how society ought to get away from the screens and do things that really matter and how if my brother would just pay attention to his children without TV as a she was watching television and reporting to me about the ads she saw.  The ADS!

Dear reader, I am forty-four years old and still sorting out all this business of why I've had the romantic relationships that I have, and why I can't for the life of me sort out love and partnership, and it seems to me that the roots are pretty darned deep.  I am absolutely used to people (both of my parents) saying one thing and doing another, holding me to a different standard than they hold themselves.  (I can promise you that if I was watching TV and interrupting my mother to tell her about the ads she would be frosty in her reply and say things like, "I guess you're more interested in advertising than you are in me!"  I can also promise you that I'd never do that to her, and that if I did, I'd never live it down and it would be brought up for years afterwards.)  My mother didn't see any irony whatsoever in her behavior, was unabashed.


Today I'm giving myself a little break for some of the choices I've made, and for the way my marriage operated.  My family trained me well to be a Good Little Girl and to Do the Right Thing, and they also trained me that people who love me can do whatever they want and not be held accountable.  Even as a child I responded to this, saying "But that's not fair!" or "How come you get to do it if it's the wrong thing to do and you're mad at me for doing it?" and so on, and they managed to avoid answering my questions by saying that my questions were rude and that I should pay attention to my own behavior.  As a young girl I just felt confused and somehow lacking by this behavior; as I aged I often felt a quiet rage about it, and I spent most of my teens and twenties avoiding my parents.  It seems like all of that avoidance didn't actually teach me how to have relationships where I didn't fall into the same patterns.

Today's baby steps are:

I'm cutting myself some slack.  My parents are very different from my ex in many ways, but they taught me to put my own needs last, and I was a good student of that lesson.  I was expected not to make waves, to be a good girl, and to accept whatever misbehaviors they had, holding myself to a high standard and not holding them to any standard.  Unlearning it is difficult, and given how messed up it was, it's not surprising that I haven't totally figured it out yet.

I don't trust people who say one thing and do another.  This is a good thing.  I don't trust my parents: the TV example is small, but it's a good summary of the crazy-making that being in relationship with someone whose words and actions don't align feels like.  My parents judge me (in this case, positively, because I don't allow unfettered television access to my daughter; and because I don't half listen to my mother and interrupt her repeatedly to talk about ads on television) for my behavior, but don't hold themselves to the same standards, and they expect me to do things they themselves will not do.  This is not acceptable behavior, and I won't allow it in my life.  I can't change my parents - I'm learning better boundaries around that - but I will not repeat the pattern with a new partner.  I do not need to accommodate this behavior, I can say "That doesn't work for me" and simply walk away.  The right partner will not practice this behavior, and if he makes a mistake he will own it and work hard at fixing it, identifying that it is his problem and not mine.  (In other words, if I said, "Your words and actions don't align" in response to such behavior, he wouldn't say "What's the big deal?" he'd say "I'm sorry, let me align them now" and take action to do so.  Unlike my parents.  Unlike my ex.)

I am trustworthy.  I'm far from perfect, that's true, but I'm trustworthy, and my words and actions align.  I am worthy of a partner who is the same in that regard.  I believe that when I practice those healthy boundaries, someone with the same boundaries will come into my life, and I will allow myself to be vulnerable.  I will let him in past the thorns, because I will trust him, because his words and actions will align.

It's that simple, and it's that complicated!

Thanks for participating in this therapy session with me.  :-)  If any of this rings true for you in some way, with your own examples or ideas, I'd love to hear it.  Sometimes it seems like I'm such a fool for not figuring this stuff out earlier, and it's always helpful to hear from someone who is struggling with the same stuff, or their own variations of it.


A tiny little end note, more or less unrelated to the above...

On Thursday at gymnastics, I was working hard on my laptop to get a project done.  I saw a very handsome man enter and thought "ohhhhh he's attractive!" - a nice feeling, because I'm not drawn to very many men.  I saw him look around the room, our eyes caught, and he smiled.  What a nice surprise!  He walked across the room, sat down next to me, and immediately started talking.  I swear he was flirting - but could it be?  He asked my opinion about something random but interesting.  He told me about himself (divorced with one child, a daughter in Katherine's gymnastics class).  He told me about his work - he's passionate about it.  He asked me about my life.  He was open and funny and quick, and his eyes twinkled, and he smiled a lot.

I got flutters.

Oh, I can't tell you how long it's been since I had flutters!  I think since Luke, maybe?  That was a year - and a lifetime! - ago.  Flutters are delicious.

I will certainly see him again (every Thursday for the next few months in this session of gymnastics), and I have no idea if we'll chat again, or if it'll ever be more than the casual chats that parents have at these events.  I'm not worried about that, or tied up in it, or anticipating anything one way or the other.  I don't need anything to come of it, because I'm overly busy at work and hard at work getting Katherine launched into middle school and trying to do so many things with my life.

(The lady doth protest too much.  Of course I'd like it if something came of it, I'm just not tied up in that result.)

But it was just so lovely to feel the flutter again.